The impact of the pandemic on communication between local government and citizens in a small village in Tuscany
From the 2021 Community Informatics Research Network (CIRN) Conference
The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered the increasing use of digitally-mediated communication, which has substituted a large part of the face-to-face encounters, work, political, social, and leisure activities, made impossible during the long period of lockdown. What did this entail in small villages, in respect to both citizens and local government, where face-to-face communication has been more resistant to digital mediation? This study aimed to explore the changes seen in institutional communication, and more generally, in the everyday life of citizens and their relationship with local administrators during the first lockdown in Italy. The context explored was the small-scale local community of Peccioli (Tuscany), a village where face-to face communication usually played a pivotal role in the interaction between local government and citizens. This small village represents a good point of observation to understand whether, in contexts such as this, there has been a change in the balance between different modes of communication similar to that seen in more urban environments.
More specifically, the paper presents the main findings emerging from a study exploring on the one hand, the attitudes and opinions of local administrators regarding institutional communication, and, on the other, the evaluations by citizens of the initiatives and the communication by local government and an analysis of their information behaviors. In the first case, a qualitative approach was used, based on 10 semi-structured interviews with local administrators; in the second case, a quantitative approach was adopted based on a survey conducted with a representative sample of Peccioli’s citizens. The main finding of the study revealed the crucial role of word of mouth, thus indicating that, contrary to what is generally believed, not all communication has become automatically digital during COVID-19.