Milan launches its first participatory science project

Milan launches its first participatory science project

Program targeted prevention and treatment interventions for the population starting from the data collected on small portions of the city. A first citizen science project to create policies that improve the quality of life of the Milanese. These are the pillars of the Ciao Milano project, tell me how you are! funded by the Cariplo Foundation, coordinated by the Ats (Health Protection Agency) of the Metropolitan City of Milan, in collaboration with the University of Milan-Bicocca, the State University, the Polytechnic and the Municipality.

It all starts with a questionnaire, sent to a representative sample of 40,000 residents of the Lombard capital via a postcard that will be delivered by post and which will allow the creation of a computerized data collection portal (citizens will be able to answer questions until mid-January). The information acquired will allow a mapping of the risk factors and health conditions of the city: not only the habits and lifestyles will be investigated but also the conditions and perception of the single neighborhood in order to be able to plan timely public policies.

But let's look at some examples. If there are many sedentary or obese individuals in a neighborhood, a widespread network of cycle paths can be developed. If a high percentage of smokers is discovered, it will be possible to organize an awareness campaign on the risks associated with this addiction in certain precise ways. If there is a low consumption of fruit and vegetables, one can think of increasing the presence of city markets in that neighbourhood.

“For years, Istat has been collecting information on the various Italian territories, either with censuses or with surveys on the population, such as those on the state of health, but we never go under the province as a territorial unit - explains Antonio Russo, Head of the eEpidemiology Unit of Ats Milano -. On Milan, for example, there has never been detailed information to guide health policies in this sense. The sample is made up of adult citizens, with two sections of the population, male and female, young and old, taken from the municipal registry office” .

The questionnaire

The questionnaire (which can be reached via a qr code depicted on a postcard that the sample is currently receiving in its mailbox) investigates not only lifestyles (diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol, gambling) but also the characteristics of the neighborhood of residence (presence of services, social cohesion, safety, quality of the environment), access to health services and socio-economic conditions (education, employment ). We will focus a lot on the livability of the neighborhood, on how the citizen judges, for example, air pollution, the presence or absence of problems related to traffic and crime. All information which will then be returned to the various municipalities who will be able to have real-time feedback on the current perception of the area. The survey aims to cover a lack of information on those factors that do not directly impact the citizen's health but which can however help improve their quality of life, in this sense it is an example of Urban Health and Citizen Science.

The project respects anonymity. “We have submitted it to the ethics committee of the Polyclinic and we will collect exclusively anonymised data - specifies Russo -. Even if the postcard arrives at home, the recovered data no longer has any identification, only the information of the neighborhood is kept, in addition to the gender and age group” . This will fill the gap of some very important information. For example, the number of smokers and drinkers in Milan is not known, because Istat releases the data at the provincial level.

“We continue to have the impression that the city has problems relating to alcohol intake, but data based on representative surveys of the population we have none - adds Russo -. Diseases are moving differently than in the past. Let's think of all the pathologies related to smoking, which throughout the metropolitan area and above all in Milan have a growing prevalence in women and a declining one in men. Having more precise information allows for better prevention and knowledge of the underlying risk factor. Territorial distribution is also important: if we discover that there is a greater presence of smokers in the more peripheral districts of Milan, we can intervene with targeted campaigns that can involve schools" .

A platform will be created from the project open data

Adherence to the campaign will be essential in order to have data that can be representative: for this reason the testimonial Max Laudadio, correspondent of Striscia la Notizia, has also been involved. At the end of the pilot project, the information collected will be available in the form of open data to allow anyone to be able to study it. The idea is that this can be considered a pilot phase (the results of the survey will be published within the month of March) to then broaden the audience and create a digital community often in dialogue with the administration: agreements have already been made to start phase two.

In recent years, the Municipality of Milan has developed the citizen's file which serves not only to deal with administrative matters but also includes the InformaMi service, an email which periodically reports three pieces of news on what is happening in the city: "This almost 500,000 Milanese have joined the service - continues Russo -. The idea with the Municipality of Milan in a second phase of the project would allow these registered citizens to be engaged, asking for feedback on specific issues. It would no longer be a randomized sample but would be more than a third of the city's population. The idea is that a kind of community of citizens could be created that regularly reports information to the administration. For example, for the day against smoking, one could think of surveys that tell something specific about a community" . This model will also be extended to other Municipalities that make up the Milan Ats territory and can be used in other Lombard and Italian territories.

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