How the Franceschini reform has profoundly affected the Ministry of Culture

The reorganization of MiBACT implemented between 2014 and 2016 constitutes a turning point in the history of the country's cultural heritage protection system: the Franceschini reform directly affected the administration's peripheral structures, profoundly affecting their articulations and competencies.

The reorganization of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism implemented between 2014 and 2016 constitutes a turning point in the history of the country’s cultural heritage protection system: the “Franceschini reform,” in fact, unlike those that followed in previous decades, directly invested the peripheral structures of the Administration, profoundly affecting their articulations and competencies.

One of the sides most directly invested by the reorganization is that of the territorial offices of protection, whose structure had not been questioned for about a century. As is well known, superintendencies predate the Ministry by far: the system of protection of the historical and artistic heritage has its roots in the principals created by the pre-unitary states, then gradually structured in the aftermath of the unification of Italy after the creation of central bodies at the national level, within the Ministry of Public Education. The first organic arrangement of the sector (1906-1909) provided for an articulation by territory and function in the three spheres of “Monuments,” “Excavations” and “Galleries”: thus began that sectorialization of competencies that, with rare exceptions, steadily characterized the structure of the superintendencies up to the present day. A subsequent reorganization (1923) included some mixed structures “to Antiquities and Medieval and Modern Art,” while the reform of 1939 marked the return to the tripartition of the superintendencies: this system, which passed into the competence of the new “Ministry for Cultural Heritage and the Environment” created in 1974, remained unchanged until 2014.

The reform implemented since 2014 has intervened incisively in the structure of the Ministry’s functions, with the unification of protection competencies and the distinction from enhancement: which has entailed the establishment of “unique” superintendencies archaeology, fine arts and landscape and the transfer of the management of state museums to special coordinating structures at the regional level or with special autonomy.

With regard to the first aspect, it should be noted that the sectorization of competencies had caused obvious dysfunctions-with overlapping competencies and wide gray areas-not only vis-à-vis research (e.g., due to the interference of multiple superintendencies in post-antique excavations), but also with respect to protection activities: in the case of authorizations for projects and works, the paradox not infrequently occurred whereby different organs of the same state administration manifested conflicting and sometimes incompatible prescriptions: the fact that the ministry speaks with a single voice in the territory responds to a dutiful logic of uniformity in the care of a public interest and at the same time invests the peripheral structures with greater authority and incisiveness. The physical proximity and direct collaboration between officials and all personnel in the different sectors have undoubtedly stimulated the integration of expertise, which goes beyond the simple juxtaposition or reconciliation of requirements, facilitating a gradual overcoming of the different operational practices that had settled in the different offices. The induction of new staff, although still completely insufficient to ensure the full operation of the superintendencies, has fostered the emergence of a common way of working, through the coming together of professionals who had not experienced the previous habit of working and making decisions in solitude.

Ministry of Culture. Photo: Finestre Sull'Arte
Ministry of Culture. Photo: Finestre Sull’Arte

One of the crucial changes due to the unification of the functions of protection is the loss of a technical leadership for each sector: it has been replaced by the figure of the single superintendent, who does not possess specialized expertise in all the sectors in which the structures are divided, but is called upon to make assessments that affect the heritage as a whole, based on the findings of the technical investigations entrusted to the heads of each functional area. This change of pace, in line with the managerial and administrative characterization of the public manager, is marked, ten years later, by the recruitment, through a competitive course, of a relevant number of technical managers framed according to the new sectoral articulations (archives and libraries, superintendencies Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape, museums) and trained through a common path. In any case, the decision-making mechanism articulated between managers and area managers needs a better specification of technical skills and responsibilities, as well as an adequate recognition - including economic - of the technical professionalism held by area managers.

Regarding the second aspect, namely the loss of the management of museums and archaeological areas by superintendencies, in referring to the other articles in this journal for the discussion of the reform of state museums, it is noted that the administration of protection in the territory and the running of a museum are unquestionably distinct activities, which require different skills and involve the exercise of activities and powers of a different nature. The link between superintendencies and territorial cultural institutes (whose ownership is fragmented between the state, which is responsible for less than 10 percent of the facilities, regions, local authorities and various other entities) in the preservation and enhancement of local heritage-an issue particularly felt in the archaeological field-remains historically established and is not questioned.

Undoubtedly, the implementation of a system that is correct in its approach-so much so that it is no longer challenged by subsequent reorganization efforts-has led to serious problems in the operation of the offices, because the delicate operation of reallocating offices, buildings, personnel and resources would have needed a different timeframe than that imposed. It is necessary to intervene on the homogeneous and rational completion of the concrete arrangement of structures and integration between sectors, which in individual realities has been managed and resolved with very different results, commensurate with the timeliness and intensity of directions from the superordinate bodies, the capacity of those in charge invested with the tasks of direction and coordination and, ultimately, the degree of involvement or resistance on the part of the apparatus. Since, beyond organizational models, it is people who define the quality of the administration, a courageous investment in human resources is needed, not only in quantitative terms (to revitalize structures heavily depleted by the lack of turn-over), but especially with reference to skills and, even further, to the sense of belonging and empowerment of all levels of the apparatus.

This contribution was originally published in No. 21 of our print magazine Finestre Sull’Arte on paper. Click here to subscribe.

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.