The institutional management of the COVID-19 crisis in Italy: a qualitative study on the socio-cultural context underpinning the citizens’ evaluation

Claudia Venuleo, Tiziana Marinaci, Alessandro Gennaro, Marco Castiglioni, Cristina Liviana Caldiroli


Background: Studies on the citizens’ evaluation of the government’s crisis management in the COVID-19 pandemic are almost absent. Within the frame of Semiotic Cultural Psycho-social Theory, we argue that better crisis management requires considering the expectations, value systems and questions expressed by the citizens since these criteria organize how they evaluate the actions planned to respond to “their needs”, how legitimate they consider political decisions and their attitude to complying with the measures established by the government.

Objectives:  This study aimed to explore, with a qualitative approach, the ways ordinary people think and make sense of how Italian institutions responded to the crisis, selected the problems to tackle, and the needs the crisis brought to the fore.

Methods: An anonymous online survey was available from 21st February to 26th April 2021. Participants were asked to write about “The institutional management of the pandemic crisis …”. A total number of 374 texts were collected (respondents’ mean age = 35,87; DS = 14,14; women: 71,7%). The Automated Method for Content Analysis (ACASM) procedure was applied to the collected texts to detect the factorial dimensions underpinning (dis)similarities in the respondents’ narratives. Such factors were interpreted as the markers of latent dimensions of meanings (DS).

Results: The two main DS that emerged were characterised by the pertinentization of two different focus of discourse – media communication versus the social system – and two different criteria of evaluation of the crisis management – the institutional responses to the emergency versus the kind of investment for the future.

Conclusion: Throughout the narratives, two critical points emerged: the Institutions’ failure to analyse the problems’ complexity and the disparity between what has been said and done by the political system and citizens’ expectations and needs.


COVID-19; Semiotic cultural psycho-social theory; Sensemaking; Crisis management; Citizens’ perspective; Dimensions of meanings; Qualitative study.

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