The experience of the Immigrants' Services Institution (Isi) of the municipality of Bologna stands out as particularly innovative in Italy. In 1996, the left-wing administration led by Mayor Walter Vitali assigned competence over social services for immigrants to an autonomous agency, i.e., according to art. 22 of Law no. 142/1990, an "ad hoc" implementation agency co-ordinated by an autonomous administration committee, composed by a number of immigration experts. In this article this experience and its supposed failure, formally sanctioned in July 1999 by the current centre-right majority's decision to suspend the Isi and re-assign its functions to the ordinary bureaucratic apparatus, are analysed. The study is based on official Isi and current Immigration Service documents and, as well as on a series of in-depth interviews conducted in February-July 2002.