A growing set of policies tend to be formulated and implemented through contractual devices in Italian public administration. Unilateral administrative decisions are often replaced by bilateral or multilateral agreements, both among public agencies and between private and public actors. The article outlines the evolution of these practices (which started in the mid-1980s) and presents the main types of contracts that are in use in different policy areas, such as local economic development, environment protection, services provision, infrastructures, urban security. The rise of "decisions through formal agreements" seems in sharply contrast with both the traditional legal culture of the Italian administration and the widespread tendency to under-the-counter bargain. Do these tendencies imply that Italian administration is moving to a more open pluralistic process? Only partly. The contractual innovations were introduced more with the aim to simplify the procedures than to reach better and more integrated decisions. But the development of such contractual practices is likely to entail a process of learning that can undermine old attitudes and behaviours, and promote new ones.