How do you use technology in shaping policies, and how do they promote the development of people’s lives? Tell us about your office and your role in it.
My role in the cabinet is the Digital Minister. Our office, the PDIS, engages diverse stakeholders to identify and define core problems, generate meaningful challenge statements, and co-create possible solutions for real-life issues.
For example, an e-petitioner in May 2017 said that the tax filing system is “explosively difficult to use” for Mac and Linux users. We responded by saying, “Everybody who complains automatically gets an invitation to our collaboration meeting in the financial information centre.”
After five such workshops, we co-created the tax exporting system of 2018 with a satisfaction rate of 96%. We have summarised this experience in the Government Digital Service Guidelines, to guide all ministries and municipalities to redesign services across the board.
Throughout the year , what has been the most exciting initiative that you and your office worked on, by far?
We helped organise the annual Presidential Hackathon with President Tsai’s office; it’s three months of intense collaboration across sectors.
Many of the 100+ proposals were initiated by public servants. Some found an NPO or a social sector partner to submit the formal admission, so they can say, “We’re happy to collaborate” — but they probably have helped to draft the proposals in the first place.
We have journalists asking for better data from the government, so they can do evidence-based analysis on flood control; we have Taiwan Water Corporation saying, “We are willing to share our data, so machine learning experts can help save us time in detecting leakage.”
Instead of monetary prizes, the award is our guarantee to implement the proposal of five winning teams within the public service. The impact extends beyond Taiwan — for example, the “Water Saviour” team continued their work in New Zealand.
After the recent changes in the structure of the Cabinet, what do you feel about the continuity of your office, and what do you think is its advantages to the second half of President Tsai’s term?
As President Tsai Ing-wen said in her inauguration speech: “Before, democracy was a showdown between two opposing values. Now, democracy is a conversation between many diverse values.”
Realising this conversation and reach common values from opposing sides — that’s precisely what our continued work with the participation officers, social innovators, and youth advisors are all about.
Why do you think you and your ministry won a level of popularity (which is unusual for ministers without portfolio)?
Part of the reason, I think, is that we are determined to guide our work through the principle of intersectionality.
Intersectionality reminds us that we all have some part of us that is vulnerable, that has suffered from social injustice, and that is in the minority.
Through sharing these personal experiences, people re-emerge with an authentic voice and listen to people who are suffering for a different reason yet feel the same pain. When individual voices can represent themselves authentically, that helps us rethink our own experiences of vulnerability.
As far as I know, empowering people who are suffering is the best way to to scale listening and to safeguard democracy.
You always say that the main thrust of your campaign is radical transparency; to what extent is this radical, and how is this OK with the national security of Taiwan, given the prominence of mainland Chinese fabrication of information?
The lack of transparency is the soil of rumours. If you hear bad things spoken about your friend, and you meet that friend every couple of days for basketball or for movies, then there’s no room for rumour to grow. You just call your friend saying, “Hey, I am hearing this gossip about you.” — There’s no room for rumour to grow.
Conversely, if there’s a general distrust between people in government, and the government doesn’t practice transparency, then of course there’s room for rumours.
Currently, every ministry is committed within a few hours, to give a real-time clarification to rumours. We can offer our policymaking context in an easy-to-access fashion, so that people don’t need to project into partial messages.
Do you agree that your country is facing a potentially fatal threat since China attempts to use your openness to interfere in your social development and on internal politics? Why?
Our main challenge is that we are a new democracy. Although we have perhaps the most open and innovative society in all of Asia, our first presidential election was only 30 years ago. We’ve had to figure out democracy after three decades of military law and dictatorship. Democracy in Taiwan is only as old as the World Wide Web.
People younger than me don’t remember the martial law — they think of things naturally in the collaborative way of open access. But people who are my age or older, who are digital migrants, have to reshape our thinking.
In order to withstand the influence of authoritarian regimes, we are committed to reconcile the previously highly hierarchical culture and language with a new norm — namely, a peer-to-peer, continuous democracy.
In the course of your service as Taiwan’s Digital Minister, how can you say that the government was able to regain the trust of the youth sector using radical transparency?
My theory of change has three pillars:
- Location independence — I can choose when and where to work;
- Voluntary association — I don’t give or take orders;
- Radical transparency — I don’t touch state secrets and I publish full transcripts or videos of meetings on the internet.
Taken together, these tools are a kind of virtual reality that enable people to understand what it’s like to be a digital minister.
My office, which is part of the location independence plan, is a social innovation lab. We placed twelve different ministries into this shared workplace. It creates a social infrastructure that breaks silos, and that’s where new thoughts and ideas emerge.
It’s a co-created social infrastructure with a cafe, a kitchen and a chef that opens until late every night. I sit there and listen to people every Wednesday for twelve hours. This infrastructure and social fabric makes innovation not just possible but also fun.
As Laozi said, “to give no trust is to get no trust.” Trusting our fellow citizens and optimise for fun — that’s how we begin to rebuild trust as a civic capital.
Given both the complexities and sensitivities that you and your office have encountered in the past year, what particular piece of advice would you want to share especially to the youth — who contribute and benefit, alike, from the digitised media?
Let’s bring “troll-hugging” to the physical world.
Trolls are people who crave attention online because they don’t get sufficient social attention, and so have resorted to upsetting people on the Internet. Whenever people mention my name on social media in a way that tries to provoke my attention, I only respond to the parts that are authentic.
Say their post contains 100 words that are all ad hominem attacks and just five words that can be construed as constructive, then I will reply, carefully, to those five words. This shows people that it’s possible to have long-term, relational conversations.
Trolls previously only had transactional conversations — they upset people; they get attention. It’s like junk food; they wake up the next morning still feeling empty and troll some other people.
Because I carefully reply to the part that is authentic, they learn that only by responding authentically do they get a Minister’s attention. Then I invite them to the social innovation lab, which is my office hours, every Wednesday from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM.
As long as they agree to have a transcript published online, anyone can just come and have a talk and give me a hug. In this way, I attract the trolls to reveal their authentic selves and join the process of co-creation.
Having confronted by various types of challenges (e.g. misinformation, fake news, etc.) [which practically manifested in the recent elections], what specific technique or strategy are you looking at in 2019?
This is important because, as a government, we can really only change our direction once every year due to of budget cycles. We know that the people on the field are actually the best people to bring about innovative solutions.
In 2019, we are committed to expand the regulatory sandbox model — whenever a innovator see any regulations that’s detrimental to the global goals, they can ask for an experiment for one year to amend that rule or regulation, to prove that the new rules works better for everyone involved.
If there is one thing that has motivated or pushed you the most throughout your career, what would it be, and why?
Empathy. Having gone through two puberties does enable my mind to empathise better with people’s experiences. After dropping out of junior high, I also spent quite some time in the indigenous lands, in the first nations of Atayal. That also enables me to be post-gender and look past the mainstream binary system.
These cultural backgrounds can also teaches us how to listen to the ecosphere, who cannot vote but can, now, talk through the voices of, for example, the so-called Internet of Things; we can turn it into the Internet of Beings that enables us to empathise with, say, a river.
In the pace that you are in right now, what do you think are the major breakthroughs ahead of your field in the next five years?
In five years, I think governments around the world will recognise that averages and correlations often miss the essential truth; we will see beyond gross domestic product (GDP) index and holistically measure societal prosperity through enlightened indicators.
These new indicators, as envisioned by the council on extended intelligence, will acknowledge the need to measure progress at different levels — individual, community, society — and the importance of better understanding the relationship between each of these levels.
What keeps an Audrey Tang going?
When I put on my VR glasses and look at the earth from the international space station, it becomes apparent that national borders only exist in our own minds — this experience is a manifestation of the overview effect.
As Taiwan’s Digital Minister, I’m committed to empower citizens to participate in this kind of overview effect, particularly around global partnerships for sustainability.
In three words, who is Audrey Tang?
Troll hugger extraordinaire.