Following from ... TNL: We know the history since the Sunflower Movement; the ruling party of the time left power, we now have a new government and ...

Following from … TNL: We know the history since the Sunflower Movement; the ruling party of the time left power, we now have a new government and you are part of the new Cabinet. Can you just talk a little bit about some of the projects that you’

I have written papers and given talks about this, but I can put it into a five-minute version. I think it began right after the Legislative Yuan occupation. One of the main demands was taking these “deliberative democracy” methods and ICT (information communication technology) architecture – which was able to make the event far more visible than any prior deliberations in Taiwan’s history – and spread the seeds over Taiwan.
It was really in the civil society where we started learning from each other. I was not a facilitator back then, but I received intensive facilitation training with the people who facilitated the “on-the-street” discussions in the Sunflower Movement. It was not just me; other people who were on the ICT side then participated in anti-nuclear protests and many other different topics and started to learn how facilitation works.
Conversely, people who worked on civic media – the e-forum people – eventually would become the backbone of a new generation of media, like The Reporter, Initium in Hong Kong and other online media. They brought the new ICT applications, like Hackpad and Slack and all those tools, into those media organizations. The media people, the ICT people, the facilitation people, those CSOs (civil society organizations), we all learned from each other after the occupy movement in a much more intensive, collaborative way.
By the end of that year, 2014, there was a local election. Taipei City candidate and now Mayor, Dr. Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) was an Occupy supporter. He would use many of the same techniques in his campaign. And his inclusive, open government procedures were coordinated by people who participated in the Sunflower Movement. The same happened, to a lesser degree, with all the city mayors, regardless of party affiliation. They saw that this was really the way forward to communicate with people.
The Premier of the time, Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國), explicitly outlined crowd-sourcing as one of the three key points in his new agenda. There was then a systematic training of the public service system by the Sunflower community. Many speeches were given and we designed a curriculum and brought about 1,000 civil servants up to speed with the architecture we had designed.
By the end of the 2014, training started with the highest-level public servant officials, and went on into 2015. Premier Mao Chi-kuo allocated plenty of training resources to the public service to be able to respond to these ICT-mediated civil society deliberations.
It really took a lot of time; the higher the level of the public servant, the more they are used to paper-based work – which has a fundamentally different logic to the Internet-based logic that we were talking about. Both the paper culture and the digital culture had to adapt to connect to each other. That took almost all of 2015. I was one of the people designing this coordination, but, again, I was joined by about 20 colleagues from civil society.
At the time, I worked exclusively with the professional public service, not with elected public officials or Cabinet members. I recognized no matter how open-minded people in the Cabinet were, if people in the public service really did not know how this digital logic works, it would be impossible to realize the bi-direction of communication. However, this is a cultural change, and it takes time.
The platform, vTaiwan, was one of many systems designed at the time. Mostly to process laws related to cyberspace, trade and regulations about international issues. There was also a Join platform, where people could sign an online petition. If there were maybe 5,000 signatures, then one of the ministries would have to take charge and respond to it within 60 days. There were many other systems that appeared around that time with various successes and binding effects. It was considered to be on the national agenda, so people were very willing to experiment.
My work in this Cabinet really does not differ from my work in the previous Cabinet. The only change of position, I think, is that this Cabinet wants to make “open government” a stable part of the agenda of the ministers without portfolio.
Before, it was the Premier’s idea that we should do crowd-sourcing, but it was not part of the regular work that ministers without portfolio did. Because of my assignment, now “open government” is part of the agenda.
Regardless of who is the digital minister in the future, they will still be in charge of “open government.” That is the main difference — this Cabinet wants to make it a regular, not an experimental, part of the administrative agenda.