- Tell us a little about how you grew up to be interested in the intersection of democracy and technology. What unique educational experiences, or work experiences, have shaped your views?
- What inspired you to come out of retirement and join the ministry?
- What projects are you currently working on to increase public participation in government?
- At your panel this past weekend on World Design Capital Taipei 2016 you mentioned the need for a tool to “collect more public opinions.” How do you moderate against rampant populism, problems such as “trial by public opinion” or having the most fringe opinions become the loudest opinions?
- Taiwanese bureaucracy is known to be conservative and very risk-averse. How would you move them to try to do something different?
- During your talk at the World Design Capital Taipei 2016, you referred to many ways technology can change what “governing” means. If you were part of a team rewriting the Constitution in Taiwan, what radical changes would you propose?
Startup environment in Taiwan:
- “Go start companies” seem to have become a fashionable trend in Taiwan. As someone who has worked with and founded startups before, what do you think of this trend?
- There is much talk about how Taiwanese companies need to “go global.” What do you think about that? What’s stopping them from going global? How can our international audience be helpful?
- Many people have pointed out missing links in Taiwan’s startup ecosystem: lack of risk-taking investors, lack of talent, lack of business and management skills, lack of awareness of Western trends…what do you think is the most important thing to fix, and how?
- Can you explain to me a bit the role that community plays in what you do? Both currently at the government and in the past on open source projects.
- In your view, how do communal space and in-person interaction impact the development of online or virtual communities? How to you cultivate a community culture of active participation?
- You talked much about collaboration during the World Design Capital Taipei 2016 conference. As a participant of open source projects, what are your views on the role of well-formed communities plays in developing in a project as opposed to loosely ad hoc groupings of people?
- Between 1989, when Taiwan gained freedom of the press. By 1996, which is the first presidential election, Taiwan’s democratization worked slowly but surely. Instead of the sudden revolution, people orchestrated a very gradual transition to peaceful democracy. 1996 was also the year that’s Taiwan enjoyed the world wide web, a very accessible medium in which everybody can dial to the websites of the presidential candidates and the see what their platforms. I was helping out a presidential campaign at the time, as a way to participate in the democracy , with the web and bulletin board systems. That’s how I got interested in the interaction between the web technologies and the presidential election.
- I was working as a kind of understudy for the minister Jaclyn Tsai since late 2014, when there was a new national agenda about the cabinet at the time to adopt crowdsourcing. Traditionally it was all decided by the government itself for the people, but it’s not with the people; so they said, okay now we have work with the people include all the stakeholders in the early-stage agenda setting. It is easy to say that, but nobody really knows how to do that, except for people who were already interested in participatory democracy and internet governance. With this new kind of crowdsource agenda setting, I decide to collaborate with cabinet at the time. At that time I was really an advisor for the administrative, mostly in charge of training and supporting the public servants. Now I’m still doing more or less the same thing, just with a different title.
- My new role has open government as my main duty. Open government in my views includes three parts:
First is transparency: We make everything that the government is doing as transparent as possible and turn open data into everyday language so that everybody can view it as early as possible.
Second is participation. Now that people have access to what we’re doing, I would invite everybody to contribute their facts and feelings, to gether more ideas into the policy-making process.
Third is accountability: After people proposed these ideas, they would like to know what actual actions got taken because of their inputs; the public servants also want to know that during policymaking, who are the missing stakeholders that weren’t in the previous processes, so everybody knows which promise gets fulfilled.
This new cabinet, back in September, has changed the 14-day draft announcement period to 60 days. So one of my work to ensure now there is 60 days for all regulations but also within the 60 days the ministry has to collect public comments and make a substantial response.
We are also working on the transparency of the budget allocation, so that all the national major plans that use taxpayer’s money now must be disclosed — like how much percentage is completed every month or every quarter and how much did this … with the original proposal attached, and then we also invite everybody to comment on what exactly gets done during this budget plan and budget execution.
- We use a combination of strategies. One is called pol.is, which is a two-dimensional representation of everybody’s feelings on a particular topic and the idea is that you go to this website shows you one sentiment of the public policy, and you can press “Yes” or “NO” as you press “Yes” or “NO” your avatar — your Facebook profile or twitter profile — moves in this space where people who share very similar opinions with you and you can see in the cluster.
So even if 5,000 people get mobilized to vote exactly the same, they would just be one dot in this two-dimensional map. The map values diversity of opinions, so what we’re saying is that we’re collecting how diverse how different everybody views the same facts, and then we show it back to everybody —including the minority and majority — then we say after a month time, we’re collecting everything above a threshold into our agenda.
The threshold is define — for example, in cases of the private car dispatch systems, we had a majority group with 60% and minority with 40% so we say now the threshold is 80%, you have to propose any sentiment to convince 80% of people in order to be included in agenda of the next decision-making.
The number 80% was calculated by taking all of 60 and then half of 40, so no matter how much you mobilized — like if you mobilize it into 80%/20%, the threshold will become 90%. The idea is that no matter what you still to convince the majority of the minority group. People would then move from proposing radical opinions into more eclectic thoughts, so we got very high quality opinions at the end of the 3 week or 4 week per period.
- I think the most important thing is that people are risk-averse because they really don’t know what will happen when it fail. This is the same as startups: If the cause of starting a company is very high, then it means the cost of failure is also very high. We policymakers usually focus on how to lower the barriers of setting a new company, and so that if you set up at 10 and fail 9 of it, you don’t feel much of anything because of the cost of failing is low.
However, in Taiwan’s public servants system the cost of failing is unpredictable, because it all depends on how the popular media frames it… So because of the unpredictability of risk, most public servants, when they’re making decisions, they overestimate the risk to the maximal amount.
So our work is not about minimizing risk really, it’s defining risk it’s about making sure that okay if this policy fails, then after another 60 days we can go back and make a revision; if this policy is a bad idea, we have 60 days for people to voice their opinions.
So it’s not shameful if you have a draft that didn’t take care of some stakeholders, because those stakeholders will show up and tell you that : “Hey! You missed our voices!” and it’s okay to revise.
Previously, the habit is that it needs to be almost perfect before it could be announced to the public. However, if you forgot some stakeholders they would let you know on the street — then the risk is very high, right?
So by spreading the risk to the early stages of policy-making, we make the risk containable, definable and also share part of agenda setting power but also responsibility with the private sector and with civil society.
Once everybody carries some of the risk of bad policy and some of the responsibility to correct it — if it proves to be a bad policy — then we are all responsible to work on a second revision of it. In that way, the public servants burden is lessened; their risk is lessened; and so then I think they would then try something new.
- On this topic, I think the most radical aspect is not the content, but the bottom-up process by which the content may be made.
I’m aware that one possible enactment, the “Citizen Participation in Constitutional Reform Procedure Act”, has been proposed, but it’s within the purview of legislators, and as a public servant in the administration I would not comment on specific versions.
- I think entrepreneurial spirit is part of Taiwan’s culture already. The main work that government should do is to lower the burden of starting up something — if you spend a lot of time and capital to set up a company, a lot of efforts a lot of hoops to jump through, and then you fail; the failure will feel like something very disappointing.
However, if it is trivial to set up a company, and it’s possible to get some initial buy-in to your idea, then it doesn’t really feel like a failure — it would feel like a learning experience.
Then people can proudly say I failed 9 times and then I’m still asking another round of seed money; because each of these failed in the very early stage — maybe it doesn’t meet the market’s needs, it is not fit — but there isn’t much face to lose in each of those cases.
- In the Digital Nation plan ( http://www.slideshare.net/releaseey/1-m-69478090 ), we try to design the infrastructure in a way that, regardless of the industry — whether it’s a startup, or a established company who is looking for digital transformation — could enjoy an affordable bandwidth, an affordable way of communication to the regional governance structure.
We are also streamlining ways of of communicating to the international audiences, to more easily securitizate company assets, and to recruit international talents to Taiwan.
- This question is within the purview of the National Development Council, headed by commissioner Chen Tien-Chi. On this topic I’m just an advisor on issues related to digital technologies.
- The g0v community started at the end of 2012 by a bunch of hackers, one of which is my very good friend, Chia-Liang Kao. They initially started this initiative to build a domain name g0v.tw, that provides an alternate shadow government website for every national ministry, so that it solves the discovery problem.
The environmental agency, for example, that would be env.g0v.tw. Everybody can change the O in the browser environment to a 0, and then get into this shadow government which presents the same information, except open source, and with good visualization, interactive, and participatory.
After a couple of months, I joined working with the ministry of education’s dictionary data. We eventually covered pretty much all the agencies that we care about for administration. We have a community code that basically says all g0v projects must be released with open source and creative commons licenses.
This means that when a government is happy with our work, then they merge with our work, which they did. That’s a very interesting no-violent way of collaborating with the government.
- Please refer to my good friend Allison Randal’s work: https://allisonrandal.com/2012/04/15/open-source-enlightenment/ — this week I just recorded an interpretation of it in Mandarin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZz4croRkI8
- The translation mechanism between people of diverse sectors and skills is one key aspect; the other key aspect is “process as commons” — please refer to http://www.slideshare.net/autang/the-geopolitics-of-cities-old-challenges-new-issues/239 for a detailed writeup.