As citizens, we should all have a say on where we go as a society.
I want to share with you a story of how a group of citizens kick-started the redesign of a decrepit tax reporting system.
During the tax reporting season earlier this year, a young user experience designer made an e-petition: “We have a explosively user-hostile tax reporting system.”
The Ministry of Finance’s participation officer (PO) brought it to one of the monthly meetings in the PO network. Every month, in this meetings, Participation Officers bring topics they feel needed to be discussed with the network at once, instead of waiting for 5000 people to countersign and 60 days to reply.
Hierarchies doesn’t exist in the network, and POs are fully authorized to work on the open government of Taiwan – it is called adhocracy. The new adhocracy culture that the new digital minister brought in to the central government gave civil servants opportunities to leave a conclusion-free reply, which led them to take more time and iterations to seek for better solutions.
POs would conduct events or activities such as collaboration workshop, to gain a better understanding on each topics. In this case, the ux designer were invited to give presentation, followed by a quick idea development session, with the entire process live-streamed over the internet.
Eventually, the PO reached out and asked for more help from the society, they invited a as dynamic stakeholder group as possible, not only listened to their idea and thoughts, but also co-created the next year’s tax exporting system with them. Participants in the co-creation workshop include civil servants, POs, designers, facilitators, representatives from the contracted IT company, and the citizens.
They think and work together and came up with a new design that introduces a more friendly user flow and straightforward guidance.
Public participation in Taiwan has been developed in several formats, from face to face, radio broadcast and telephone call-ins, to deliberation over the internet. This trajectory coincides with the advancement of technology we sensed. New technology arrived — democracy evolved.
Three years ago, riding on the era of self-media, when digital natives wouldn’t hesitate to become YouTubers, to share selfies and Vine videos on social media in regular basis or in live, the Sunflower movement took place.
Students in Taiwan wouldn’t bare with the MP’s unwillingness to deliberate about a service trade deal with Beijing Office so that, the students, they occupied the parliament for 22 days and conducted a real deliberation, with the entire process live-streamed.
That led to the launch of vTaiwan, an experiment that prototypes an open consultation process
for the civil society. After sunflower movement, the government didn’t go back and sit in their silos. The former minister of cyberspace, Jaclyn Tsai, went to one of the hackathons organized by the largest civic tech community, and proposed to have a platform that allows the entire society to engage in rational discussion. People in hackathon took the challenges, and that was the start of vTaiwan.
vTaiwan takes shape into a platform and consultation process for the civil society, including governmental officials and civil servants to come together and deliberate on public policies. It has various touch points such as a website, a combination of meetings and hackathons along with a consultation process.
Today, three years after vTaiwan’s launch, we took a moment to review and report on what worked and what didn’t. We are also rephrasing the big question we asked ourselves, to address new challenge we are tackling.
Every case is different, and should be treated differently.
Cases on vTaiwan often go through several sessions in their process: online opinion collection, face to face consultation meeting, collaborative bill drafting and bill delivery.
But, there is no cure-all process.
It’s impossible to conclude a “working” framework for all cases.
Instead, the cases often go through a combination of sessions provided from how the community could facilitate.
Each case is different, and we are open to let the process serve each of them.
One of the most asked questions in vTaiwan hackathons is “what’s next?” what’s the next session to take for this case?
As the amount of cases increases, it’s extremely important to have every decision made transparent.
Participants are always different, and that’s good.
vTaiwan attracts group of stakeholders by cases. Taxi drivers came discuss on vTaiwan when uber case was been discussed. Drone venders came when new regulation of Unmanned Aviation Vehicles case was on. If you come to vTaiwan once in a couple of months, you will see an entirely different group discussing on various cases, operating the platform, maintaining the codes. The only thing doesn’t change is that you will always find coke and chips.
We enjoy working with everyone, and learn from everyone, so we are always looking for tips to attract more people, especially whose skillsets expand the group dynamics.
vTaiwan started as an experiment, and remains as an experiment.
vTaiwan started from experimenting open multi-stakeholder governance model.
We approached this goal with fellowship model, where mediators play key roles in catalyzing conversations. This model was proven to be feasible. However, after the mediators left the government and returned to the private sector, the peer-to-peer connections between ministries began disappearing. So we started wondering if there’s a way to institutionalize this model?
If we copy all the new questions so far. We could easily see several take away actions.
How do we make each decision transparently?
vTaiwan has been working as an hackathon itself that creates a recursive public that empowers whoever participate at the same time and place to contribute to its next decision. And we just need to find a way to make all steps transparent.
How might we expand the group dynamics?
(When I arrived are Madrid, I see) cool people attracts cool people but coke and chips only attract almost everyone, but not yet. Be cool with empathy.
lastly, when thinking about institutionalize this model, we have to be aware that more binding power also means less freedom. How might we on one hand regulate the necessity of participation and collaboration, while on the other hand remain it’s freedom to experiment? So that the government remains the commitment to participate but not predominate. And vTaiwan could responsive fast to new challenges, improvise and find creative solutions.
All in all, we need to keep experimenting.
To close this talk, I want to share the three most recent experiments we had, to make the process more inclusive, more intriguing, and more infectious.
Two months ago we launched a project called Holopolis, it’s an open project that is asking how to make vTaiwan better with new or existing technologies.
This is holopolis bot allows always available participation.
It packages vTaiwan as a contact you can add friend with and share your opinions on cases under discussion.
Holopolis MR imagines the uses case in the near future, when MR headsets are more popularized. It turns on the gps with computer vision so that the users can bump into virtual public forums such as a forum setup next to the priority seats.
Holopolis HiFi uses the High Fidelity platform and creates a virtual commons that imagine in the far future we can all connect to and immerse in public policy deliberation, which could cross the country borders for international issues.