Empathy and dialogue building in the “Divine Pig” case
The value of collaborative meetings is sometimes not the extent to which administrative power is enforced, but rather how much it serves as a platform for communication between dissenting positions among the people.
In mid-August this year, netizen “Happy Mumu” proposed on the public policy network participation platform a signed case called “Stop the Divine Pig Weight Competition Sacrifice”. The proposer pointed out that during the process from breeding to slaughter, the “Divine Pigs” suffer a lot of abuse and pain, so it is hoped that the weight competition can be terminated and replaced by some friendly and innovative method. The case received media attention at the endorsing stage, and it quickly broke through the threshold of 5,000 endorsements to qualify as a case in early September.
In the Executive Yuan, the mechanism for deciding what cases to conduct collaborative meetings is the “Open Government Liaison Work Promotion Conference” (referred to as “PO Monthly Meeting”). When the Participation Officer (PO) monthly meeting in October was held, the representatives of the Council of Agriculture and the Hakka Affairs Council as hosting organizations, offered to collaborate on this case. The COA PO explained at the time:
“What are involved in this case are issues such as the people’s belief culture, animal protection, and so on. Although the Council of Agriculture does not agree with the pig weight competition from the standpoint of animal protection, sometimes there is no way for the law to completely solve folk customs problems, so we must communicate with believers, contestants, and cultural and historical workers, hoping to reach a consensus on adjustments.” (quoted from the transcript.)
Under the coordination of the National Development Council, the Hakka Affairs Council that is considered to be related to the weight competition culture of the divine pig, is the main organizer, while the Ministry of the Interior and and the Ministry of Culture, responsible for religion and folk culture, are the co-organizers. In the four-ministry case, the two-month preparatory process for the “Divine Pig” issue began. On November 15th, stakeholders were invited to attend a collaborative meeting.
Alignment and tone setting of administrative departments
This proposal is not a brand new topic for the executive branch, and all the ministries have been involved in the business related to the Divine Pig competition. The Hakka Affairs Council, one of the organizers, also posted on Facebook this year, “Respecting the sacrifice culture and combating animal cruelty” to express the stand of the government unit. Inter-organizations first carried out the work of “cognitive alignment” within the administrative department, that is, “not using law to forcibly intervene in religious sacrifice culture” as the basic line, but using softer methods, such as counseling and reward, to gradually promote the transformation of the Divine Pig Weight Competition.
The ministries agreed that it is not appropriate to intervene in religious rituals with public authority. From the point of view of the proposer’s hope that the government will be more actively involved, at first glance, this option may be considered to have been narrowed in advance. However, various agencies also took the opportunity to clarify the existing measures. In particular, the Council of Agriculture has written to the local government to strengthen the guidance of the temples, religious groups, and pig breeders within their jurisdiction who still hold sacred pig rituals, and track and manage the feeding. The Hakka Affairs Council drew up the historical context of the Divine Pig Competition and pointed out its connection with the Hakka culture. The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of the Interior also publicly expressed their stance on the transformation of the sacrifice rituals.
Therefore, from the standpoint of the “Divine Pig Weight Competition,” all the agencies and the proposer share the same goal, that is, to allow the existing form of Divine Pig sacrifices to be changed to a certain degree. It is only that the means of intervention needs to consider the people’s religious freedom. The government departments have actually expressed the core value of “respecting folk beliefs,” and hoped to discuss them on this premise.
Admit opinions during the preparatory phase, and set issues for discussion
After the basic tone was established, each ministry began to interview the stakeholders, including the proposer, the animal protection group, the temples that hold the Divine Pig Weight Competition and are supposed to transform, the believers who participated in the competition, the Divine Pig raisers, the main agencies of animal protection in the county and city governments, and experts and scholars. Since the positions of the administrative departments have reached a consensus and are quite firm, policy communication has been initiated from the preparatory stage. But in the process, it was found that the parties in the civil society have different priorities and their respective positions on the competition also scattered between the two ends of the spectrum.
First of all, the process of raising the pigs is difficult to standardize. The law violations of animal abuse need to be determined based on the facts of each case. The representatives of the Ministry followed the local government ’s animal protection office to visit the actual site of the pig farmers. What they saw was indeed different from the previous situation of the animal protection group’s evidence, which showed the importance of case identification. The temples believe that the key lies in the believers. However, the motivation for the competition is often a dynamic process between the believers and the temples, rather than being driven in one direction. It is also affected by changes in external ideas, policy encouragement, and changes in the social and economic structure. The cultural value and historical context of sacrifice that believers care about are also difficult to measure directly under the same standards as animal welfare.
As a result, colleagues from various agencies and the PDIS team decided to set the case as a more inclusive theme—“How to discuss the possibilities of alternative rituals on the premise that the people are spontaneous?”
In the actual operation of the meeting, there were mainly two-stage group discussions. In the first half, “How to encourage believers to choose pigs raised in a natural way to sacrifice to God?” to ensure that we did not completely exclude the option of raising pigs. In the second half, “How to encourage believers to use different ways to repay God?” in response to the request of the proponent to carry out a stimulus of transformation forms and incentives.
The diverse composition of the scene brings tension and dynamics
At the beginning of the collaborative meeting, the groups were broken up, so that the temples, pig farmers, animal protection agencies, case proposers and endorsers, experts and scholars, and representatives from various ministries were seated around different groups. As mentioned earlier, even if the administrative authorities unanimously determined that there would be no compulsory involvement in the sacrificial culture, the position on the competition was actually quite obvious. The pig farmers at the scene felt “targeted” and some wanted to leave even before the group discussion.
The working team, herein, in addition to ensuring a friendly atmosphere at the scene, also needed to persuade and communicate outside the meeting area. The team originally thought that the conflict might be imminent. However, after entering the group discussion, a temple representative on the spot, who was from the temple that successfully transformed to the creative solution from the Divine Pig Competition, played the role of being able to empathize and identify with the pig farmers in a timely manner. The pig farmers, therefore, were willing to stay in their seats.
Although the animal protection groups, with very firm positions different from the pig farmers, also realized that it was very precious for the farmers and temples to be willing to come to Taipei from faraway and to endure voices that might be completely opposed to their job for survival. Therefore, even if they put forward sharp arguments, they were still willing to soften their attitude in a timely manner, and mentioned their common ideas with the pig farmers and temples. The public sector representatives not only explained their positions and existing actions, but could also play a neutral and integrating role, and even further deconstruct the situation on the demand side, and propose alternative possibilities.
Relying on the communication between the agencies before hand, and the mutual understanding of the invitees, this collaborative meeting, which might have been parted on bad terms, was successfully completed in the end even if there were several highly-intensified discussion situations.
Review of the soul of the meeting: Public Service PO
The preparation process of more than a month before the meeting was the key to the successful completion of this afternoon’s collaborative meeting. In addition to “internal communication” to establish a consistent benchmark for all agencies, it is more important to use this benchmark to empathize with all stakeholders and allow people with extremely different positions to listen to each other and sit together till the end of the meeting.
At the same time, at the micro level, what was relied on was the on-site host, who treated all participants equally, gathered all opinions fairly and clearly, and promptly reminded the meeting to set the tone and the issues to focus. The moderator of this meeting came from the PDIS team, and most of the discussions were held in group, relying on three POs from the Ministry of the Interior, the General Accounting Office, and the Engineering Society.
The three POs personally participated in the preparation process of working meetings, pre-meetings, etc., and grasped the development of the case before serving as the small table heads (review moderators) of each group. They carefully read the conference manual and did their homework carefully on the topic content. Prior to the formal meeting, the three POs also spent time with the PDIS team to “sandbox” deduce possible discussion scenarios. Together, they designed a “tool list” to assist in the discussion.
On the day of the meeting, POs took full advantage of the “hosting” technology that open government liaisons should have, allowing participants to reach effective dialogue within a limited time.
Not only the public sectors, collaborative meetings can also be a platform for people talking with people
Collaboration meetings have developed close to sixty themes so far, each of which looks different due to the nature of its issues, the policy stage, and the status of its stakeholders. This case had a high degree of social concern, which touched on different fields such as animal protection and religious sacrifice. The stakeholders of all parties had different thinking directions and positions. If it had not established the discussion issues at each stage first, or the moderator couldn’t have guided in a timely manner, the discussion process had been very likely to diverge and fall into the state of each sticking to their own words.
As mentioned earlier, the government agencies limited the bottom line for public authority intervention and did not play the role of enforcer in this case, but all units were still actively participating in the preliminary preparation and internal and external communication processes, and the non-ministry POs also devoted to it. Therefore, what we see in this case is that, as a deliberative meeting within the system, the focus of the collaborative conference is not necessarily on the level of public authority intervention, but rather letting the administrative department as the builder of the platform so that the diverse voices of the people can have a field of mutual listening and understanding. The invitations from various ministries also made the conference more diverse.
No matter from the perspective of the proposer, the animal protection group, or the temples, or pig farmers, although the measures to completely satisfy any party have not been summarized, all parties can fully clarify the current situation and express their own opinions to ensure the boundary between action and inaction of the government units. The value of this collaborative meeting is that when the conflict between religious sacrifice culture and humanitarian values occurs, the seemingly incomprehensible and opposing parties can have a chance to see each other’s true situations, and also promote the parties to move a small step towards mutual empathy.