• We have my good friend Kamala dialing in. Hey, Kamala.

  • Hello, this is Audrey.

  • It’s super early in the morning for you, hey?

  • It’s half-nine, so it’s not too bad, but yes, it’s still morning time, definitely. How’s the conference been?

  • It’s snowing today. I love the snow.

  • (laughter)

  • It’s a very Canadian welcome.

  • (laughter)

  • All right. Just before we start, just to say that when we’re recording, feel free to take a pause, say something again if you’d rather say it differently. Everything I hope it’s all smooth. You’re recording because your meetings go online. Is that right?

  • That’s right. We make a transcript of everything, including talking to journalists and lobbyists, but also all the internal meetings that I chair.

  • Is it just automatic translation that’s done by machine?

  • Yeah, which is why I use this top-notch microphone because if we use very cheap microphones they don’t auto-transcribe as well. Then we have to have human intervention.

  • That’s worth it. OK. We can start. Can you hear Kamala OK?

  • Hello, and welcome to the "OneTeamGov" show, a podcast featuring conversations with awesome people doing interesting stuff in the public sector. We appreciate you taking the time to join us and we have an amazing interview we know you’re going to love. My name is Kylie.

  • I’m Kamala. Today we’re talking with Minister Audrey Tang, who is the digital minister for Taiwan. Welcome, Audrey.

  • Hello, and thank you for tuning in to OneTeamGov.

  • (laughter)

  • Excellent. We are at the Forward 50 Conference here in Ottawa. It’s snowing outside, so we’ve had a typical Canadian welcome. How have your past few days been?

  • It’s really, really good. For this visit we first stopped by in Toronto and held a two-day workshop -- with people from the Ontario government, the civic tech people in Toronto, Toronto city government, civil society organizations -- on the vTaiwan method and the open government approach that we take in Taiwan.

  • We chose a topic that’s common to Taiwan and Ontario, which is ride-sharing. Uber, Lift, and taxis, and how we can work with different sectors and make the transportation better in a way that’s more fair and accessible to people.

  • The workshop went really well because we noticed that people sitting next to their kins. The first thing that we did at workshop is to say, "If you know anyone from your table, you have to move to another table." [laughs] It is a very mixed audience in each table.

  • We use dynamic facilitation; we use a lot of digital enablement methodologies to make sure that people are really focused on the conversation.

  • By the end of the thing people really said it’s one of the rare moments where they really talk across sectors and cross levels of government and really make their things tick so people see the same value that they all hold despite the different sectors that they are in. That’s, I think, also OneTeamGov.

  • Absolutely, yes. That was really in line with our principles and our mission for the world of governments. That’s great to hear. In the tech world you’re obviously really well-known for the work you’ve done in the open-source community. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about?

  • Of course. In 1996 I was 15 years old, second year in junior high. I discovered this World Wide Web thing where people just put up pre-prints, their research papers on it. I told my teachers that I want to drop out of junior high school because my textbook are all out of date. [laughs] I can just email any author, and they don’t know I’m just 14 or 15 years old and we just start research together.

  • I ran into this Internet society, the Internet Engineering Task Force, and the World Wide Web foundation, and those people who just co-create and make the world free of direct vertical power relationship. It’s entirely a voluntary association. That’s the only political system I know as a 14 years old. [laughs] It would be another six year before I get my voting right in representative democracy.

  • I started in Internet governance and really contributed to the Perl community, which was the early language to write a website in [laughs] back in 1996.

  • I started quite a few startups and contributed directly to the Perl language and then later also the Haskell language, which I used to help Larry Wall to rewrite Perl 6, which is now getting a new name called Raku.

  • Wow. You mentioned that you started a couple of organizations and companies. Can you explain a little more?

  • Of course. Back in 1996 during the initial dot-com boom, I co-founded a technology company called Inforian that did instant messaging, social networking, online auction -- we were one of the first online auction sites in Taiwan -- and things like that. It went pretty well, got invested by Intel, and things like that.

  • We did my first entrepreneurship purely for the fun of it, but then later on I discovered the free software movement and also the responsibility that we have as programmers to ensure a world that is more fair, instead of just doing dot-com stock thing.

  • Then I participated in the initial rephrasing of the free software movement into the open source movement, which is a marketing approach to get large corporations to become, essentially, social enterprises by donating, for example, the Netscape source code, which turned into Firefox, Mozilla, and stuff.

  • I really enjoyed working in the open source community with the aim towards software freedom, because to me it really bridges the two worlds. It is not "enterprise for profits" versus "freedom and human right". It is enabling people to work with a solid, sustainable business model, but also enables people to work full time on open sourcing and on open contributions.

  • We really bootstrapped that ecosystem back around the turn of the century in Taiwan, and I founded quite a few social enterprises toward that period. Finally, we landed on what we call OpenFoundry, which is a state-sponsored open source collaboration.

  • It’s a kind of pre-GitHub. Then we developed a lot of distributed version control systems to enable cool requests like workflows.

  • When I did the Perl 6 implementation called Pugs, I did this thing called radical trust, where anyone who complained anything about our language, about our way of implementing the language automatically got a commit bit, meaning that they can write directly to the repository.

  • We were handing out commit bits like crazy, to the creator of Python, to people’s newborn babies. Things like that. It’s pure anarchy, and it really, really works, because we say we move at the speed of trust, and we have to optimize for fun because it’s a decade-long project. If we don’t optimize for fun, we don’t sustain ourselves very long.

  • Optimize for fun. I think I should make that into a standard of excellence. [laughs]

  • It’s written -Ofun. It is actually a meme. We put it on T-shirts and stuff.

  • Perfect. I’ll have to get one. You mentioned fun and having this amazing time working across lots of different organizations and open source. You lived a lot of people’s dream in retiring from private sector at the age of 33. How did you make that decision?

  • I became financially independent. I worked in quite a few open source organizations that later turned into social enterprises. One of them is Socialtext, which is a bunch of early Perl hackers that tries to sell wikis and social media into the enterprise.

  • We don’t call ourselves social enterprise, though, we call ourselves Enterprise Social, [laughs] which is the way to manage large, siloed companies, but getting everybody on nowadays what we call a Slack channel, but we’re before Slack, to get people to share their organizational wisdom on the internal chat rooms, internal collaborative spreadsheets, wikis, and things like that, and basically make the silos more horizontal in the process.

  • We’re the wiki company. Once we get acquired by Peoplefluent, which is one of the largest HR companies, I stayed for the company for another couple of years training new people, and retire from the private sector to work full time on public good, and especially on the gov zero (g0v) movement, which was just starting around 2012. I joined in 2013.

  • The gov zero movement, very simply put, is a domain name called g0v.tw. If you see any public service that you don’t like, which all end in gov.tw, you can change the O to a zero and get into the shadow government, which is built by the civic tech people.

  • You don’t have to Google for it. You just use whatever the government service is and change the O to a zero to get into the interactive, open data, much more fun version of government.

  • The best thing about this forking the government movement is that it is entirely a meme. Last week budget.g0v.it gets formed. We have gov zero Italy now.

  • It is just a domain name. We don’t hold a patent or anything on it. People just created visualizations of budgets, visualization of environment and so on, and relinquish of copyright, so by the next procurement cycle, the government, if they really like the idea, it just becomes the government website.

  • That sounds so cool. I wonder if that’s the case for gov.uk? I wonder if there’s a shadow version of that? We should try it.

  • Yes, please do, please do.

  • Since then, you’ve joined the Taiwanese government and you’ve become one of Taiwan’s youngest ministers at the age of 36. Have you spotted any major differences in terms of a generational gap?

  • Yes, because we are, really, the first generation that can actually do democracy. Taiwan was under military rule until 1987. After lifting of the martial law and the first presidential election, in 1996, which coincides with the popularization of the Wide Web, we’re the first generation that can do democracy. We’re the first generation that are digital natives.

  • In many older republics, the people who were interested in public demonstration and democracy is one kind of people. People who are into design and digital is another kind of people. In Taiwan, it’s the same generation.

  • We really get a lot of leeway in experimenting because, for us, direct democracy, deliberative democracy, representative democracy, they’re all just 20 years old. We don’t have 200 years of parliamentary tradition to try with, so we try with a lot of hybrid forms of democracy because we started, I think, relatively early. You can find it in Estonia, and to a lesser degree, in Spain, also.

  • Touching on that transition from military rule to democracy, which happened recently, as you were saying, we read that you were heavily involved in the Sunflower movement in Taiwan, which has obviously had a massive impact in the direction of Taiwan. Can you tell us some stories about what that was like?

  • Yes, certainly. That was in 2014, March, and around that time, parliament was refusing to deliberate substantially the so-called Cross-Strait Service and Trade Agreement, or CSSTA, because of some obscure constitutional reasons and because the MPs were on strike, so people just occupied the parliament and did the work for them.

  • There’s the legitimacy theory, anyway. We always insist that it was a demonstration and not a protest. It’s a demonstration in the sense of demo, right?

  • We demonstrate to the MPs, if you have a service trade agreement and you have 20 NGOs, each deliberating from one different angle -- from labor, from environment, things like that -- you can occupy the parliament and have one NGO in each corner of the occupied parliament.

  • The g0v people are neutral, providing communication and real-time transcript of everything and live stream feeds and things like that. Half a million people on the street can actually coalesce into more convergent positions by every day repeating, what have we agreed in the previous day.

  • Anyone can enter through the g0v tools, your company name, or the trade they’re in, and see exactly how does this service and trade agreement affects them. It’s evidence-based conversation around 20 different angles of this society. Every day, we inch toward consensus a little bit more, so by the end of three weeks, we have five consensus points.

  • They’re solidified. We know that is the people’s will. The head of parliament actually accepted it. The victory was in occupiers and people see for the first time that you can really do collaborative governance, and how the Internet’s way of gaining legitimacy, which is by radical transparency, actually translates into everyday life, as well.

  • That was incredible because I remember, back in, around that time, there was the occupy movement. One of the things people kept on saying was what do you want? There was this pro-narrative about not being able to come up with substantive demands. It’s really cool you managed to land on those five and have them accepted. That’s an amazing story.

  • Your ministry has helped come up with Taiwan’s eight-year digital nation plan. Can you tell us something that you’re particularly excited to see delivered as part of that eight-year plan?

  • I’ll start with something really, really simple, which is broadband as a human right. It was Dr. Tsai Ing-wen’s presidential promise, so anywhere in Taiwan, be it indigenous or rural or faraway islands, if you don’t have 10 megabits per second, it’s my fault.

  • That is the foundation of everything because if you have broadband as a human right, you can build the new curriculum that emphasizes learning that could be by distance learning. It could be by AI-assisted learning. It could be by personal AI that you just grow, co-evolve, with the students.

  • You can design curriculums that are fully interactive. You can have teleworking workforces and so on. If you don’t have broadband as a human right, you leave part of your people behind. I would just start with this really simple thing, which is broadband, and access is a human right.

  • If they, in some rural and indigenous places, don’t have tablets and so on, we also have library programs that provide them for free. We renew that every three years. We start with something really simple like that and we just deliver it this year.

  • One of the things that we’re really interested in on the OneTeamGov podcast is about differences in digital economies across the world. Do you think there are any unique challenges that Taiwan faces in terms of digital and technology?

  • In Taiwan, just this year, we passed the Indigenous Transitional Justice Act, and then, the Hakka Act, and in a couple of months, the National Languages Act. We used to have one national language. Very soon, we’ll have 22 national languages, including the Taiwan sign language.

  • The act basically says if you want to learn about astronomy in Sakilaya, the education system needs to deliver that.

  • This is something that’s very core to the heart of many Taiwanese people.

  • We’re in an East Asian culture circle, but we’re also -- at the east side of Taiwan -- 16 indigenous nations, and so we’re all part of the Austronesian Pacific island culture as well. Both are Taiwan.

  • It’s important in our truth and reconciliation process that we have, for example, the open government participation officers training material, which is a comic that is also available in a first nation language, which is also the tribe of our administrative spokesperson.

  • I think one of the unique challenges is how can we make digital respond to the real needs of people who get included as first-class citizens and not someone who is, so-called vulnerable, so-called disadvantaged? We can just turn the wisdom into digital and have digital to be in service of social innovation, not the other way around.

  • We’ve devised a lot of unique ways, for example, the sandbox system, that allows anyone to pinpoint a social need and break the rule, or even law, for a year, for people to see that it really is making a societal impact, net positive, and for us to merge it back into the regulation and a law system.

  • We’re doing a lot of innovation around the need of both truth and reconciliation. Just the simple fact that we now have to consider the augmented intelligence and self-driving vehicles as members of this society and we need to be inclusive of them, too.

  • That is an insight into inclusion that I never would have expected to get from this. That is so fascinating. Thank you.

  • You’re the first digital minister and you’re one of the first young ministers and the first post-gender minister.

  • Do you think it gives you any different insights to be first all the time?

  • I think having gone through two puberties does enable my mind to empathize 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. I think that also enables me to see post-gender in a way that is very different from the mainstream, Western world binary system.

  • In many first nations in Taiwan, it’s not just a third gender. It’s also the gender irrelevance a part of it. I think these cultural backgrounds really lets me see the world through the lens of different cultural backgrounds of people and also enables me just to sympathize and empathize with rivers and animals, who cannot vote but can, now, talk through the voices of, for example, the so-called Internet of Things, which would turn it into the

  • Internet of Beings and enable us to empathize with, say, a river. In New Zealand, part of the Maori culture, they give their river a personhood, so they can sit on a board. Of course, someone from the crown and someone from the Maori stand as speakers for the river.

  • They can speak for the river because the river speaks through the sensors network that makes people visualize and, in a gut feeling, know that the river is being harmed because of some actions being done in a way that has externalities.

  • I think digital also enables us to listen to pluralities for, even, non-human beings. That’s also a big part, reconciling our more Western worldview with the indigenous worldview.

  • One of the other experiences you mentioned earlier was that you identify as an anarchist.

  • Conservative anarchist.

  • Conservative anarchist, OK. That’s not something that we typically associate with being in government. How do you reconcile those two worlds?

  • I’m sort of at a Lagrange point between the civil society and the government system. I always say I work with the cabinet, but I don’t work for the cabinet. I work with the people and not for the people, so that’s the Lagrange point.

  • The reason why is that my mandate is crowdsourced.

  • Back in 2016, September, when I get the appointment of being the digital minister, I was still working with, not for, Apple, at the time and I gave them a 30-day notice. During that 30 days, I basically did a "Ask me anything," publicly on a platform called Wiselike.

  • Anyone can ask me questions, including journalists and/or foreign counterparts, but I only answer publicly. When I make any answer, it’s sent to the inbox to thousands of people, so they can ask follow-up questions. After one month of public consultation, we settled on three main things that people really want me to hold as a compact, not a contract, with the government.

  • The three things are -- voluntary association, meaning I give no orders. I take no orders. Location independence, so I can be anywhere, and my staff can be anywhere, but we’re still working, teleworking, location independence. Finally, radical transparency. Anything I can see, I can publish for the public interest.

  • Of course, as a natural consequence, I cannot be a part of any national secret or national confidential information. If they take a military drill, I just take a day off. I still don’t know where the bunkers are.

  • (laughter)

  • Otherwise, any meeting that I chair, I get to publish radically transparent transcripts after 10 days of editing if it’s a journalist, or 10 working days if it’s public service. The nuance here is very important because it enables people to see the why of policy making, not just the what of the delivery and enables the credit to be shared with the career public service.

  • Previously, the deal was pretty bad. If you get something right, your minister gets the credit. If you do something wrong, the minister blames you. Innovation is hard to happen without radical transparency, especially across silos. Now, with radical transparency, it’s the other way around.

  • If by responding to people’s needs, the career public service hits on some really innovative idea, people see it right away after 10 working days, even if the minister says, "No, afterwards." The people can pick up and run it through social enterprises or civic tech. If it doesn’t work out, then the digital minister takes all the blame because I’m the only minister doing this anyway.

  • In this kind of way, we enable the public service to innovate in a way that reduces the risk of everybody. I think that is at the core of my theory of a change, which is making sure that a career public service can always say, "We try something really crazy and it fails, it’s Audrey’s fault."

  • Related to that, one of the things we hear over and over again on the OneTeamGov show is about problems with hierarchies and silos in government and how it produces a lot of drag and problems. How is the work that you’re doing with radical transparency helping to break those hierarchies? Do you have anything else that you’re doing that you could share with our listeners?

  • Yes, certainly. When I joined the cabinet, my staff is uniquely composed of, at most, one person from each ministry. We have 34 vertical ministries, 34 vertical ministers, and one of the eight horizontal ministers, meaning that we’re kind of above and coordinating the other vertical ministries.

  • I talk to a secretary general saying, "I’m going to ask for volunteers from all 34 ministries to join my staff," but because so many people want to join my office, I only poach one person at most from each ministry. Technically, I can have 34 staff. At the moment, it’s 22 people, each coming from very different backgrounds.

  • Each ministry is one different value. So many different values, but nobody dominating one another. Today, their salary is still being paid by their ministry. They still work toward their minister’s agenda. What I do is provide a safe space for people to propose things and to talk in a way that’s what we call working out loud, meaning that every day, we have stand up meetings. We have a weekend board.

  • We have a system called Sandstorm.io, that is cybersecurity hardened platform that enables us to run any app written by the public service, for the public service. Basically, all the 34 ministers people get to propose ideas that are good for not just their minister but other ministers, as well.

  • If people decide it’s a good thing, then I absorb the risk. I talk to their ministers and I make things happen. I share the credit back with their ministers. If it doesn’t work out, there’s no harm done because this is just one of the sandboxes within the cabinet.

  • We’re like Policy Lab in the UK but operates in a way that has much more political mandate to try true cross-ministerial things, not just design and consultation, but all the way to delivery.

  • That sounds like an incredibly fun team to work in. I’d love to. Some more fun stuff now. We read that you enjoy troll hugging.

  • What is that? How do you do it?

  • It’s my hobby. Trolls are people who crave attention because they don’t get sufficient hugs and kisses from the physical world. They crave attention by upsetting people on the Internet. The way that I do troll hugging is that if people mention my name on social media in a way that tries to raise my attention, I only respond to the parts that are authentic.

  • Say they post 100 words that are all ad hominem attacks and just five words of which can be construed as constructive, then I just reply, carefully, to those five words. It has two effects. The first, it teaches people that it’s possible to have long-term, relational conversations because trolls previously only had transactional conversations.

  • They upset people. People get upset. They get attention. It’s like junk food. Because it’s not relational, they wake up the next morning still feeling very empty and troll some other people. Because I very carefully reply to the part that is authentic to their experience, they learn that only by responding authentically do they get a minister’s attention.

  • Then, they get to have a real dialogue and relationship with me. I also invite them to the social innovation lab, which is my office hours, every Wednesday from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Anyone can come and visit me, provided they agree to have a transcript published online, they can just come and have a talk and give me a hug.

  • Basically, I just attract the trolls to review their authentic selves and just come to a social innovation lab and we can co-create something.

  • How many of them actually do that, come to your office hours?

  • I think half of them actually reform and half of them find it’s not fun anymore and they troll some other people, so the success rate is around 50 percent.

  • (laughter)

  • Speaking of Twitter, perhaps not one of your troll friends but we ask everyone that we speak to, to help recommend some things for our listeners. Could you start us off with a Twitter account that we could follow?

  • @OneTeamGov. [laughs] Yay, that’s an easy one.

  • Personally, we have a @TaiwanPDIS account that we’re not using very much because, so far, I’ve just been tweeting with my own handle, @audreyt and all our staff members are tweeting under their own handle, also.

  • We’re thinking of reactivating the @TaiwanPDIS account. PDIS stands for Public Digital Innovation Space. If you can follow @TaiwanPDIS, we’ll figure out something together.

  • Great. What about a podcast?

  • OneTeamGov, of course.

  • (laughter)

  • There’s another easy one. No, I actually don’t follow that much podcasts, to be very honest. I attended the Rebel Cities podcast where they tried to build horizontal municipalism. They seemed like a pretty decent podcast but that’s only if you believe in municipalism and want to join the rebel cities.

  • Maybe quite a niche podcast there.

  • A book? My favorite book is "Finnegans Wake," but I don’t recommend that to people. It’s such a time consumer.

  • Recently, there’s a pretty good book called, "New Power." It’s very accessible. It explains the way the horizontal power works as a method but also explains the horizontal power as a value. The value and the method don’t always go together.

  • There’s some people with very old power, vertical values, but using new power methodologies to paint things and to make things happen. There’s also people using very old ways to cheerlead the new values of horizontalism. I think the book, New Power, really explains this kind of message really well and it has a lot of examples.

  • Great. Finally, a charity or an enterprise social that you could recommend?

  • "Enterprise social" was my private sector work. I’m working on "Social enterprise" now, like companies with a clear mission.

  • I’m going to recommend Mozilla Corporation. Mozilla Corporation, we closely partner with them to deliver the indigenous languages automatic translation, voice recognition, and so on through the Common Voice Project.

  • After returning to Taiwan, next week, actually, I’m going to read aloud two hours of corpus into the Common Voice so that people can recognize that it’s possible to donate different accents to different dialects, different languages of Taiwan and have the AI system not forcing anyone to speak perfect Mandarin or perfect Hakka or perfect Holog.

  • And still be able to converse in their native way with the AI-assisted speech system. Everything is donated in the Creative Common Zero, which means that it’s in the public domain. Everybody can use it, including the Alexas and Siris of the world. [laughs]

  • I think it’s a good innovation, and it’s brainstormed and designed in Taiwan. I’m very proud that Mozilla Corporation can work with Taiwan in this way. All the earnings of that corporation goes back to the Mozilla Foundation anyway.

  • It’s a good structure of a hybrid charity mission-led social enterprise that we can say the open source world actually reconciles with the social entrepreneurship world. We have a working example, an international recognizable brand at that.

  • Awesome. Audrey, we’ve heard some fantastic stories. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

  • No, I was going to say, amazing, awesome story.

  • OK, cool. Thank you very much.

  • Thank you. Thanks, Kamala. See you soon.