• Welcome to Taiwan. Is there anything you would like me to provide some background on? Are there any questions?

  • Would you like to briefly outline your contributions to the Taiwanese administration?

  • There’s a recent article that I posted to the New York Times. It’s an op-ed that talks about how digital democracy began as a not only a legitimate, but a strongly preferred form of governance here in Taiwan. I will not repeat the details as I outlined in article.

  • Broadly speaking, my contributions started during the 2014 Occupy Parliament, when people were protesting against the Cross-Strait Service and Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which was fast-tracked through the Parliament without any substantial deliberation.

  • Because of that, the legitimate theory was that the MPs were on strike. They refused to deliberate CSSTA substantially, and so the people occupied their Parliament and demonstrated. The demonstration was not in the form of a protest, but rather as a demo, as a showing of what’s possible.

  • I helped the occupiers to build the ICT systems that enable half a million people on the street, and many more online, to collaborate with 20 or so occupying NGOs, each focusing on one aspect of the CSSTA to converge on a state of consensus over the course of the 22 days of Occupy.

  • The great thing is that, by the end of the Occupy, we had a strong idea of a polity, meaning that people could actually see that, mostly, people agreed on the things that most people thought that they wouldn’t agree on.

  • There are only maybe five divisive ideological points, but most people see that there actually is a broad consensus around the terms of CSSTA. That was the country’s first experience with this kind of massive, scalable listening.

  • After that, in the mayoral election of 2014, all the mayors that embraced this open government platform for their campaign were elected—and some of them without preparing inauguration speeches. The people who did not support this kind of citizen participation lost their mayoral bids.

  • Because of that, the Ma Ying-jeou administration, at the end of 2014, after Premier Jiang Yi-huah resigned and Premier Mao Chi-kuo took place as the Premier, embraced this kind of crowdsourcing and open government as their national agenda.

  • We were hired as reverse mentors — understudies that help setting directions — to their cabinet. For example, I worked with Minister Jaclyn Tsai, theoretically as a understudy, but actually as a reverse mentor. I was tackling how to build these kinds of listening experiences into all the levels of national conversations, like regulating Uber and so on, and without getting the Parliament occupied every single time, which was kind of expensive. [laughs]

  • Because of that, we’re now focusing our efforts, for example, on the Join platform, which is three different platforms rolled into one. It’s a petition platform just like the We the People, it’s the regulatory pre-announcement like regulations.gov, and it’s also participatory budgeting on a national and municipal level, for which there’s no equivalent in the US. [laughs]

  • In any case, it’s these three different systems rolled into one. People can participate throughout the lifecycle of every single policy, and there are around 10 million unique visitors, which is almost half of Taiwan’s population.

  • A popular challenge during 2014 was: do we actually only empower the people who are digital elites who can connect to these kinds of Internet deliberation spaces? Dr. Tsai Ing-wen has in her presidential agenda the idea of broadband as a human right, which basically empowers the people in the most rural and indigenous places to have equal access to broadband. We’re now 98 percent there. I think there are some leftovers, like the mountains over 3,000 meters, but even on Jade Mountain, which is almost 4,000 meters tall, there are Internet speeds of 10 megabits per second for a very affordable price, like 16 USD per month. That also applies to the Pacific islands of Dongsha and Taiping and so on.

  • Anywhere, if you don’t have broadband yet, it’s my fault, and we can make sure [laughs] that everybody has the tablets, the devices, and the digital literacy to connect to the systems so that democracy moves forward as a polity, not just as some pocketed municipalities.

  • That has been the main idea as well as in our K–12 education, to build this civil participation and media literacy into the K–12 curriculum. Many of our most impactful petitions are in fact done by people who are 15 or 16 years old, because they cannot vote. This is their [laughs] only recourse.

  • We also have our Greta petitioning for the banning of plastic straws and things like that, to be carbon-neutral and so on, and these petitions are met with really good face-to-face conversations as well as social innovation tours. I tour around the most indigenous, rural, and offshore places and have real-time conversations with the local people after living there for a day or two, and I connect the meeting through high-speed telepresence—because of broadband as human right—to 12 ministries in Taipei and other municipalities. Then people can, instead of seeing these communities as abstract numbers on an Excel spreadsheet or abstract text on a Word document, they can see them face-to-face. In Taiwan, we say meeting face-to-face builds 30 percent of trust.

  • Using high-bandwidth telepresence, we can build maybe 20 percent trust. We track all those different ideas and feed them into this AI-powered conversation, which we also use with the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT)—which is the de facto embassy here—to collaboratively build agendas that work for both sites.

  • Our first agenda is to make Taiwan seen as more unique in the world. Predictably, there are some divisive statements that divide the participants neatly into two halves. The media, of course, loves this kind of sound bite, but actually, if we look at the breakdown, there’s only one divisive statement. That’s the one that I just showed you: “Every time China closes an international door for Taiwan, the U.S. should try open one for Taiwan someplace else.”

  • Actually, most people agree on most of the things, most of the time, with most of their neighbors. We would then just work with AIT to go through the opinions one by one. Some ideas, like that AIT should send somebody to our Presidential Hackathon, are realized very quickly.

  • So what is the Presidential Hackathon? It’s the idea that the civil society and public sector can prototype something for three months. Our president gives out a trophy every year to five teams. The trophy, there’s no money, but there is a projector. When turned on, it shows the president giving the team the trophy. It’s very useful in the public sector.

  • The trophy represents a presidential promise that whatever the recipients tried, piloted, and gained popular support for in the past three months, then the government are committed, within the next 12 months, to make it into a national policy and essentially to maintain it forever, no matter which regulatory budget or personnel that they might need.

  • It’s a really good idea for the public sector to listen to this social sector and build together. We also want to extend it internationally — which explains the consensus in the digital dialog with AIT: “The US should regularly participate in Taiwan’s Presidential Hackathon and share data in order to co-create solutions for the social-environmental challenges we both are facing in Taiwan and the US.”

  • Lo and behold, the US did send someone to participate in the Presidential Hackathon, working on circular economy.

  • The overarching idea is that we can’t really, in the digital economy, we can’t really rely on existing vertical structures to regulate between, for example, the economic and environmental interests or the scientific innovation and social justice interests.

  • Traditionally, there are ministers in charge of these different values. The career public servants are the anonymous rope in between values, trying not to break. With the new, emergent, hashtag-based activities, there really is no way for us to set up a new task force or a new agency whenever there is a hashtag. #MeToo, #ClimateStrike, all these basically mean that we need to ask a different set of questions. Instead of saying, “What are the trade-offs between opposing values?” we’re now creating a space for discussion.

  • That’s my office in the Social Innovation Lab. This is the formal meeting space that, every Wednesday—that’s today, right after this meeting—I will be here. From 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., everybody can talk to me for 40 minutes.

  • The only requirement is that I will record myself and publish my answers online so that—

  • Everybody from the public?

  • Everybody. Literally, everybody. There are people who claim to have invented perpetual motion machines; they’re also welcome to talk for 40 minutes at a time. Everybody can see that conversation. After I became the Digital Minister, I have talked with thousands of people—4,000, to be exact, during around 1,000 meetings, with more than 200,000 speeches. All this is in the public domain 10 days after each meeting, after co-editing to take out the private and confidential parts. Everything is online for everybody to brainstorm on.

  • This basically asks a different set of questions. We’re now asking, so people have all those different positions, but they can talk to me one-on-one in private meetings. However, our conversations then become the agenda for subsequent conversations. For example, there was David Plouffe, working for Uber at the time, [laughs] and who met with me to talk about how they may contribute to environmental sustainability, which is a very nice angle of argument.

  • Then this whole conversation became a public, social object that people can quote, but not out of context. They can take it within the context, so that the investigative reporters have a better starting ground to compare to the tabloids and so on, so that dialogue actually converges into similar values, instead of just polarized soundbites that you see in popular media.

  • This then became our main strategy to combat disinformation. We want to get this kind of contextualized information to be more viral, and packaged in a more mimetic, virulent way than the one-sided disinformation and harmful propaganda.

  • That is also part of my job, to coach various different ministries in the art of packaging their contextualized information in a way that’s much more attractive to the public and enabling this much closer conversation across different people with different positions.

  • That’s the 10-minutes gist [laughs] of my work, but feel free to just delve into any one of it.

  • Would you like to elaborate on the reception of budget visualization? And, how do you deal with internet trolls?

  • Both excellent questions. The participatory budgeting, which is part of join.gov, is actually a civil society initiative. If you go to g0v.it, which is Italy, you will see the Italian people in the very beginning, like in Taiwan in 2012. Instead of asking the government’s permission, they just parsed through the 500 pages or so of the Italian national budget and produced this.

  • If you go to budget.g0v.it, it looks just like budget.g0v.tw. there really is no trademark of g0v. The basic idea is that, for each government website that people complain is not useful or not interactive enough, we change the O to a 0, and you get into the shadow government.

  • That is much more interactive, much more participatory, and is always open source, meaning that the creators relinquish the copyright claims. Because of that, people can then delve into the specific part of the budget that they care the most about and have a real-time conversation among citizens themselves.

  • Most of the g0v innovations started just as these kind of experiments. Once the public service realized that this is actually a much better way, compared to the traditional way—which is each public servant has to pick up the phone, and the person is speaking and asking questions, not realizing that there are hundreds of people who have asked the same question about the same budget item.

  • Public servants can now say: You just go to the Join platform, and look at our long-term healthcare, which is our number one watched policy. You can see the KPIs, the budget deliverables. This is a 10-year policy. We’re in the third year.

  • Every quarter, there are good suggestions from people, and every quarter, the Ministry of Health and Welfare can say, “We relaxed these reimbursement rules,” or whatever, “based on your feedback.” This is an ongoing conversation with career public servants, instead of through specific ministers.

  • The platform itself is managed by the National Development Council (NDC), which is a merger of the Economic Planning Council and the Research and Auditing Councils within the administration. Once these two merged, they are both in charge of long-term planning, as well as the national auditing day-to-day, and whether it is delivering on its budget goals. We basically just ask the NDC to publish whatever their auditors will see into this space. Basically, we share the same virtual workplace, so people can have a real-time conversation.

  • This is not a specific-to-one-ministry item. This is basically our national auditing office publishing their information and sharing it with people. It’s part of their work. It’s not an additional track of work.

  • The second question, which is the main thing that we are researching, if you look at New York Times article—this is basically what we’re saying: We’re keeping the trolls at bay by a mix of artificial intelligence and crowd intelligence. The basic idea, very simply put, is that we take away the reply button.

  • With the reply button, people who have the most time on their hands win arguments by virtue of having more time on their hands. They can also make personal attacks. Without the reply button, which is very consistent in all the spaces we design, all we show people is the fellow citizens’ sentiments and ask whether you agree with them or not.

  • Once you click agree or disagree, your avatar moves toward the people who share your opinions, but there’s no way to directly reply to that particular statement. After agreeing or disagreeing for a while, you can then contribute your statement for other people to like or unlike.

  • In this way, if 5,000 people get mobilized, like fake accounts or whatever, and vote exactly the same way, it actually doesn’t affect the area. One area here is just 16 people, but it’s actually a larger area representing a more diverse point of view.

  • This is the real root of the UberX conversation in 2015, which is the first time that we deployed this technology. Again, you can see that this is not proportional to the people who vote the same way. This is not a representation in the sense of counting the number of people who vote the same way, but rather, a measurement of diversity, and that each statement needs to be approved by all the different groups—what we call group-informed consensus. This requires resonance to confirm those statements as they enter into the ideation space, where the public servants actually respond one-to-one to each of those points, but only to those points that have reached a broad consensus across different groups.

  • If you have a very divisive idea, you will not get agenda-setting power. People can still compete, but compete on getting more resonating ideas.

  • For example, for the The Bowling Green Civic Assembly, it turns out that, no matter which partisan side they are on, everybody agreed that, instead of STEM, the arts should be part of the K–12 education, making it STEAM. This is what they have not yet done, but this is such a, I think the English term is a no-brainer, so that people can see that this is an area we should dedicate our attention to.

  • Instead of focusing our attention on those five divisive statements, we should just ratify whatever people think is important across the different aisles. That was the idea of keeping the trolls at bay, basically: you can’t make personal attacks.

  • Also, on the platform, people compete on resonance. The trolls must also compete on resonance, which makes it uninteresting for most of the trolls. That’s the basic design criteria.

  • Is this kind of process used to discuss emerging technologies, such as e-scooters?

  • Excellent question. We have a draft bill in the Parliament, probably to be passed soon, called the Digital Communication Act, or the DCA. In that act, it stipulates that all the multistakeholder issues in our era of, as the UN call it, digital interdependence, must be done in a way where the citizens set the norms instead of the lawmakers.

  • Once we set the norms through our fintech sandbox, our self-driving sandbox, or our platform economy sandbox, people have the idea of what it looks like to have such a conversation. As a real example, my office was a sandbox for those self-driving tricycles. [laughs]

  • They’re self-driving, but they’re very slow. They don’t harm people. Because it’s open source and open hardware, people can tweak it however they want. This is our basic idea of our norm-first approach, of first asking the society, “What are the social norms around those emerging technologies?”

  • E-scooters, another great example, are being tried as a sandbox in the National Taiwan University as we speak. The vTaiwan platform, which is a civil society platform that initially deliberated Uber, asked all the different stakeholders to participate in the Pol.is conversation.

  • You can see in the Pol.is conversation that there are a lot of interesting ideas around e-scooters. Then we asked the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Communication, and so on, various lawmakers and regulators, to try it out in the sandbox, right before the consultation, so that people have an idea of how it works.

  • Then the sandbox usually gets a year or so of experimentation. During the experimentation, people take it in whichever way, like the self-driving tricycle: people kept thinking it’s a shopping cart, so people actually tweaked the program into a shopping cart that follows people around. You can buy some flowers and put them on the shopping cart. It follows you around and forms a fleet once it’s full, and you can ride on the first one, and it drives you home. This is something that the MIT Media Lab obviously did not think about when they designed this vehicle, but the local people seem to think that it fits their needs the best.

  • This kind of norm then motivated the tweaking, the hacking, of this cyclops-like design into a more two-eyes-that-can-read-human-emotions-and-emote-back design. This norm then informed the market policies.

  • Then the entrepreneurs would understand what things actually fit people’s needs and design the market entries correspondingly to participate in the sandbox. That then informed the code, which is very important when we talk about machine learning, especially in decision-making protocols.

  • All this then informs the law that regulates this thing. We don’t jump into the law, because that will inhibit the creative space, the solution space. We almost always just ask people to try it out in a sandbox. There are physical sandboxes. There are time-limited sandbox, like the Presidential Hackathon. There are all sorts of different sandbox experimentations. That’s the basic answer.

  • Did you introduce sandboxes for drones and fintech?

  • Yes. We have a very comprehensive sandbox laws—because Taiwan is a continental system—so that we have to, as the lawmakers, to specifically carve out parts of the laws that we want to defer to the municipalities or to the space owners to decide.

  • We have a fintech sandbox act. We have a self-driving vehicle act. By vehicle, we don’t just mean cars. There are cars that fly, boats that drive, and so on. They get a year to prove it to society. If it doesn’t work out, then we thank investors for paying tuitions for everyone.

  • If it does work out, then at most two years after the sandbox experiment, we must make a new regulation for it. Of course, the MPs, at any point, can say, “Oh, it warrants a specific act,” in which case they have three or four years to make an act for it.

  • The crucial point is that, during those three to four years, the initial experiment, including the business model, is still legal, whereas all other competitors are not yet legal. This creates a first-movers advantage that we use to incentivize people to just go and try it out.

  • If it doesn’t work, again, everybody learns something, but if it does work, through the specific act, or through the regulatory reinterpretations, which are all announced in sandbox.org.tw, unrestricted to those three … There are many, like 5G, vertical experiment fields. Projects are all announced here, so that people can have a time table on which are experimenting, which has now become new regulations, and which is actually a bad idea, but here are the postmortems and data for everybody to see.

  • This basically makes the public sector something that incubates, or at least co-regulates, with the private and social sectors, instead of relying purely on the policymakers’ advanced AI knowledge, of which there is a shortage. [laughs] People have firsthand experience on how society reacts to projects.

  • Do you work with international partners?

  • We are working closely with the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which is the international organization started in the Obama Administration, with a specific aim of uniting countries that pass a value check.

  • That is to say, it’s a real trait of liberal democracy, or at least it’s moving that way, to share best practices. We are very active participants to the OGP summits of the past five or more years. Starting next year, we are formulating our national action plan for the first time as a partner.

  • More personally, not speaking as Digital Minister, but as a lowercase minister for digital ideas, this is also my personal passion. I am on the international advisory board in the GovLab, which is Beth Noveck’s team. There are a lot of ideas, called crowd.law here, for which I just provided a description as part of the catalog. If you go to crowd.law, I think there is some video of us talking about our ideas that then became training materials that all lawmakers can use.

  • The best practices—or at least better practices, in various different branches of the government—of how to engage with the citizens make collective intelligence part of the policymaking process, instead of some ad hoc add-ons. We are co-developers in these ideas.

  • I am also a board member of RadicalxChange, which is a New York nonprofit that use quadratic voting. Those are the new inventions that we have deployed on the Presidential Hackathon here that we are also sharing with, for example, the Colorado State Congress. That also uses the same new voting mechanism to allocate the budget to make sure that there’s no strategic voting, and people are incentivized to reveal their true preferences in the voting mechanism. Also, the Digital Future Society in Spain, and so on.

  • Basically, wherever there is a post-Occupy-ish legitimacy of this kind of crowd intelligence, we are part of the network, and we co-develop most of the tools. We certainly don’t develop all of our tools ourselves. The whole transcript system you just saw is from mySociety in the UK.

  • The Pol.is system, which is the AI-powered conversation, is now a New York nonprofit called Math and Democracy. We have tight links with all those municipalities that try out similar ways of governance.

  • Is there opposition to this idea within the government?

  • There are, of course, different levels in the government. There are the front line, career public servants who look at this, and there’s a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt about, “Will it increase my workload?” “Do I have to fight trolls in addition of my daily work?” and so on. Basically, with the front line career public servants, we have dedicated training material—which is also in the form of a manga, showing how it actually doesn’t reduce the policymaking power of the career public servants in the front line. Rather, this enhances their policymaking power.

  • Anyway, we have six language versions of what we call the PO manga, and we have printed version as well. It’s called “The Very Taxing Tax Filing System.” [laughs] Basically, it shows a front line career public servant enjoying the very smooth tax filing experience that they have.

  • On our national petition platform, which is like We the People, there’s someone that says that the tax filing system is “Explosively, unbelievably difficult to use.” There are obviously different thoughts among some citizens.

  • It just turns out that they designed it for people who are very well-versed in the tax filing procedure, and people who are using Microsoft Windows instead of an iPad. There’s a large disconnection of what public servants feel as their job well done versus the people who have different expectations.

  • It shows that, if we can, instead of having people complaining after we roll out a service that breaks down— that’s actually how the USDS was formed [laughs]—we can bring the users, the citizens, into the very first line. Wherever people complain, we can invite them into our co-creation meetings. Basically, it shows the career public servants in the front line, wherever they hear some complaints, we can say that, instead of giving the menu and the dishes to the complainers, we should invite them into kitchens to co-create dishes and menus.

  • The complainers, it turns out, can be very talented designers, because they know the most, they care the most, or they complain the most. We just invited everybody who complains in through telepresence, and also through face-to-face meetings, through paper prototype.

  • We co-created the new tax filing system, which is a major point of this year’s administration, because it won 98 percent approval rate, compared to the old tax filing experience. This is not because we chose very good colors, fonts, or whatever, but because literally thousands of people felt that they have contributed at least one Post-It Note to the co-creation.

  • They feel like they own this, or at least co-own this new experience. They volunteer to help their friends and families with this new design system, because they feel it as their own. That saves time for the career public servants. They don’t have to play customer support anymore. They don’t have to do convincing anymore, because there are hordes of people who have also participated who will volunteer, essentially because it’s their work too.

  • That’s the front line. For the middle-level management, the main worry is the political risk. If we implement an idea from the sandbox, from the Presidential Hackathon, from the petition platform, and it just explodes, does it create a political risk for our minister?

  • That’s the main thing that they think about. Because of that, we always emphasize that it’s a time-limited experiment. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Presidential Hackathon is a good example, because everybody can just say, “We’re just reacting to the proposals from the social and private sectors.”

  • The proposals actually are written by the mid-level management themselves. We can tell by looking at the way they use language. However, they just hand it to their academic or social sector friends, who then propose it as a new idea.

  • Just one example: one of our five winning teams last year said that there’s a Taiwan Water Corporation that maintains the world’s longest plastic pipes. Many of them leak, and on average, in the Keelung region nearby, it takes two months for a leak to happen before it’s discovered by the people here who listen to the pipes every day, and mostly, they’re not leaking.

  • Through the Presidential Hackathon, initiated by the “social sector,” people would like a chat bot that talks to those repairs people, so they can wake up and find the three most likely leaking places, using water pressure and weather analysis.

  • They would like to spend their time on the creative part of the work, which is fixing the leaks, instead of the trivial, non-creative part, the routine inspection and detection which doesn’t attract young people as much as the creative work.

  • Now, because it’s mostly creative, young people are much more likely to do this work, this assistive intelligence that deploys the AI to the service of the repairs people. Now, if, after the three months, it turns out it doesn’t work, the prediction doesn’t work, then it’s just an academic, social sector idea. The mid-level management can absolve themselves with, “We were just participating in a hackathon for a few weekends.” If it does work out—it did work out—they get an invitation to New Zealand—this wasn’t a problem, but now, because of climate change, it is starting to be less feasible—to co-create the solution with those proposals.

  • Their career changes, because the president hands the trophy to them, meaning that their idea is not constrained to the Keelung region which they control, but must be scaled out to the entire country within a year. They get political blessing, and their ministers, of course, get the credit. This is basically a risk-free way of participating.

  • What are the reactions from your fellow ministers?

  • I don’t force any ministry to do this kind of work. My office is literally a horizontal ministry. Every minister can send a delegate over to my office.

  • In Taiwan, there are 32 vertical ministries, each with a vertical minister, and I’m one of the nine horizontal ministers. They only participate by voluntary association. For example, the Ministry of Defense never sends anyone to my office, for obvious reasons. Neither did the Council for Continental China Affairs. [laughs] In any case, most of the people-facing ministries, like Ministry of Interior, of Communication, Culture, Education—the usual suspects—each send one person to my office to co-create these kinds of innovations that further their minister’s agenda.

  • After a year or so, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs discovered that there’s an element of public diplomacy in it, and so, for example, Joel is our MoFA delegate. While he’s working here, he’s still reporting to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

  • They pay his salary, and he does his own scoring and ranking. [laughs] I don’t issue or take commands from each ministry, but the only thing that I ask is that they work out loud, and to co-create this kind of innovative mechanism that can both further the public diplomacy agenda, but also, to save times for the career public servants and the foreign service.

  • Design in this way ensures improvement for all the three different levels of the administration, without trading one for the other two. Now, we don’t have 32 people from the ministries in my office, maybe 20. We’re not forcing the rest of the dozen or so ministries to join this kind of working. It’s very much just an innovation space.

  • It seems to me that what you’re introducing is a new cultural dynamic, is that correct? Also, how would the participants consider opportunity costs when advancing their values?

  • The first question is about the culture dynamic. Very simply put, my idea is that I work with the government. I don’t work for the government. I enter the cabinet only after one month of very public Q#x26;A, ask-me-anything style of public negotiation.

  • Three years ago, I proposed three working conditions to the prime minister, to the premier, Lin Chuan at the time, who had to agree, otherwise I would just do this work from the outside. The three conditions: are radical transparency, which is everything that I personally say must be public, including all the meetings that I am chair of. The second is voluntary association, which I just explained, that I am not giving orders to ministers, nor do I take orders from ministers. I’m just here to catalyze their co-creation. Also, very importantly, there’s an element called location independence, meaning that wherever I am working, I am working. I could just be touring around the world.

  • Actually, this weekend, I’m going to Addis Ababa, of all places. I just came back from Osaka and prior to that Argentina and UNGA in New York and DC. The next step would be Rotterdam and Berlin ‘m literally everywhere across the world, but I still work in our virtual workspace.

  • This is important, because most of Taiwan’s foreign service, after Dr. Tsai Ing-wen became president, focused on the core idea of what we call “Taiwan can help,” meaning that we’re solving our sustainability issues, like the Presidential Hackathon. Each team needs to identify one sustainable development target that corresponds to their team’s ideas.

  • We’re doing this not only for Taiwan, for people in Taiwan, or for the Taiwan administration, but rather, with the Taiwan government, and for the entirety of the planet, as basically outlined by the Sustainable Development Goals.

  • Because of that, the cultural change is less about me personally, but rather Taiwan’s national identity. Instead of focusing on the most divisive issues—which is the PRC (People’s Republic of China) issue, obviously—we are now focusing on the parts that even the PRC has agreed on.

  • The PRC did also sign the Sustainable Development Goals that promise a fair judicial system by the year 2030. [laughs] Basically, we’re focusing Taiwan’s role in the world stage to produce reliable data through distributed ledgers and new technologies, effective partnerships, and open innovation. We co-create with New Zealand. We’re certainly not selling anything to New Zealand. We’re just co-creating a solution to their water shortage issues. Even if they cannot pay us, we would not ask for a harbor or part of their land.

  • That’s the basic idea of open innovation. This, I think, is broadly accepted by the Taiwan population, as evidenced by the thoroughly multi-partisan conversation that lead to my entering the cabinet.

  • Because the premier agreed on those ideas, I’m also immune to the party politics. This also is informed by Taiwan’s constitution, because most of the draft bills that we build here are built in a remarkably non-partisan environment.

  • There are more independent ministers than ministers of any party. We propose neutral bills to the legislation where, of course, party politics enters place. There is a very clear delineation between the two branches.

  • That is the basic idea of the culture changes, just to make the administration itself much closer to the people, and also, closer to the people on the planet, not just people serving the Taiwanese population.

  • The second question is about opportunity costs. There was a petition that very much identified this idea. The petition asked Taiwan to change our time zone from +8 to +9. The petition was one of the most popular at that time. The basic idea is that 8,000 people thought that if we changed our time zone to be the same as Korea and Japan, that would make us much more visible in the world. We would get on the world news, and people who travel from Shanghai or Beijing would have to change their clocks.

  • There are some thoughts around that. Also, very crucially, the petition also said that we should change, not only because of this ideological thing, but also because it would save energy, it would increase stock trade, and so forth. But our basic idea of conversation is that we’re not only talking with the 8,000 petitioners; we are also talking to the other 8,000 petitioners who petitioned for us to remain in GMT+8.

  • It’s 16,000 people in total that have supported both sides. Instead of seeking a compromise, namely GMT+8.5, which makes nobody happy [laughs] … We’re actually tallying each and every aspect of the time zone change and asking the Board of Energy to come up with real numbers about how it impacts energy use, how it impacts traffic, how it impacts trade and tourism, and so on.

  • All this basically resulted in what we call a fact-based conversation. Everybody who comes to our face-to-face meeting who came from both petitioner camps looked at the same data—which is, even if we just did the daylight saving time change, it would only reduce energy use by an minuscule amount.

  • It would not increase tourism, unless people break labor laws, and so on. [laughs] There are real numbers backing each statement up. We’re then asking what people feel about those objective statements. That’s when the feelings start to emerge.

  • They say, “Oh, we just want Taiwan to be seen as more unique in the world.” It turned out that people who opposed the time zone change also supported that sentiment. Basically, we’re not asking about positions, but about common feelings or common values.

  • Then the ministries brainstormed with the people about two questions. First is whether the time zone change can clarify our relationship with the PRC. The consensus after discussion is that it can’t. Hong Kong has its own currency. There are many countries with many different time zones. They can just keep saying, “One country, two systems.” If we’re going to spend this much money on the first year, and this much money recurrently to change the time zone, can we use the same amount of budget to rather make Taiwan more visible?

  • All the 16,000 people received the consensus, as revealed by the livestreamed meeting. It basically said, instead of changing the time zone, “We should actually just market our democracy, human rights, marriage equality, open data, international participation, meaningful participation, and sustainable health system.” People broadly agreed that, if we were going to spend that much money, it’s better to spend this way, instead of on a time zone change.

  • Which may work for 15 minutes, but just for 15 minutes. [laughs] Even the people who petitioned for +9 actually do concur with that. The idea of opportunity cost is not about jumping to the ideas, but rather, going back to the facts. We share as open data, not just open government data, but also citizen science data, so that people are on the same page about the opportunity cost that it will incur. Then people are willing to talk about the values or the ideas that can satisfy people’s common feelings, instead of just the one pet idea that will incur a lot of opportunity cost.

  • How would you address blind optimism or pessimism on technologies in the senior leadership?

  • The main question is how to build this kind of faith, because a blind trust in technology is actually worse than rejecting technology. We don’t want a blind faith, but a cautious optimism around emerging technology’s potentials in the senior leadership, in the Taiwan cabinet.

  • I think there are two answers. The first one we have found is that the cabinet level Youth Advisory Council is a really good device. That’s a Dr. Tsai campaign promise, and indeed, the first time that the Youth Advisory Council is elevated to the cabinet status.

  • The basic idea is that, as you can see here, 32 ministries can each nominate one person as their reverse mentor. Each reverse mentor basically represents, in design thinking terms, the first diamond, the emerging trend, the gathering place. They can show their respective minister, or their reverse mentee, [laughs] what the emerging trend is.

  • For example, Huang Wei-xiang, who runs a social enterprise called Skills for U, talks with world skill competitors. Taiwan placed fourth this year. They’re like Olympic medalists, but not seen on the same visibility as Olympic medalists, and neither has much connection to K–12 or higher education. Their basic idea is that he bridges between skilled people who won awards and the local schools, creating mentorships so that they can co-create together.

  • Because our new curriculum, starting this year, emphasizes that the teacher no longer holds the standard answer anymore, everything must be done in a participatory way, so that the people learn creative and critical skills. That’s very important in media literacy, of course, but also in numeracy and in all sort of different skills. Because of that, they turned these medalists essentially into teachers, but not really teachers.

  • Coaches train the mentors to work with K–12 teachers so that they can power up their space-building skills and develop schools that feel like a co-creation project for the students.

  • Every student in the senior high school, for example, can use the school as a way to build their capstones and then an outer community as well. It’s a really good idea. Huang is the reverse mentor for the Ministry of Labor.

  • Then he petitioned our advisory council, which is headed by the premier himself, for our National Day Parade, which is October 10th, which went really well. Instead of just highlighting in the tour the sports people, the world skill champions are also in their cars, and he highlighted them as national champions. People would then see them in a very different lens, as leaders for the society, instead of just anonymous people working to further the economy. The premier, of course, thought it was a great idea.

  • Huang Wei-xiang also crowdsourced a film that we play during cabinet meetings, that we played on the National Day, that played on President Tsai’s Facebook, and so on. Basically, the idea is that the young people show the possible visions, the possible futures, but the implementation is still for the senior leadership.

  • The most important part is just to co-create what we call the common “how might we” question. How might we make the skills, and masters of the skills, be seen as leaders of the country’s direction, instead of just supporting the academic and the sports people?

  • That’s the common “how might we” question, and we brainstormed with the senior leadership on that, and particularly with the Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Education, as well as the premier himself. After we formed this consensus in the national level youth advisory meeting, it then within a month became a real National Day activity. It’s not just for this year; we changed the regulation, the policy. Every year after this, we will also have opportunities for new champions to emerge.

  • I think that is a good, concrete example of, basically, instead of convincing senior leadership to trust us to use social media to promote world skills, we just went ahead and did it ourselves. Then, we brought it into visibility on the national stage.

  • Then the senior leadership shows that we endorse those creative ideas, and the people react very favorably. That then become part of just the national policy. It’s not a generational thing anymore. It just becomes part of the national identity.

  • That’s our usual way. The advisory tracks are all on the website. You can basically track each and every reverse mentor’s activities and which meetings they attended, which focus they are on. Again, just like my own meetings, most of them have this radically transparent record. Each and every one of them can go back and take this not out of context, but within context, to share with their respective communities, so that it can feel that we are really co-creating policy instead of just implementing policy set by the senior people. It’s an idea of partnership.

  • How would you make digital engagements meaningful in a protest context, instead of just clicktivism?

  • Clicktivism, as in just clicking, without showing any contributions creatively, just amplifying the most divisive voices?

  • I’m in a Lagrange point between movements and the governments I take all the sides. The basic idea is that, using digital technology, we can design interaction patterns. If we design so that it’s easier to share and amplify during a protest than it is to co-create meaningful conversations or fact check each other, then people would radicalize very easily. If we choose the spaces that are promoting this kind of co-development or co-editing behavior, while still making fun, then people will tend to spend their energies on creative, not destructive, efforts. The space is, in itself, very important.

  • That’s why we almost exclusively work with the civic tech community, so that we make sure we take the best ideas, the best tools. We ask the cyber security council—actually, the Cyber Security Department—to basically run penetration testing, or white box testing. We have a safe underlying platform called Sandstorm that undergirds each application; it’s a favorite in the open source or free software communities, like the Kanban, which is like Trello, Rocket.Chat, which is like Slack, EtherCalc, which is a collaborative spreadsheet—

  • Where does that cyber security rest within the government of Taiwan?

  • The Department of Cyber Security is part of the administration. It’s part of the cabinet level departments that set the policies. Because we have a Cyber Security Act, all the critical infrastructures, including industrial parks — that includes the TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) — all needs to have the same umbrella requirement of the dedicated personnels.

  • More crucially, each new government project, such as this Sandstorm system, that we roll out needs to dedicate seven percent, if it’s a small project—five percent for larger projects—of spending to cyber security. It’s separate from an IT budget or ICT budget. Basically, we’re making the white hat hackers a very highly respected, even lucrative job.

  • For example, just recently, the same team that audited our Sandstorm system actually won second place in DevCom, second only to the US team. Maybe we’ll try again next year to take that crown. [laughs] In any case, they basically look at the whole open-source system file through CVEs, that’s a vulnerability report, and conclude that this is a good foundation for everybody to innovate on.

  • Because it’s open-source, this is also used by protesters. We’re not saying only gov tech get to use it, because we build gov tech on top of civic tech. It means that whatever we contribute, we contribute back to the civic tech.

  • Even during protests, people are using exactly the same tools that we’re building here because they know that they can’t host it themselves and it’s not part of the government’s apparatus. Because of this, even the most mundane—actually, there’s a very active app developed by our public service, which is ordering lunchboxes together. [laughs] It can coordinate behaviors very quickly. [laughs]

  • We basically took photos of all the restaurants near the administration so that we can very easily plan trips [laughs] or order lunchboxes together. They ride it without worrying about cyber security or about single sign-on, because the underlying architecture has been proven by the cyber security.

  • Because we work out loud, everybody, all the delegates from every ministry in my office, can easily see what they are working on. What are they focusing on in the moment, and who is online? Basically, we plan our work exactly the same way as the civic tech movement plans its work. It’s the same culture.

  • Because of that, every year, we also have two dozen interns who basically come from a civic tech background to work with our office, but not for our office, to improve digital service however they feel is necessary and go back to the civil society after two months. That also makes the culture shared both ways.

  • Wherever there is a protest, people then learn that there are existing coordination-based technologies that can get people’s demands met in a much more feasible way that shows the support of the most feasible ideas without squandering resources on the ideas that obviously don’t work.

  • Because of that, the protesters then can form into coherent reform movements that also get the civil society and the public sector on the same page. There are a lot of public service people who actually agree with most of the advocacy, like two years ago when a petitioner mobilized 5,000 people to ban plastic straws.

  • What we have done then is take the consensus points and invite the people who make plastic straws [laughs] to the table, and they said, “You know, we were in the business of making single-use utensils 30 years ago, because we were social entrepreneurs.” At that point, hepatitis B was the most important health issue in Taiwan, so they made those utensils just to prevent hep B from spreading.

  • Now hep B is solved, so they’re also looking at the more value-added way to contribute to society, so they actually brainstormed with the 16-year-olds—our Gretas—to use sugarcane wastes or whatever other zero-carbon ways to make straws, or even just reinforcing straws, literally, [laughs] to serve in cold drinks, and our national identity drinks, bubble tea. [laughs]

  • They then developed quite a few new lines of business by catering to people who prefer a zero-carbon, plasticless way of making straws. After trying it out in a sandbox for a year or two, starting this July, indoor plastic straws are actually banned. People felt that we were ready to move to a carbon-neutral and more-sustainable-for-the-oceans way of drinking bubble tea, essentially.

  • Coming back to your question of how a social movement or a protest can turn from a protest to a demonstration in a sense of a demo, the idea here is first showing something feasible, and then talking out with all the stakeholders that the protesters initially thought would be blocking them; they actually might be on the same page.