I have three mandates. They are open government, social innovation, and youth engagement. In Taiwan we have 32 ministries, each with a vertical minister. Above the 32 there are 9 horizontal ministers, and I’m one of the 9 that coordinates between the different ministries on emerging issues.
My office is literally at most, one dispatch from each ministry. Theoretically, I can have 32 dispatches. In reality, maybe I have a staff of 20 or something, meaning, not all ministries have joined in the digital transformation, but most of the ministries relating to people did.
My work in open government is to make sure that people can participate fully not only through elections, but every day through petitions, through participatory budget, through discussions on regulation, application of sandbox projects, the Presidential Hackathon, the social innovation tours, and so on.
For example, every year, we host a Presidential Hackathon that award five trophies to five teams. Each co-created some solution for a social issue for three months. Last year, one of the winning teams is called Water Saviors, and they work with water repairs people to shorten the time requires to detect a water leak from two months to two days.
Another winner works on telemedicine, that works with the smaller remote islands like the Green Island, Orchid Island, and so on. Many people there did not trust as much the local clinics, and insist on flying though helicopters their loved ones when they’re sick or suffering from major trauma back to Taiwan.
They figure out a way to do telemedicine, so that the local nurse can make treatments based on the supervision of the specialized doctors in the Taiwan main island. Again, all of these issues were structural, but they figure out a prototype combining the social sector, private sector, and public sector.
The trophy is a micro projector. If you turn it on, it projects the president giving the trophy to the team, and so it represents the presidential will that whatever remains in three months will become national policy and deployed to the entire country within the next 12 months.
This year, over 100 different indigenous nations in remote islands have the telemedicine sites. Water leak detection has been deployed also across Taiwan, not just in the Jino region where they did a prototype.
All of these teams this year in the Presidential Hackathon are voted in by popular vote. Everybody can use a new voting system called quadratic voting to determine – there’s over 200,000 votes – to get the top 20 teams. That’s just one example.
Instead of using legal means exclusively, sometime it’s better to speak through the idea of norms. For example, in Taiwan, campaign donation is completely transparent. Everybody can see the donations spending, the raw data, through a separate branch of the government called the control branch, and that is the norm in Taiwan.
We need to talk to those multinationals and say, “If people do political precision targeting on your platform, you need to conform to our norm.” That is a semi-diplomatic work. There’s a lot of country with this kind of digital ambassadorship, and that is part of my work.
Another part of my work, as I said, is to use digital tools to transform the way the public service work, be it water repair, or taking care of nursing and long-term care in remote islands, and so on. I wouldn’t say it’s my idea. I’m merely providing a platform on which the different ideas can co-create shared values, and so it is, I think, everybody’s idea.
In Europe, we have a lot of debate with how to talk, how to address the issue from the GAFA, or Google, Amazon, etc. The way you’re doing it is quite different. You’re not coercetive. You’re more engaging in a dialogue with them, or…?
Yes, because in Taiwan, we have the idea of data coalition. People who care about, say, environmental data, they can form a data coalition completely separate from the private sector. It’s entirely in the social sector, and it’s called the air box.
All the 2,000 measurement points you see here are people who voluntarily use a cheap, like â¬10 per month connection. In Taiwan, we have unlimited broadband 4G as a human right for at most â¬16 per month.
Very cheaply, you can connect those measurement boxes into a distributed ledger to let people see what the air quality really is, by people who donate their balcony, their schools, and things like that. They use it as a teaching tool so that children can learn about data stewardship.
When you have more than 2,000 people measuring the air quality together, it forms a new way of legitimacy that no private sector or public sector administrations can compete with. In Taiwan, we call them data coalitions.
They can negotiate with the pubic sector so that we must join their network instead of asking civic tech to be co-opted by gov tech. We must build gov tech on top of civic tech. We join their network by providing our measurements in the gaps that they cannot measure, for example, industrial parks, which are private property but turns out the government owns the land.
If we install their air box on the lamps, then we can join their network, but the governance is still done by the people. With the data coalitions, people are in a much better bargaining position with the GAFA, which are primarily relying on people not having a collective bargaining power when it comes to data.
Many people working on democracy works on the decision part, the development and the delivery of public policies, but we think if people focus more on the deliberative part, the first part, like, “What really is the problem?” the common-sensing of the democracy, then, everybody can understand that we’re part of a polity.
This is important because whenever we look, people feel that we’re in a divided society, but if you really look into what people disagree and agree on, there’s far more agreements than disagreements. It’s just we allow our imagination to be captured by just a few divisive statements that split the society into halves.
If we focus our energy on what we call a common understanding, then we can actually see, for many issues, people actually have a rough consensus and we should just go ahead with those rough consensus. When this part is tackled, then people feel much more trust with each other.
This is not about asking people to trust the government. It’s about government trusting people to listen to one another, figure out common solutions, and co-create. I think that is deepening democracy. It’s not necessarily making it faster, but it’s making it deeper.
For example, there was one statement in our digital dialog that says, “Every time the PRC closes an international door for Taiwan, the US should try to open one for Taiwan someplace else.” Exactly one half of people agree and one half of people disagree.
Really, it is a divisive issue. A good thing about this way of scalable listening – we call it pol.is – is that, actually, even with the PRC issue, there are 10 things that, regardless of your position is, on the divisive statement is, you actually broadly agree on these issues.
We can move ahead with those collaborations on, for example, public health, science, technology, engineering, math, manufacturing, language training, women’s rights, environmental sustainability, and things like that with the Indo-Pacific partners and further those goals.
All of those goals are part of the Sustainable Goal that are globally recognized, even the PRC. If we make advances on these and share in an open innovation way, it makes Taiwan’s identity more visible, but without directly confronting the one divisive statement that I just shared with you.
For each issue here that people identify as a consensus – for example, the US should send someone to the President Hackathon. That was one of the 10 consensus items – we ask the stakeholders to give an answer.
For this one, for example, the AIT just said, “Yeah, we’ll send someone,” and then, within two weeks, they sent someone. The accountability is a very important part in it, exactly my office is not a command and control system, but rather around 20 people, and each coming from a different ministry.
The people who join are between director-general level and section chief level. The people who are not yet section chief are made into section chief when they return to their ministry. There was considerable resources in their dispatch.
When they become aware of people’s rough consensus, more often than not, then can just connect back to their ministerial network. We give out a public account following each consultation. Even if, when it’s not directly possible, like within a month or so, we always say what will be possible within the next two month, what’s possible within the next one year, and so on.
I’m a poetician, meaning that I mostly write poems. [laughs] My job description is actually a poem. Three years ago, the HR asked me, it’s exactly the same question that they asked, “What are you trying to make in the Digital Minister’s position?” because there was no such position.
I’m like, “Oh, very easily, it’s the Sustainable Goals, 17.18, 17.17, and 17.6,” which is reliable data, effective partnership, and open innovation. They were like, “Minister, nobody memorize the SDGs by head. It’s not usually known,” because that was just 2016.
“When we see the Internet of things, let’s make it an Internet of beings. When we see virtual reality, let’s make it a shared reality. When we see machine learning, let’s make it collaborative learning. When we see user experience, let’s make it about human experience. And whenever we hear that a singularity is near, let us always remember the plurality is here.”
President Tsai made a promise when she was campaigning for her current presidential term that we will make broadband as a human right. Even on the top of the Yu Shan Mountain, which is almost 4,000 meters high, you still have 10 megabits per second, otherwise it’s my fault.
Or even the South Pacific Islands of Dongsha and Taiping, you still have 10 megabits per second. We chose that amount, because that is the distinction between a high-fidelity video conference, where people can really see each other’s more, what we call, micro expressions, or where their attentions are.
Versus a low-band, which is mostly either asynchronous or very compressed, very low resolution. Where people, if they have not yet meet one another, then actually, it leaves a lot of room for psychological projection and can actually amplify divisiveness, because people would project emotions to other people where there is none.
Live streaming in 10 megabits per second is the threshold for real listening, instead of just psychological projection. We think it must be a human right in Taiwan. Now, at the rural, indigenous, and remote islands, we’ve achieved 98 percent inclusivity.
Meaning that only two percent is not covered, and actually, probably a lot of it are above 3,000 meters. Even for those two percent, the Minister of Interior a couple months ago agreed to use the helicopters when they are running practice and drills to make sure that telecommunication towers are set up, even for those last two percent.
We’re really committed to universal broadband access. We think using this as a common social fabric, that’s why we can call it digital democracy, instead of democracy that excludes people through digital means.
Basically, the idea is that, if they want to access to the Internet, they can access through 4G or through landlines, fiber optic cable, or in the remote islands, even satellite. We don’t prescribe which device or which way is the best way. It depends on the location, of course.
Yes. I just returned from Berlin. Before that to the Hague and Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Before that, I was in Ethiopia. Before that, Osaka and Buenos Aires. Before that, DC and Ottawa, Toronto, and so on.
Wherever I go, people think that broadband access is really important for the democracy to move forward, but whether it is a human right or not of course differs from place to place. Also, people understand that scalable listening is important.
For example, for a larger federation, exactly as you said, it may be difficult to build a sense of polity for people who are living many time zones from you. In that case, it may be easier to start with a municipal government.
The interesting thing is that they built their own social network, the LIHKG Lin Dang platform as opposed to the more centralized platforms by either GAFA or previous incarnations of their forum, which was called Gao Deng.
Lin Dang is maintained not for the people but with the people, meaning that people have the governing right to co-create the platform. It really made a difference because that makes situational applications like changing to the governance of the platform as the movement unrolls itself possible. Otherwise, you will have to wait for the HQ to coding some feature that you need.
LIHKG is especially adaptive that when a new situation arises like when the Great Firewall suddenly turned into a Great Fire Cannon to try to take LIHKG down – that was just last week actually [laughs] – they could adapt easily and defend against that attack.
On the contrary, we see that in China they see the Internet and those social network as the enemy. What is your opinion about that? Do you think we are living in a war of technology between…I mean all the democracy, all the dictatorship has to be scared about the Internet?
What they are working on, while they’re still calling it transparency, is the other way around. We talk about all the way to make the government more transparent to people. The PRC is working on how to make people more transparent to the state.
They may use very similar words and very similar technologies, but what they’re really building is a intranet. They’re trying to show that this is a alternative norm, like this way of authoritarian control of the intranet is a viable way to deploy network technologies.
Of course, liberal democracies are not quite buying this social norm. I wouldn’t say it is a war, but I will say that it is a very different value system and very different norms. These norms, how they interplay, how they work together and work against each other, is one of the main topics in the Internet governance.
What is the core of the Internet that even these different norms can be accommodated? What went over the line and would damage the core of the Internet? That is currently being talked about in the Internet governance forum not so long ago in Berlin.
The system is a really good example of what it means by making citizen transparent to the state. Social data, while sometimes talk about privacy, actually only very few amount of data is truly private to an individual. Most data, like the fact that we’re occurring here together, is social, meaning that at least three people here [laughs] know of this common fact.
If any of us decide to report this to a system of surveillance capitalism or surveillance statism, it actually compromise the social data in terms of control, in terms of the feedback and co-governing agency for the other two person as well. We don’t really have any control if one of the three of us decide to report the fact that we’re here together.
What it really means is that we’re looking at a very weak individual bargaining power when a individual with this kind of social data that could be compromised by anyone who occur in the same social setting when they decide to enter it in into the social credit system or to a surveillance capitalist system.
One of the main way out, the intuition that I am sharing here, is the data coalition that I just share with you. If you altogether decide on a way to co-govern our data, then it makes a social sector governance mechanism that can stand in contrast with the surveillance statism, which is public sector, governance or the private sector governance, which is surveillance capitalism.
We were not saying that every citizen must participate in data governance. What we’re witnessing only is that people are very eager to participate in, for example, the common sensing of the environment. The AirBox is not just in Taiwan. It’s open source and open hardware. People around the world adopted it.
Or in our Presidential Hackathon this year, people want to form data coalitions on Waterbox, on water quality measurement, on detecting illicit financial flows, like Panama Paper-style, on marine debris, and on each and every thing that they care about.
My understanding is that whenever there is a data service platform that governs with the people, not for people, then there is a real chance of people forming meaningful data coalitions that can then stand against exploitative practices by either the state or the capitalist system.
It makes sure that if you are a white hat hacker, meaning that if you are ethical, you know how to penetrate into a system but you’re willing to do what we call purple teaming, meaning that you teach the defense about it, then you get paid very well. You get really good career path.
You are seen as heroes, like when you win, for example, the second place this year of Defcon CTF, the highest white hat hackers contest. The second place was the Taiwan team. They meet the President. They were treated as national heroes and things like that. They are second only to the US team. Maybe we’ll win next year.
People make sure that these contributions are valued. We do it as a habit, not just as annual competition. For all the system, like the Sandstorm System that I introduced to the public sector, I made sure I worked with these white hat hackers for six months before we deploy it.
Or our self-driving vehicle testing lab, the Taiwan CAR Lab, also had a multi-month competition with the white hat hackers. If you make it a habit, then the white hat hackers understand that their contribution to the society far outweigh any attraction from the dark side, which always has more cookies.
The politicians currently serve two purposes mainly. One is to be the designer of the space to allow for experiments. It’s a referee role to make sure that people, if they apply for a sandbox experiment that may break existing regulations for a year to show people that it actually makes more sense, then we need someone to count this one year, to make sure that everything is recorded and distributed to people.
Making sure that people’s ideas are fully reflected into the final decision of whether we use the sandbox application as a new regulation or we say, “No, thank you. The society thinks it’s a bad idea, but thank you for contribution so everybody learns something from it.” Someone who has this referee role is still needed. That’s the career public service.
For the political appointees, the politicians, we need to become more poets, meaning that we need to turn these new, emerging issues into easily understandable clarifications, easily understandable public discussion topics, and make sure that people with different cultures can equally understand it, not just people who are very good with spreadsheets and data analysis.
Yeah. [laughs] Let’s take one example. In France now, we have a reform about the retirement. If we work the way you work here, I imagine 99.9 percent of the people say they want to keep the same system, they want to have a better retirement, etc.
The imagination was limited because people only were given a binary choice, like whether they are for it or whether they are against it. There’s no room for opportunity costs. The idea of opportunity cost need to be made intuitive, in a sense that…
If you look at our Presidential Hackathon, for example, everybody can choose the top 20 teams to make into the finals. They do so using a new voting method called quadratic voting, where each person gets 99 points to be spent on more than 100 projects.
If you vote one vote, it’s going to cost you one point. You can vote the same project two votes, but that will cost you four in total. Three votes cost you nine points in total. With 99 points, maybe you really like this project. You can, at most, vote nine votes to it because that’s cost 81. You have 18 left. You cannot cast the 10th because you don’t have 100 points.
Then you have 18 left. Maybe you will look into something else and say, “Oh, this is worth – we have 18 points – four votes costing 16.” You can vote four votes in it, making sure that each increasing return is the same as increasing cost. You have two points left.
Then you maybe like this one, and you think, for sure, it’s worth more than one vote, so you have to take some of this back and some of this into the WaterBox project here. Maybe you do a 7 and 7, which is 49 points, 49 points, still within the budget.
What we’ve seen is that more than 200,000 votes later, we see people really making sure that they accurate reflect the synergies that they see between those teams. The collective intelligence, because they’re given more bandwidth to not just a yes or no question, but also express their true preferences, when we make the top 20 known, everybody feel that they have won.
Or at least most of everybody feel they have won, because at least one of the teams they supported, with good reason, made it into the top 20. If they’re only allowed a binary decision, more than half of people will feel they have lost.
The very important thing is that, for each voting mechanism, we look really at the bandwidth, the amount of information that you collect from the people accurately represents the whole spectrum of policy understanding, instead of just compressing it down to a linear or binary decision.
The idea was co-created with an economist called Glen Weyl. Glen Weyl and I, and Vitalik Buterin of Ethereum, we made a new social innovation organization. It’s called RadicalxChange, so I’m also a board member of RadicalxChange.
The idea, very simply put, is to design mechanism so that people can cooperate across differences. In addition to quadratic voting, we also have ideas about quadratic financing, which is currently already being deployed on the Ethereum community with initiatives such as Gitcoin.
Does the more conservative part of the government follow you on that or the old people? Is there consensus on…? It’s very interesting, where this is, it’s very new and complicated. I imagine for the older people, it’s very hard to understand, no?
No, and we’re just discovering things together. For the elderly people, or the eldest in the indigenous nations, we actually visit them every other Tuesday. This is the real example, I think, in Hualien, where I visited them.
This is where they’re already used to meet. For them, they’re just showing up on another town hall meeting. I went there, stay a night. Tonight, I’m going to Pingtung to stay a night there – actually, two nights – on an ethnographic, or just hanging out.
Hanging out with the local elders, making sure that I understand where they’re coming from. When we’re having these kind of virtual town hall meetings, there’s nothing remote about it, because I am in the vicinity, in the same building, in the same room, sharing food with them.
When we are having this conversation, it’s also being live streamed back here to the Social Innovation Lab. You can see 12 different ministries in the kitchen there to look into a projector and meet these elderly people face-to-face through a projector.
We can bring all the different municipalities together to listen to their stories. In this setting, the public service doesn’t feel that they’re constrained by the ministerial silos. They can brainstorm together with the elderly people.
The elders feel that they are setting the agenda for the career public service, so that when they co-create something, all of them get credit. As opposed to previously, if you are a career public servant, and you innovate, your minister get the credit. If it doesn’t work, your minister can blame you.
In this case, if they co-create, they get the credit. If they say something that upsets the local people, I am the only one at risk, because you cannot harm people over a projector. I am the only one in the vicinity. By absorbing the risk and sharing the credit, we make sure that the elderly people can still join this way of co-governance and set the agenda.
They join on a voluntary basis. I’m also helped by the reverse mentors. The idea of reverse mentorship, I think, is also very interesting, because I was a reverse mentor in the previous cabinet. At that time, right after the Sunflower occupy, a few ministers in the cabinet start finding reverse mentors who are all below 35 years old from the occupy movement.
When Dr. Tsai Ing-wen became president, she moved the reverse mentors into a cabinet-level, what we call the Youth Advisory Council. Each of the 12 participating ministries have two reverse mentors who are always under 35 years old. Any of them can suggest new directions for the ministry.
For example, as you can see here, on the National Day this year, we started putting on the parade not only people who compete in sport events and won medals, but also people who participate in the World Skills competition, like the car sprayer and cloud service formation deployment technician, and so on.
They are gold medalists of the World Skills competition. Making sure that people see the skilled workers as on-par as the sports medalists as icons that represents the future of the country. Then we also introduce them into the basic education system to work on revamping the schools with the children.
All of these were designed and proposed by the reverse mentor to the Minister of Labor, who was just 20-something when he joined, 黃偉翔. His lab is actually in the basement here. With the help of the reverse mentors, we’re making the case that the young people should set the direction, the imagination, for the public service and the older ministers need to listen.
Very much so, yes. I think in our national participation platform, join.gov.tw, which has more than 10 million visitors now – considering is 23 million people, a lot of people – we’re seeing that the most active ones are the ones around 65 years old and people around 15 years old.
They have more time on their hands, that’s for sure. Also, they care more about the public benefit, instead of just their private benefit. The 15-years-old, additionally, because they cannot vote yet – even for referendum, that’s 18 years old threshold – that’s literally the only place where they can participate in the politics.
They really propose some really good ideas, like the banning of the plastic straws that went into effect this July. Everywhere in Taiwan, you see a lot of new innovations on making carbon neutral or even better straws, design of cups that doesn’t need straws, and things like that.
These were all originally proposed a couple years ago by a 16-years-old. That was her civics class assignment, just find something that resonates with people. She find 5,000 people in a very short of time.
The idea of design thinking, again, is very important, because everything I just said is about the discover and define of common issues, like how might we tackle something. None of this is in the sense of finally settling on the coherent set of laws, regulations, and so on, the development and delivery of this service.
There’s still plenty of room for members of the parliament in the second diamond in making sure that the work that they do is coherent. No matter how many people we listen, there is bound to be some people who are silently disadvantaged, because maybe they are not born yet.
Maybe they don’t have a voice yet, because again, they are future generations. We need people who are in the politics to represent the voices of people who don’t have votes, or people who don’t have any chance to participate in even the most inclusive process.
Actually, the KMT were the originally cabinet that I worked with. I was a reverse mentor with the KMT Ma Ying-jeou, the president. Right after the occupy, the cabinet decided to learn from the occupiers.
I was reverse mentor to Minister Jaclyn Tsai, part of Ma Ying-jeou’s cabinet at the time. For 2014 and for 2015, we worked together already on, for example, UberX, Airbnb, and many other emerging issues.
I am personally a reverse mentor, an intern promoted into a full minister when 2016 rose around. I think this is one of the very few cases where we have cross-partisan support. No presidential candidate is against open government.
Like when the current vice president candidate, William Lai, when he was running against Dr. Tsai Ing-wen, his now running mate, in the DPP primary, William was saying, “Dr. Tsai is very open, but I will be even more open.”
Then when Chang San-cheng, Simon Chang, and Mayor Han was campaigning, they were like, “OK, Dr. Tsai is open, but we’ll be even more open.” This is one of the things that they’re all raising toward the same direction.
Yes. As I was saying, the idea of Presidential Hackathon at the moment is still somewhat domestic. We had the international track this year, was won by Malaysian and Honduras teams. Next year, we’re going to merge more international participants into our domestic track.
We’re saying, “As long as you can work on enabling sustainable infrastructure, there shouldn’t really be a difference between a domestic team and a foreign team.” We really look to make more ideas from our international counterparts about binding.
Meaning when the president give you the trophy, she actually accepts your idea, which may begin in another country, but to implement that in Taiwan within the next 12 months. Some more international participation in the Presidential Hackathon, I think it’s what will happen next year, regardless of who hosts the Presidential Hackathon.