OK. Thank you very much for taking the time. It’s quite extraordinary times. I’m happy that you are doing the interview. I would like to know why you think that a more digital and transparent democracy is important.
Like many other newly democratic countries, the elected officials or the representatives is only part of democracy. People care much more about the day-to-day participation of the democracy through, for example, participatory budgeting, e-petitions as sandbox applications, Presidential Hackathons. There is many mechanisms for people to voice their ideas for public policy every day.
This is important because without this kind of day-to-day mechanism, the distance between the government and the people, which stays the same, is going to be dwarfed by the distance that is massively shortened with hashtags and other kinds of social media between the social sector groups, which means that people would care less and less about politics and public affairs, and more and more about entertainment or even divisive ideologies and things like that.
The only way for democracy to continue functioning is to integrate it into the fabric of the new public forum, and making sure that we work with the social media platforms so that they are pro-social rather than anti-social.
Mm-hmm. In Taiwan, there is no crisis. It’s been three weeks with no domestic confirmed cases. Our professional baseball league has been playing for some time. Tomorrow, the stadium will have one thousand people in it watching the professional baseballers play their game.
I would say that Taiwan is very fortunate, because we have a robust civil society that not only warned on the Taiwan column of Reddit, the PTT, last year when Dr. Li Wenliang did his whistleblowing on social media that immediately circulated in Taiwan. Instead of like Dr. Li Wenliang who got punished by his local police, in Taiwan, the whistleblower’s re-poster do not get any punishment. Rather, it escalated to the CDC, the Center of Disease Control immediately.
We started health inspections for fliers originating from Wuhan the very next day, that is to say, the first day of 2020. This fast response enabled a collective intelligence system where the CECC can get tips from anybody. They just pick up their phone and call 1922, and then they can have this collective swarm intelligence to device new ideas, for example around mask use, or even around mask reuse using traditional rice cooker.
Or when there was a boy who wore the pink medical mask and refused to go to school, because other classmates may laugh at him. The next day after learning this, the CECC, everybody including the health minister wore pink medical masks to show solidarity and gender mainstreaming. This shows that it’s not just that we quickly listen to the people, people also quickly listen to each other when there is novel ideas that can enable Coronavirus mitigation.
Yes, definitely. When we first starting to ration out the masks, there was a lot of confusion of which pharmacies still have masks in stock. In other countries, I’m sure that the pharmacies will be able to publish their numbers, but usually, by the end of the week or end of the day at quickest.
In Taiwan, the open data is published every three minutes, meaning that you can go to a local pharmacy, swipe your NHI card, collect 9 masks every two weeks if you are adult or 10 if you are a child, and then after a couple of minutes, refresh your phone and see exactly the stock level deplete.
Everybody can see on a dashboard contributed by civil society that at this very minute, which is 1:00 PM, 1:10 PM today, there is still 71.7 percent of adult masks in stock in pharmacies and 81.7 percent for children. You can drill it down to each municipality and each county as well. Everybody feel very calm and collected, because they know wherever they live in Taiwan, it’s very easy to get medical masks.
We also use these contributed open-source tools in our own decision making. Like in the weekly meeting, I actually just showed our premier this analysis of this dashboard. This, again, works both ways.
Let me first state that we mean we are making the state transparent to the people. We never mean making the people transparent to the state. When I say transparency, I always mean that how the state functions, like the mask levels and so on, are made transparent to the people, but individual masks are identical to each other, other than color and shape. There is no privacy issue involved.
We do not make, for example, the confirmed cases, their name, their travel history, and things like that, we do not publish it until absolutely necessary and it’s very rare. We, as a rule, do not publish the whereabouts of the confirmed cases.
First of all, we have a strong Personal Data Protection Act. We are getting GDPR adequacy. Basically, our Personal Data Protection Act is a copy of the European privacy laws before the GDPR. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that there is a constitutional limit, because we’ve never declared emergency situation for the Coronavirus. We’re still operating under normal law basis. It’s not like the administration do whatever and the legislators approve it afterward. Everything we do need to have a legal and constitutional basis that is pre-approved by the legislature for the administration to do, or that it relies on a previous constitutional court ruling.
We have exactly the same continental law system as Germany, and because of that, the key checks and balances of the legislature and the courts keep us in the administration honest, because there is no emergency declared.
Yes, definitely. We’ve published on peer-reviewed journals. Our vice president is the authority actually on epidemiology. He wrote epidemiology textbook. Not only did he open a massive online open course on Epidemiology 101 – German translations welcome. I think people are working at it, but there is English captions and so on.
This idea of treating everybody as a co-learner is very important. This by itself is important. When I say that our vice president is an authority or that our vice premier, who used to be his student in epidemiology and public health, they don’t see themselves as top-down authorities, including the CECC commander. Everybody, when there is anyone who propose a new idea, they always take a habit of questioning themselves.
The epidemiology they used to learn was classical, but now it’s digital. There is bound to be a lot of new ideas. You can look at those ideas at cohack.tw. There is English for each of those new ideas, and we ask every participant to relinquish most of their copyright, and they are open-source licensed.
Whatever they have developed in the next week or so is available for everybody around the world to use. You don’t have to rely on the goodwill of a Taiwan operator. You can just download the code and run it yourself and inspect yourself.
Critics would say that in other countries, we don´t have the same technological and cultural conditions. What is more important for your model of digital government to work out, the technological or cultural aspects?
Traditional civil engineering, like the making of bridges and roads designed for everybody to use, but civic technologies maybe usually designed for a part of the society to use. For things like the pharmacy mask map and many other civil technologies, there is more than half of Taiwan’s population who have used this kind of civic technology.
The civic technologists see themselves as civil engineers. That is to say, the work that they build is on par with bridges and roads when it comes to public infrastructure and the usage of people. I don’t think this is culture. I think this is a deliberate attempt to work with the government, not for the government.
The movement around which these mask map and so on are done is called g0v or g0v.tw. The call was to fork the government, meaning that for each government service that you are disappointed in, which always is something.gov.tw, the collective makes it something.g0v.tw. Just change a letter in your browser and you get into the shadow government that works better.
Yes, exactly. For example, for climate change, there was also and still is also a great chance for us to learn together. Taiwan being a larger island or Japan being a larger island – a bunch of larger islands – basically, if we don’t learn climate change science, it’s our maybe grandchildren suffering, but for smaller islands, then it’s their daughters and sons suffering if they don’t learn about climate science and mitigation.