A conversation with Audrey Tang, keynote for TICTeC 2017

Last week we announced the two keynote speakers for TICTeC 2017, the Impacts of Civic Technologies conference. You’ve met Tiago Carneiro Peixoto; now let’s turn to the equally insightful Audrey Tang.

By @daisuke1230. Cropped by KOKUYO (hist.) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAudrey is Taiwan’s Minister for Digital, and is part of a massive shake-up that has seen that country embrace unprecedented levels of transparency, accountability and citizen participation. Her keynote will describe some of the ground-breaking methods they’ve introduced.

One of these is Audrey’s famous accessibility. Using a public platform, she is happy to answer questions from anyone, and endeavours to do so within 48 hours. We posed ours there, but we’re replicating them below for our readers to follow.

Such is her schedule that Audrey will be delivering her keynote virtually, but there will be an opportunity for delegates to put questions to her live. Accordingly, we’ve gone a little more in-depth with this conversation.

Why haven’t we in the West heard more about the transformations that have been happening in Taiwan? They really are so ground-breaking — do you have any idea why they might not have received more global coverage?

There is reasonable regional coverage in Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. However, global awareness is limited by Taiwan’s restricted participation in multilateral organisations, as well as the relative lack of English material (somewhat ameliorated by recent advances in machine translation).

How would we go about encouraging our own governments to follow in your footsteps? You visited the UK Parliament recently: what was your perception of how they are doing on the Open Government front?

While rules, playbooks and tools are reusable, each government’s political context is unique, so I would encourage everyone to pave their own path instead.

I didn’t stay long enough to learn about UK’s progress — looking forward to learn more from mySociety folks in the future, perhaps when TICTeC comes to Asia. 🙂

TICTeC is all about measuring the impact of civic technologies. Do you have systems in place that help you assess the effectiveness of the measures you put in place?

Yes, there are quantitative engagement metrics and surveys, though they are mostly in Chinese — for example for the petition platform [opens as document; in Chinese].

Clearly, it’s early days yet, but have your implementations been an unqualified success?

For the past 100 days, our main contributions are proceeding well — providing an internal collaboration platform (sandstorm.io) for participation officers from every ministry; requiring all regulations and trade-related laws to be open for public discussion (join.gov.tw); as well as help codifying an open multi-stakeholder mechanism into the draft of Digital Communications Act.

What feedback have you had from citizens and the national press?

In Taiwan’s post-2014 political climate, mainstream press and citizens would never call for “less transparency”, so people mostly respond favourably — of course, there are calls for more accountability and more informed participation, for meaningful conversations to form around divisive issues.

What proportion of the population has taken part in your crowd-sourcing projects? Do you worry about the elderly or less connected not being sufficiently represented in decision-making?

As a proponent of assistive civic tech, it is important that we seek diversity of opinion (not zero-sum voting) and each engagement venue opens up access for previously unavailable folks (not taking existing venues away) — see this write-up by LÜ Chia-Hua.

Of course, even in a democracy of feelings, there will still be some people who lose out, or see a decision that doesn’t go the way they wanted. Are you sensing more understanding from these people, since they’ve gone through the online debates process?

Yes. Generally we come up with rough consensus that people can live with — as long as the procedure are transparent and accountable, we are seeing people who did not get what they initially demanded nevertheless help defending the result.

How stressful is it for a human being to hold themself up to constant public scrutiny? Transparency is of course a laudable aim, but might it sometimes be at the cost of a person’s own downtime or privacy?

Private meetings and on-the-record transcripts are fully compatible; note that we allow each participant to make corrections for ten days after the meeting: here are our guidelines.

A large proportion of Taiwanese politicians are Independents. Do you think party politics is now an outdated system?

In the cabinet there are more independents than members of any party, but in the parliament every party has more MPs than independents.

How can digital technologies bridge the gap between citizen and state without simply reverting to irrelevant soundbite politics or Twitter trolling?

We need to partner with (and become) media to make relevant facts as easy — and eventually easier — to spread.

What is the importance of TICTeC? Why assess the impact of civic technologies?

Informed discussions need to be rooted in evidence. If we are to build a global democratic network of feelings, we need to make sure that these feelings are reflective — this is only possible when they are built upon facts.

Finally: what are your next steps? Are there any more big innovations you plan to introduce during your time in cabinet?

For scalable listening to work, we need to engage people who prefer interactive & tangible understanding, including children. This post outlines the initial steps; and this one outlines the main vision.

Book your place at TICTeC

If you enjoyed reading this interview, it’s time to book your ticket for TICTeC, where every conversation will directly examine the impacts of civic technologies.

And for those who would like to present their own insights, better hurry: the call for papers runs until February 10.

Image: Medialab Prado (CC by-sa/2.0)