Since the Executive Yuan’s establishment of the Public Digital Innovation Space (PDIS) in 2016, teambuilding events have been held every year, inviting Participation Officers (PO) from across different ministries to attend. Five years have passed since the PO system was established, which has evolved into a system of greater openness today.
In the Executive Yuan’s public policy online participation platform (Join), the “idea proposal” section often puts our spirit of “open government” into practice. As long as a proposal has 5,000 signatories and has been voted on during the monthly PO meetings, an idea can be selected and a collaboration meeting will be held, inviting the public and relevant ministries to be part of the discussion and reach a consensus among the various parties. Aside from proposals from the public, ministries are also encouraged to submit their own proposals.
The POs have gone through a total of 90 collaboration meetings, including a petition for the “difficulty of using tax reporting software,” a petition to “stop ‘holy pig’ weighing contests,” a proposal to demarcate a fishing area at the fishing harbor to “pay homage to the sea,” and a proposal to create one-stop services for mountain climbers to “pay homage to the mountains.” The proposals all came to fruition through the hard work of the POs.
With the expansion and deepening of open government procedures, more and more third-tier agencies affiliated to ministries have taken the initiative in appointing personnel in public relations, comprehensive regulations, management inspection, and information, and other areas to serve as POs. The number of POs across 32 ministries has increased from 40 officers in the first year to close to 100 officers today.
The beginning of each year is the time for new POs to be registered (including new registrations and renewals). This year, we decided to have the new and old POs make friends with one another, so as to form a PO network of close communications and build bridges of cooperation through becoming acquainted with one another, laying down a good foundation for collaborations in the coming year ahead.
The theme of this year’s convention is “Let’s be friends first.” The choice of venue was the well-lit, well-ventilated, and fuss-free Social Innovation Lab, which made for an entirely different atmosphere from the Executive Yuan where meetings were normally held. With self-introductions by the new POs as the opening, the POs naturally started to chat among themselves subsequently… The event had no predetermined agenda and was carried out in a spontaneous, comfortable, and interactive manner.
Why expend the effort to design a time and space to chat? This is because the new POs need to learn to master the unfamiliar task of open communications in addition to the duties of their position, and will inevitably tend to feel nervous. At this point in time, the guidance of experienced POs in speaking on topics without restrictions and sharing their experience in communications within and outside of their respective agencies can help them to quickly understand the role of POs.
The activities of the day were arranged as follows: Each group was led by a “mother hen” who guided the “chicks” in enthusiastic conversations on their favorite topics, while fellow PDIS participants listened from the sidelines. During sharing, as long as a question was put forward, someone would respond to it. Even if the final answer was unsatisfactory, there would be someone listening attentively to the ideas expressed by every individual. This kind of involved experience is precisely the fundamental spirit of open government.
To give examples, there were first-time POs who raised the following questions: Will the volume of their duties increase? How will agencies respond if the collaboration fails to reach a common good? In the process of collaboration, how can open and transparent practices and the traditional role in preventing wrongdoing played by public servants move from mutual conflict to gradually forming a complementary relationship?
There were also experienced POs who touched on the following: How can the POs be active in inviting stakeholders to take part in the collaboration meetings rather than asking only the experts and scholars they already know? There were also people who spoke on how to improve the skills of hosting meetings and how to allow diverse views to be fully aired.
After all, if there is a lack of mutual trust between the public sector and the people, leading to a loss of focus in tackling issues, the ultimate social cost to bear will be immense. The process of “fully expressing views, listening to different standpoints, and working together to reach a consensus” of open government requires long-term investment, and can be said to be an immense uphill task. The POs play the most important role here in serving as the “seeds” for open government to take root deeply, conveying the needs of actors from all walks of life, and building the bridges of communication.
In an atmosphere of relaxed and unrestricted interactions and dialogue, POs can become acquainted with one another and build a network of mutual assistance. This can in turn allow them to trust in the participation of the public in subsequent tasks and work together in identifying core issues suited for discussion. With the application of hosting skills and technological tools, the spirit of co-creation in “working together instead of squabbling among one another” can become a reality in attempts to resolve issues. Although this may not allow tasks at hand to be accomplished at once, as long as an initial consensus that is at least “acceptable though unsatisfactory” can be reached, this can create greater room for public policies to develop in the direction of becoming more aligned with various parties’ needs, more feasible, and more innovative in the future.