On the last day of 2020, Taiwan braced itself for the coldest New Year’s Eve ever in 16 years. Many people rang in the new year against the cold wind and apparent temperature near zero degrees Celsius.
For the rest of the world, people have endured the ordeal of the COVID-19 pandemic for a whole year. “Lockdown” has become word of the Year 2020. As of January 15, 2021, the number of confirmed cases worldwide surpassed 90 million.
Now in 2021, the world is still in turmoil, and we are even faced with the challenge of virus mutations. After 253 days of zero local cases, Taiwan is also facing a new wave of the epidemic. In this long winter night with no end in sight, in addition to the government’s implementation of epidemic prevention measures and the community’s concerted efforts to prevent the epidemic, in my opinion, “trust” is the key to maintaining a normal life in Taiwan.
As is widely known, when Taiwan started a mask rationing plan last year, the National Health Insurance Administration of the Ministry of Health and Welfare collaborated with the g0v community to develop an open data application within 72 hours, allowing those in need to find pharmacy locations and mask stocks through a variety of channels, including visualized maps, chat bots, and voice assistants.
This is not a special case rising out of the epidemic. In fact, it has been very common for Taiwan’s public service to incorporate opinions from the public into policies and to collaborate with civil society.
For example, since Taiwan proposed to deliver its own Open Government National Action Plan during the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit in June 2019, the National Development Council (NDC) and relevant agencies have worked together in a people-public-private partnership to solicit public opinions and invite stakeholders to participate in meetings through a platform called “Join”. A total of 19 commitments on 5 topics including “promoting open data and freedom of information,” “expanding dialogues on gender and ethnic inclusion,” “government integrity” and “anti-money laundering,” have been proposed. All proposals will proceed into critical implementation and evaluation stage in 2021.
Open government is a task that takes time. That is why Public Digital Innovation Space, or PDIS, the policy lab in Taiwan’s cabinet, launched the Rescue Action by Youth (RAY) project, which brings together 30 young students each year to review and revamp the government’s digital services. The fourth RAY (RAY 4.0) was held last summer in conjunction with the National Development Council’s User Center Design (UCD) workshop, in collaboration with seven government agencies aspiring to improve their website services.
Through this project, students are able to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by government agencies and help create a digital service that caters for good user experience and meets the needs of the government agencies. Government agencies are also able to better understand how to draft digital service plans from citizens’ perspective. Several agencies, including the Youth Affairs Department of the Ministry of Education, will invite students to join in the actual revamping of their websites this year based on the results of the students’ proposals.
We can see from the above examples that, in addition to internal revitalization and experimentation within the government, creativity and contribution from the civil society is of paramount importance. We are also committed to creating connections to enable the social sector to widely share the fruits of social innovation, and to further work with those who are like-minded to build a vision for the future. For example, the Asia Pacific Social Innovation Summit (APSIS), an annual social innovation event, was fully digitalized for the first time in 2020 under the influence of the pandemic. In addition to live-streaming all keynote speeches, the traditional social innovation marketplace was also virtualized to allow anyone to experience and learn about different social innovation organizations through 2D games.
The innovative approach of the 2020 APSIS is not only a manifestation of the infinite possibilities of digital curation, but also a milestone for the social innovation sector. Based on the experience, the 2021 APSIS will be a hybrid event combining physical and online activities, with “Invest in Asia” as the main theme, aiming to further create a new Asia Pacific social innovation platform.
The world still faces many challenges ahead in the new year. Every attempt is a valuable experience, whether it is an ecological project within the government or an ecosystem construction in the social sector. Starting from this year, I will introduce Taiwan’s achievements in open government, social innovation and youth affairs in this column, for I believe the most important lesson that the Taiwan experience brings to the world is that, as long as we are not afraid to make mistakes and are brave enough to create different experiences together, every step we take will be part of the path leading to the future.