Published by SocialTech,
Democracy and Human Rights Service Fellow, Taiwan Foundation for Democracy
Director of Social Technology Institute, Thailand
Party Registrar, Future Forward Party, Thailand
CC-BY 4.0-Klaikong Vaidhyakarn
Vaidhyakarn, Klaikong. 2018. "Civic Tech and Digital Civic Participation: Taiwan’s experiences and how to replicate to Thailand"
Civic Technology Community in Taiwan, which started gathering from the Open source software and Open data usage campaign in 2012 organized the Hackathon activities to expand the population interested in using the Open source and Open data technology, while helping to publicize the information of governmental organizations through online platforms. Civic Technology in Taiwan also plays some roles in political movements and its campaign through online platform. Open source and Open data activities have started to emerge in Thailand as well. However, due to the political situation impeded in Thailand, the technological concepts to create ‘public good’ remain new, which later leads to limited use of Open source and Open data in social movements and connection with the civil society in only certain directly related issues such as environmental or urban development. How the successful factors of Civic Technology community in Taiwan help guide the development of a serious creation of the Civic Technology Community in Thailand as well as building a long-term cooperation between Thai and Taiwan Civic Technology Communities.
In the recent decade, social movements in various countries, especially those resulting in dictation or political representation have been impeding the rights of expression and freedom, not listening to the public, and linked for communication to campaign in terms of online, on air and on ground.
The growth rate of internet users worldwide has increased greatly, in Asia in particular. Following the ultrafast growth of technology and telecommunication networks, the use of online tools to support social movements has become significant and online platform has become the tool to connect various groups and communities while having the influence on the mainstream media which is the key factor that makes the campaign successful.
In case of Taiwanese social movement known as the Sunflower Student Movement in 2014, which was a protest against the trade agreement with China. It was the coalition of youths and the civil society when the parliament building was seized for 23 days during the movement. There was a group of knowledgeable and proficient experts in technology called g0v who volunteered to create online communication networks at the assembly to connect the assembly with the outside world.
g0v is a Civic Technology community in Taiwan which started gathering in 2012 from the Open source software and Open data usage campaign and organized the Hackathon activity to expand the population interested in using the Open source and Open data technology, while helping to publicize the information of governmental organizations through online platforms.
All along, the information of governmental organizations such as the government budget and public views on Uber that has been publicized through visualization on online platform by g0v was used in social movements. Therefore, Civic Technology plays a major role in the big political movement and its campaign through online platform.
Open source and Open data activities have started to emerge in Thailand and Hackathon is organized periodically. However, due to the impeded political situation, the technological concepts to create ‘public good’ remain new in Thailand, which later leads to limited use of Open source and Open data in social movements and connection with the civil society in only certain directly related issues such as anti-corruption network or environmental organization. Hence, it can’t be said that Thailand has an actual Civic Technology Community.
Therefore, there is a need for research to study the successful factors of g0v community in Taiwan to guide the development of a serious creation of the Civic Technology Community in Thailand as well as building a long-term cooperation between Thai Civic Technology Community and g0v.
Civic Tech in Taiwan
The establishment of g0v in Taiwan in 2012 has led to the rise of Civic Tech. Great efforts of the software developer communities and hackers who wished to see the transparent government, especially when it comes to disclosing the government data, have led to continuous Hackathon activities, aimed at disclosing the government data such as the government budget, creation of Open Data, establishment of platform which will allow the public participation in the debate about policy, paving way for the social movement of digital community in Taiwan.
Civic Tech took part in the social movements because the group wanted to see the Open Government. In 2014, Kuomintang, the ruling party at that time, was trying to negotiate the trade agreement with the Chinese trade, but did not disclose the information to the public. g0v created a number of activities to expose the draft trade agreement with China to public in a form of Open Data on the internet. At the end, the whole draft agreement came to public in full text and the information was later used to support the social movements.
The 2014 Sunflower Movement has strengthened the gathering of Civic Tech in Taiwan and was able to connect with the civil society and other social movement groups. While the students and citizens occupied the parliament, g0v members acted as the technological supporters. They set up an internet connection throughout the occupied areas to allow the protestors to communicate with the outside world, managed the live streaming inside the parliament building, developed the application to facilitate people staying in the parliament building to order food and other necessary supplies. As a result, g0v members were warm welcome and successfully built the good relationship with the civil sector that took part in the Sunflower Movement.
Following the Sunflower Movement, Civic Tech by g0v has continuously grown, particularly in term of Hackathon activities, which are organized monthly. The activities created assembly points to exchange views and knowledge among software developers who are interested in social issues and other civic groups. Hackathon activities also served as an innovation model to help provide technology equipment for the civic groups such as public participation in legislative drafting or assistance on information necessary for the homeless people.
g0v’s Hackathon activities have been organized in a form of Open Innovation and also offered funds to put the model into practice. The fund is called g0v Civic Tech Prototype Grant, which has several interesting projects as follows:
Cofacts is an Open Source program encouraging people to become a part of a chatbot to help others. With your research, you can add your hoax busting responses into our database to help people acknowledge its lies. Anyone can verify and respond to other requests on possible hoax and upload it to our database.
Vote Taiwan https://councils.g0v.tw
Vote Taiwan is a web application supporting information for people to exercise their voting rights during Tiwan’s elections, both at the local and national levels. Basic information, work experience, ideas and policies of each politician can be accessed. The laws that the politicians once supported will also be shown. The platform will also allow the people to express their views to the election candidates.
Agri Weather https://agriweather.beehivedt.com/
The "Local Weather Station" can record the intensity of the sunlight, temperature and humidity, wind direction, wind speed, rainfall, air quality, atmospheric pressure, ultraviolet light, etc.; "Field Sensor" can record soil temperature and humidity and conductivity EC value. After the remote wireless transmission technology data is transmitted backward, we visualize the data in accordance with the actual needs of farmers and design a dashboard that can monitor the data in real time.
Taiwan National Treasures https://www.nationaltreasure.tw
Taiwan National Treasures is a crowdsourcing model in which volunteers scan historical papers about Taiwan received from the National Archives in the US and Europe via a mobile application. The papers are later translated and publicized for academics and those who are interested in the Taiwanese history so, they can learn about it without traveling to foreign countries where the National Archives are located.
Relationship-building with Civic Tech communities overseas
In the past 2-3 years, success of g0v and Civic Tech movement of Taiwan has been publicized among other Civic Tech communities in different countries. g0v was invited to join activities and attend a number of important meetings, seminars and workshops concerned with Civic Tech works, for example, International Open Data Conference (IODC), Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit, Asia Pacific Internet Governance Forum, Code for All summit, TICTec and RightsCon, which later resulted in growing connection abroad and the rise of demand to use Taiwan’s Civic Tech as a model.
There are applications, which were developed overseas to support Civic Tech and found their success while using the applications in Taiwan. For example, Pol.is used with vTaiwan platform. These efforts have upgraded g0v’s performance to an international level network.
Civic Tech and Government (g0v V. GOV)
After the 2014 Sunflower Movement, concepts of Open Government and Open Data have become widespread. People needed the government to disclose information and be accountable. The Sunflower Movement has brought the end to Kuomintang party, then the governing party of Taiwan in the local election. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and candidates from other parties used Open Government policy to gain more seats in nationwide local elections.
After the local election, Kuomintang party decided to change the deputy prime minister, who was more familiar with technology and once worked with a global company, therefore, had gained more understanding about Open Data and later initiated the so-called Open by Default policy which drove Taiwan to be ranked the top of Open Data Index, conducted by Open Knowledge Foundation.
However, in the 2015 general election, the DPP won a majority in Taiwan's parliament, set up a new government and appointed Audrey Tang, who is a hacker and has close ties with Civic Tech community like g0v, as the Digital Minister. The appointment of Audrey Tang has given a ray of hope for people to see the country’s Civic Tech and Open data policies become reality.
Audrey Tang has set up the Public Digital Innovation Space (PDIS) to support the greater public participation with the governmental sector via online platform and established the Participation Officers (PO), which consists of Project Manager, Chief Technology Officer and Public Relation from each ministry to create a new channel to connect with the people.
In addition, the PDIS supported social innovation by creating co-working space for people who had an idea to solve social problems or those who wanted to initiate any social enterprise programme to exchange their views and enter the incubation period to kick off the social enterprise programme with the help of Civic Tech.
Regarding Open Government and Open Data, the Digital Minister of Taiwan has built work atmosphere and working style which were open to the public such as recording her conversation while meeting with her counterparts or during the seminars and using sli.do as a platform for the public to raise any questions to the minister.
However, Audrey Tang’s performance was heavily criticized by Civic Tech community and Open Data for not reaching the expectation of the community’s people. She was supposed to use her power to press forward issues concerning the rare connection between Civic Tech and the government and disclosure of the government data. While Audrey Tang insisted that she was rather an anarchist and wanted to create the atmosphere in which cooperation was encouraged.
The relationship between the public sector and Civic Tech appeared to be mixed even at an individual level as well as some of the PDIS supportring projects such as vTaiwan.
Another Tech Communities
Aside from g0v, there are tech community networks which are connected, but possess different characters and objectives.
Open Data Alliance (ODA)
It is a gathering of technology industry that has an objective to create data economy in Taiwan. In early days, the group counseled the previous government to support the use of Open Data in business sector and creation of new startups. The number of activities, including seminars, workshops and hackathon about the use of Open Data are held under the public-private partnership (PPP).
ODA connects the public and private sectors in the regional together and has become the Asia Pacific Open Data Partnership (AODP) to expand the cooperation in information exchange in line with Open Data standard with an intention to create Open Data and information exchange between member countries, which include Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Taiwan’s Open Street Map
It is a gathering of people who are interested in Open Source, mapping and Geography Information System and volunteer to create information on a map in form of crowdsourcing, which is called Open Street Map. They organize the meet-up in a form of Map Party and draw up a map of several areas in Taiwan, including the disaster maps of Taiwan and other countries like Nepal's devastating 2015 earthquake. Taiwan’s Open Street Map is among many groups that support Open Data and Civic Tech in Taiwan.
Thailand and Civic Tech
Civic Tech in Thailand is still new and the term Civic Tech hasn’t gained its ground yet; on the contrary, Gov Tech is an idea initiated by the government and the National Innovation Agency (NIA) and is widely known among people who is keen on joining innovation and startup projects.
However, civic groups who are working in this field like Social Technology Institute, Thai Netizen Network and Change Fusion have organized a variety of activities to support Civic Tech.
Social Technology Institute, together with Thai Netizen Network have worked to support and urge the government to launch Open Data to bring out the accountability and social innovation. Hackathon was organized to create Open Data to fix the problems surrounding accountability of the governmental sector, political development, agriculture, disaster management, public health, meeting and unconference.
Hackathon seminar or unconference can build the community that is interested in Civic Tech, although the community has not yet gained ground, when compared to the communities that are keen on startup. In Thailand, the number of people who work in information technology and communication is still small. Plus, social issues are not linked with this group and issues relating to Civic Tech have not been widespread.
The key factor that leads to the establishment of Civic Tech is an open society, especially in term of politics. Over the past four years, freedom of expression and public participation are under threat under the coup. To define Civic Tech, it is a creation of public participation through technology. This definition did not emerge in the past four years. There is no technology channel available to bring about the participation between the public sector and citizens.
Even though the use of Civic Tech has not been implemented between the public sector and citizens yet, people or communities have started using technology equipment to solve problems as mentioned below.
Youpin is an application that anyone can use to build the crowdsourced map out of street problems via a web app or bilingual chatbot. The system offers nine categories of problems, including sidewalks, roads, pollution, transportation and waste.
Aiming at early disease detection and prompt outbreak control, digital technology with a participatory One Health approach was used to create a novel disease surveillance system called Participatory One Health Disease Detection (PODD). The PODD is a community-owned surveillance system that collects data from volunteer reporters; identifies disease outbreak automatically; and notifies the local governments (LGs), surrounding villages and relevant authorities. This system provides a direct and immediate benefit to the communities by empowering them to protect themselves.
The Varee app is a public platform that aggregates multiple water data sources. It combines live video feeds of the roads from government running CCTV cameras, flood updates from the Ministry of Water Resources and local information posted on social media by using the hashtag #flood (#น้ำท่วม) as a tracker. Bangkokians then have multiple and reliable data all in one place to decide on their travel plans and business contingencies.
Mayday is a small group of young people who wants to improve the lives of city commuters by providing necessary information about public transport and connectivity of different transport modes such as boats, trains and buses. The name of the group, Mayday, is a pun on rot meh in Thai which means bus and also refers to an emergency call for help, implying Bangkok's public transport desperately needs help to improve.
The group released its first batch of graphics, showing how people can get around the city for under 50 baht using public buses, through its Facebook page.
The idea was initiated by the community which consists of software developers, civic groups, community members, representatives from international organizations, private sector and some from state sector, but was unable to connect with the public administration that does not approve this initiative to be implemented on the job procedures and policymaking process. Furthermore, the mechanism of the central government that tried to create technology equipment in a top-down approach failed to succeed.
Thus, if the government sector does not open up space for true public participation, it will be difficult for Civic Tech to grow. Meanwhile, campaigns and activities should be carried on to encourage those who work or specialize in information technology and communication to pay more attention to social issues as well as making them to realize how their tech skills can solve different social issues.
Suggestion to replicate Civic Tech from Taiwan to Thailand
From experiences learned while joining activities organized by Civic Tech in Taiwan, there are lessons that must be learned and adapted for Civic Tech community in Thailand to grow and get stronger as follows:
- To continuously organize activities that strengthen relationship among members of Civic Tech community who are interested in Open Data and Open Source linked to social issues. A team of Civic Tech Organizer is recommended and activities like Hackathon, meet-up and unconference should be held at least one a month in order to move the community forward. The community should be able to create datasets for Open Data, application or the IoT-related tools to solve social, environmental and political problems.
- To incubate innovation from Civic Tech Community and make it practical through the crowdfunding or investment for social enterprise to pave the way for sustainable Civic Tech innovation. Networking with relevant parties should be encouraged so, they could work together like Mayday project in which the group cooperate with the city development CSOs and the Department of Local Administration.
- To open up a space for greater public participation, both local and national levels, in the debate about proposals made by Civic Tech community linked to the public policy and the government’s decision. The space could be the foundation for the Open Government that has digital platform as a channel of public participation. The case study and model at local level is easier and the results could be extended in the future.
- To build new generation leader, in every year the community should have a new generation involves for transition of community’s leadership and keep continue the activities with new ideas.
Although activities organized by Civic Tech have been praised for being the most advanced, the group is still facing challenges in building a sustainable community and making change in the public policy. However, to build strength and hold onto the Civic Tech community’s consensus as foundations to work is a key of Civic Tech in Taiwan. The fundamental factor that keep Civic Tech activities going is democracy, open space for different groups to express their opinions and consensus to continue working as a team.
Democracy is now a big problem in Thailand. Open space for different groups of people to express their views and achieve a consensus to work as a group are not gaining ground. Worse, free expression to find solution is hindered. However, this state is similar with the situation ahead of the rise of the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan. Civic Tech team must work harder to enlarge the community, create greater open space for people who work in information technology, the important group for Civic Tech community, gain better understanding about social issues and structure of the Thai society. Also, take note of examples and lessons learned from Civic Tech communities in other countries in order to know how to use technology to create greater public participation and make the government of Thailand more open.
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Appendix: List of Interviewees
Co-Founder and Editorial Board, Openworlds
Dang, Dong Po
Taiwan’s Open Street Map
Hsuan, Wu Min
Section Chief, Department of Information Management
National Development Council
PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology,
University of California, Davis
Co-founder of Taiwan’s Public Digital Innovation Space (PDIS)
Chairman, Taiwan Open Data Alliance
Co-Founder and Committee Secretary,
Foundation for Internet and Civic Culture
Digital Minister, The Executive Yuan
 Sunflower Student Movement https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflower_Student_Movement
 How the g0v movement is forking the Taiwanese government https://medium.com/open-source-politics/how-the-g0v-movement-is-forking-the-taiwanese-government-74b7cce0e92b