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How Technology Strengthens Democracy

Round Editorial

The first Digital Minister of Taiwan, Audrey Tang shares how collaboration and transparency has created a relationship of trust and led to social innovation.

Learn how collaboration and transparency has created a relationship of trust between the people, businesses, and government in Taiwan, and led to social innovation.

Audrey Tang, the first Digital Minister of Taiwan, creates, develops, and uses digital tools for social innovation between the people, private sector, and government. Upon accepting her role she was asked to create a job description. She wrote this poem instead:


Tang spoke with Round to share how building upon these principles has led to the successful integration of tech within government, and built a more equitable society for those who live in Taiwan.

1. Don’t work for them, work with them

Tang advocates for making traditional top-down structures horizontal, often reflected within tech companies. When Tang entered the cabinet in 2016 as the youngest member ever, she shared that she would not be working for the government or the people, but rather working with them. In Taiwan, broadband internet is a human right and digital literacy is part of basic and lifelong curricula—two fundamental pillars that enable co-creation.

This approach allows citizens and policy-makers to openly identify their shared values and collaboratively problem-solve. An e-petition website—which boasts roughly 10 million users (43% of the population)—allows citizens in Taiwan to start their own petitions on anything, from telemedicine to plastic straw usage. Any petition that gathers more than 5,000 signatures is elevated to receive an official government response and if the petition is inter-ministerial, different ministers work with petitioners to work on solutions together.

Diverse involvement allows for more creative problem-solving and leads to quicker adoption of new technologies. And because people across silos are involved, the latency of traditional democracy is diminished.

2. Give trust to get trust

“You get no trust when you give no trust.” Tang explains that in the ecosystem of civilians, organizations, and policy-makers, real power must be extended. One way the Taiwanese government does this is by offering civilians agenda-setting power.

For Tang, anyone can visit her for 40-minutes to interview her or even lobby for an idea, under one condition: the whole talk must go online through a textual transcript. This is what she calls radical transparency and is what she believes creates an immense amount of trust. The same is true for all cabinet meetings, parliamentary debates, and negotiations between civil servants and citizens. Everything is available to everyone, all the time.

3. Aim for a rough consensus

Consensus usually implies something we can all sign our names to, but when people are online, this gets much harder. On the internet, people don’t often share the same first-hand experiences, and people with the most time to argue tend to have the upper hand in being the loudest and often winning. All of this makes it difficult to get a defined consensus. Instead, Tang aims for “rough” consensus to show a sense of shared values.

Tang used Polis, an AI-powered tool for gathering, analyzing, and understanding what groups of people think in their own words in real-time. The Polis system allows the people to up or down vote, not comment, and afterwords it identifies where people agreed.

Conversation chart

This approach gets to a glass half full point of view by putting the focus on where people agree, getting things moving forward rather than slowed by a showdown of opposing values, leading to progress.

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