Build a Solid Foundation of Open Government
There is no dedicated law on open government and open data in Taiwan. Promotion mostly relies on executive orders. Except for the Administrative Procedure Law, citizen participation process and deliberative participation is not yet institutionalized.
In the early days, the Administrative Procedure Law and the Freedom of Government Information Law were the key laws stipulating that government information should be made public. In 2012, thanks to the call for open government worldwide and for transparent governance in Taiwan, the government started to put many efforts into formulating policies and executive orders related to open government.
In Taiwan, open government and open data policies were mainly driven by the Executive Yuan with the Board of Science and Technology (BOST) and the National Information and Communications Initiative Committee (NICI) as its staff organizations. All second-level agencies under the Executive Yuan have an open data advisory team. However, due to the lack of knowledge in open data among administrative agencies, the above structure does not work as expected.
The government does not have a clear blueprint of open government and how it works in current governmental structure. That is why the government has made many political valuable promises yet lack concrete strategic planning for the framework, political culture, and legislation.
Transparency, Accoutability, and Application
For the past three years, open data has been promoted for its economic benefits without an overall industry policy. Taiwan has performed relatively poorly in terms of opening data regarding government transparency and accountability and there is no open data strategy targeting the disadvantaged and promoting equality.
Government agencies have tried to open more and more data but neglected data quality. As a result, the quality of datasets is jagged and many have to be manually processed to be used. Additionally, Taiwan’s agencies release data on their websites according to the country’s Information Law, yet the data is mostly not in open formats. If the data can be further structured and integrated into DATA.GOV.TW, it will be more searchable and easier to use.
Up to today, open data still has no significant impact on open government, citizen participation, and even the data economy. The government needs to rethink the value of open data, conduct surveys to find out the needs of potential users, and develop policy directions that make the data more “useful”. The users can include civil society organizations that monitor the government, tech communities that use the data, entrepreneurs and businesses that elevate data value, and civil servants who are both producers and users.
Due to rigid bureaucracy, an obsolete information system, and lack of coordination between government bodies, open data has been prevented from improving administrative efficiency and even become a heavy workload for civil servants. The government needs to go beyond promises, stop giving more and more policy instructions, and conduct a comprehensive review and reform of the civil service system, which includes hiring, training, laws and regulations, and information system.
The Taiwanese Government has worked on open data for many years and made various achievements, such as the DATA.GOV.TW website, the rising quantity of open datasets, and numerous hackathons. Yet these achievements were meant to create short-term, high performance marks that are measured by KPIs. The government does not yet have an overall plan covering key aspects of open data, including administrative procedures, digital governance, and data economy. Factors such as a lack of comprehensive legislation and policy, as well as outdated systems and personnel management mean that the success of open data initiatives rely heavily on the will of the political leader. Without implicit policy or orders from the top, open data brings little tangible change.
Return the Power Back to the People
Citizen participation models built on deliberative democracy and open government have emerged. They mostly employ online tools and are designed to lower the threshold of participation through less rigorous forms of discussion. They are distinct from conventional forms of citizen participation (such as public hearings) and from deliberative democracy in the narrow sense which is small in scale and with strict forms.
Realization of citizen participation relies on the political will of politicians. The success of promoting participation lies in horizontal connections and the willingness of leaders to be integrated into this process, which then pushes the agencies and departments within the bureaucracy to get involved.
The stage of policy making at which citizen participation is introduced has a decisive influence on the impact of participation. In addition, agenda setting, choice of issues, and the initiatives all play important roles. The method and process of participation also determine the quality of participation.
Most cases of citizen participation in this chapter were experimental. A few were implemented through administrative orders and some are being normalized or institutionalized, such as participatory budgeting at the local level.
Currently, empowering and training civil servants is the most urgent task. It is also important to invite intermediaries to help simplify the language used during discussion in order to lower the threshold of participation. These intermediaries can also help inform citizens, and at the same time, guarantee quality discussion.
Create a Collaborative Relationship Between the Government and Citizens
In the face of inadequate systems, civic tech collaboration requires effort from people in a variety of roles: leaders must contribute political support, mediators must engage in communication and coordination, and the collaborating parties must share goals and values and be willing to learn each other’s language and culture.
The goal of civic tech is to establish equal and mutually beneficial collaborative relationships, not to provide IT services for free. As the collaborating parties identify problems and streamline processes together, civic tech provides not only open tools and mechanisms, but also an open approach to power and relationships in the interaction process.
Civic tech goes beyond the traditional top-down model of bureaucratic governance, emphasizing a network of horizontal connections that transforms the government from a ruler to an open collaborator. This transformation enables a shift from big government toward small government, and finally toward open government.
Thus far, civic tech collaboration in Taiwan has been limited to single ad-hoc cases. With no institutionalized model for co-operation, the scale of influence remains limited. There are also no clear rules on where the responsibility for operational maintenance lies, and who is ultimately accountable. How systems and processes created by civic tech can be integrated into existing mechanisms is currently a major challenge.
Taiwan urgently needs a civic tech ecosystem that incorporates governments, communities, and corporations, instead of relying on the efforts and networks of a few, in order to expand the scale and influence of civic tech.