A Part Missing: How Technology Empowers Civic Participation (Letter to The Economist in 2017)

Dear Ludwig Siegele and editors in tech and politics:

I have always enjoyed reading The Economist. However, the recent articles on Internet and democracy seem to be lack of perspectives from civil society. From the special report in 2016, Technology and Politics, to this week’s cover, Do social media threaten democracy, the imagination of technology and democracy is limited to monopoly of business giants, large-scale social movements and fake news on social media and government’s control over the Internet.

Few articles emphasize how “citizens” around the globe develop technologies to bring democracy more inclusive and to make citizens participate in policy-making process. Continuing the transient passions in street protests, vigorous civic tech communities are experimenting new ways of civil society self-organization and civic participation and deliberation.

One example is g0v community in Taiwan. Since 2012, g0v community has promoted information transparency and open government by decentralized collaboration. Councilor Voter Guide puts councilor’s voting records, proposals and construction budget allocation in one website, which not only informs the citizens but also forces more city councils to open their meeting records and livestreaming. vTaiwan is a website developed by g0v community and central government together to discuss Internet policies and laws among stakeholders online, by which the conclusion will be raised to congress as drafts. vTaiwan has been used for regulations over Uber, the third-party payment, and drones etc. Hackfoldr quickly assembles large and scattered online information in social movements, typhoon disasters and even after explosion. g0v breaks the norm that there should be an organization to generate large scale civic participation.

The exciting initiatives by citizens are not only in Taiwan. Serenata de Amor Operation from Brazil has used machine learning to monitor receipts of legislators and investigate corruptions. ProZorro from Ukraine has reshaped government’s electronic purchase system by opening bidding records and contracts. Open Development Mekong maps cross-border data from NGOs and visualize the forest damages, river pollution records and Chinese financed construction projects in the region.

These civic tech communities are also experimenting new public-private collaboration. Code for Japan matches business corporate sponsoring staffs to work with the government in order to build government’s technology capacity. Code for America started fellowships to help government develop better user-centered services, for example, making delivering food to those in need more smoothly.

I think it is time to cover more stories on how citizens empower themselves through technologies. Citizens are not passive subjects to be governed.

More references on civic tech:

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Yun Chen

Yun Chen

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Nobody in g0v.tw, PM of disfactory.tw. Caring #civictech #opengov #socialdesign. Now researching on Internet and open democracy.