Pro-transparency Web site g0v.tw (零時政府) has attained so much influence online with its mission to make convoluted government documents easy to understand and foment discussion on policies that even Cabinet officials are debating issues on the site.
Founded two years ago by civil engineers in a bid to make government decisions more transparent to the public, g0v.tw convenes bi-monthly “hackathons” where programmers, civic groups, lawyers and academics gather to talk about policies and laws.
The Sunflower movement against the government’s handling of the cross-strait service trade pact sparked a surge of participation on the Web site.
To participate in the hackathons, users must obtain a type of virtual entry ticket. The popularity of the meetings is such that these usually sell out within five minutes of being put on “sale,” leading members to joke that the passes are “hotter than [Taiwanese pop diva] A-mei (阿妹) concert tickets.”
In a hackathon, 20 groups or individuals first state their cases on a certain topic and then swap technical or professional views as they formulate propositions or amendments in an ensuing group discussion, g0v.tw members said. The discussions are usually broadcast live.
One example of the policy proposals made on the Web site is the creation of an online foodstuffs database that would allow the public to obtain detailed information on a food item by scanning the product’s barcode using an application specifically designed to interface with the archive.
The programmer who proposed the database said that to start compiling it, he first needs a vast amount of information on foodstuffs, including the products’ providers and ingredient list, calling on the site’s users and the public to help provide that information.
Other policies proposed on the site include the amelioration and simplification of governmental Web site user interfaces; the organization of public information on anti-corruption efforts; and establishing animal-friendly paths on roads that drivers can view on maps to know where they need be more cautious.
Executive Yuan Minister Without Portfolio Tsai Yu-ling (蔡玉玲) participated in one of the hackathons, where she was asked why members of the public are doing the government’s job in providing policy transparency, even though it is the government that has the resources and duty to do so.
Tsai said that the government and the public have to interact more to understand each other better.
She said that the government apparatus is large and it is imperative to determine the best way for it to function. Each person has a different point of focus in this regard, and the idea that policy implementation and change can be effected through the Internet could really help the public understand the government’s policies.
Other participants in the hackathon were optimistic about a government official attending the discussion and saw the move as a step toward greater governmental transparency. However, some expressed worries that the government’s involvement in such activities may bear no fruit.