It has been claimed that the core premise of civic tech is to “convert digitally-enabled forms of mass engagement into real change.”

Aside from whether this is feasible, it might also be asked, is it so? Is such “change” actually the main objective of civic tech? What might this change look like?

Enter vTaiwan. Taiwan is on the “verge of a breakthrough… in open-source democracy,” Liz Barry of Civicist argued a little less than a year ago.

Since the so-called Sunflower Demonstration of April 2014, Taiwanese civic tech innovators have, in Barry’s words, seemingly forged a “new model of democracy at scale by 1) demonstrating scalable listening, empathy-building, and consensus-making on the Cross-Strait Service & Trade Agreement among thousands of people in the street, and 2) broadcasting the events to a nation of remotely participating citizens.”

According to Ms Barry,

members of the open source community and Taiwan’s government had been collaboratively developing a novel, effective conglomeration of civic technologies, government commitments, and mass media dedicated to the public conversation needs of a nation’s democratic process. They call it vTaiwan…
The vTaiwan process now routinely leads to passage of laws by Taiwan’s national legislature. And it’s gaining momentum: on July 26, Taiwan’s new premier declared in a cross-ministry meeting that “all substantial national issues should go through a vTaiwan-like process.”

The problem was posed by then-government Minister Jaclyn Tsai: “Could g0v.tw create a platform for rational discussion and deliberation of policy issues that the entire nation could participate in?” The answer, ostensibly, has been affirmative, through the use of Pol.is, “a comment system to be able to handle large populations and stay coherent, while preserving minority opinions and producing insights automatically.”

Now, in the words of Audrey Tang, “vTaiwan and Pol.is mean a rethink of the political system at the constitutional level.”

So while the ultimate objective may seem distant still, there is a clear view that “change” is possible and might look like vTaiwan.

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