Episode 2 transcript - How to make democracy sexy again?
Colombe: Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode two of the Equitist. Today we get to speak about how to make democracy sexy again! I'm Colombe
Andrea: and this is Andrea, and today I'm very excited because we not only get to speak about democracy and being sexy, but actually we have a wonderful guest with us, digital minister Audrey Tang from Taiwan.
Colombe: So we are going to interview her to ask her about Taiwan's best practices. We'll talk about issues with democracies. We'll talk about how democracy is backtracking and about incredible innovation that we can seize in order to increase participation, and as a result, make the world more equitable.
First things first. Why are we doing this episode? In yesterday's episode, we talked about the need to create a more equitable world. We talked about the fact that to create a more equitable world, we need to change radically the system. And we think that this comes through democracy. We, the people and with all of our amazing differences, whether they be linguistic, socio economic, of nationality and else come from very different realities.
And this means that you have a lot to contribute to each and every one of us, we're all experts in our own lives. And we all have a lot of best practices we can share. However, in today's democratic world, if we are even lucky enough to be able to give in a democracy, it's very difficult for us to participate, right?
The way we normally do it is we vote once every four or five years, if,
Andrea: if we vote, because actually most people don't vote regularly. We see, for example, in the U S presidential election around only half of the people that could vote, go to the polls. So we see the actual. People who don't even use their right to vote anymore.
Colombe: Exactly. And this is once every few years. And then the rest of the time we protest, I love protesting I'm French it's a national sport and I organize a lot of , protests myself. We protest, and we feel like we can't get heard. and that's very problematic to create an equitist revolution, to have a more equitable world,
we need to ensure that everyone gets to be heard. And everyone, this mean minorities as well. So it cannot be the tyranny of the majority. I'm not talking about direct democracy. I'm saying we need to be able to participate.
Andrea: And I want to say something here because I feel that sometimes people are like why is it needed?
Maybe, we can have wonderful policies and ideas if just a few clever people are leading us. But it's impossible for any human being to understand the variety of needs of issues that people face. Even if I study my whole life, even if I was the most the most informed person on this planet, I would not understand how someone with a totally different background for me is feeling right now, or is the issue that they're facing right now.
Colombe: So at The Equitist, we try to understand how we can create a new, different world, how we can create a utopia of a world that is fair and free for all. As mentioned for us, democracy is the best way to get that, but not today's democracy.
Today's democracy is inadequate and it's heartbreaking. And the truth is, Democracy is losing. So not only is it losing against authoritarianism, we see that democracy is backtracking across the
world right? Now.
Andrea: So I want to give you a few data points that are very impressive. First of all, since 2019, less than half of the planet leave in a democracy.
And that's an outstanding term because up to the first years of this millennia, actually democracy the winning the battle, we were increasingly in a democratic planet. And then the last 15 years, things have changed. And since 2019, less than 50% of the people on this planet live in a democracy and that's not all.
Even people living in democracy, three out of four of them experienced democratic deterioration, which means that you had more rights before then today. It's really scary, it's something that never happened before, again, like the last 200 years, we have seen democracy winning growing bringing freedom to all of us.
And now we are on the defensive.
Colombe: and if you think about it, you probably saw it's in the media, right? The last few years have been full of incredible progress from people taking up the risk and the opportunity to fight for their future. I remember one image that you marked me was the front page of quite a few French newspapers of the Hong Kong protests, when they started a few years back, like hundreds of thousands of people that went in the streets, and defied one of the most authoritarian regimes, the Chinese communist party, in order to safeguard their future, their rights and their democracy. And I remember that for me, it was like, wow this is the way of going.
They inspired an entire generation. Their peaceful protest and resilience and constant protesting really took the world by surprise. And I think inspired so many protests, having hosted quite a few protests ourselves, we had people from Venezuela, from Sudan, from Nigeria from Belarus saying that Hong Kongers completely inspired them.
And then in a matter of months, we saw China completely cracking down on Hong Kong. We, saw some of the leaders of the Hong Kong protests like Joshua Wong imprisoned probably for years, and this for me really represents the downward trends and how authoritarianism is gaining ground. fast. The same happened in Belarus.
Andrea: There is also a very concrete example, which is Russia in the nineties and early 2000 seemed to be on the path of becoming a full democracy. And then now there's no one in their sane mind would say that Russia is a full democracy. Oh, we see it also in Turkey. Turkey was on a very good path to become a very solid democracy.
And then we've seen a very strong deterioration. Sadly, what happened in Hong Kong has already happened elsewhere and it will happen in other countries. I think about Hungary. I think about Poland. As a European, I know this reference quite well. We see democracy backsiding in very fast.
Colombe: If what happens in Hong Kong, what happened in Belarus what's happening in Poland and Hungary, what happened in Venezuela taught us anything it's that rights can be taken away extremely fast.
Yeah. You don't necessarily notice it as it goes, and then you are left with no longer any democratic rights.
There's a second issue, which is that in democracy themselves, democracy is backsliding. This means that democratic standards are going down. So I actually pulled up some data about this: nearly 75% of the world's population lived last year in a country that faced democratic deterioration.
This is according to freedom house . And I can give you some concrete example, India, which used to be one of the world's most populous democracy dropped from the status of free to partly free. This is really worrying at the same time, I think we can all remember what happened after the presidential elections in the US with Trump refusing to concede after Joe Biden's victory.
This is an attack on democracy itself.
Andrea: And related to this example, I remember seeing a chart where it's interesting to see how the trust of Americans in government has also declined drastically. If you go back to the sixties, 80% of Americans had trust in their governments. Right now, we are hovering around 25 to 30%.
So you see that deterioration of trust and the way people see governments can lead to a very sad moments.
Colombe: I'll give you a last example about. Since I'm French, it's easier to criticize France than other countries for me. France was ranked last year by the economist as a flawed democracy. And this is very worrying. But an interesting fact that goes with it is that a Pew survey revealed that 73% of the French people polled believed that the political system needs to be completely changed, overhauled. So it shows that not only our democracy is going down, but people no longer believe in the political system in place because they don't believe that it's capable of delivering what they need.
Andrea: But this is exactly linked to what we discussed before. And I think this is actually at the center of the problem we are facing, if people don't trust government, don't see the government as evolved as the rest of society has. It's a huge issue because if you don't trust, you don't vote. If you don't vote, then society tends to decay.
And then, you might have authoritarian regimes popping up. You might have people playing on fears, populism, nationalism and so on. And I think that's a real challenge we face in 2022. And sadly we might be already late.
Colombe: So we are almost done with the bad news, sorry for this, that few minutes of Bad news!
Before we jump into what incredible world could exist could be born. If we could all be heard, let's take one minute to understand what democracy actually is. So Andrea and I did an interesting exercise. We spent a Sunday talking to randomly met people, in a park, in London asking them what democracy was to them and how they understood it. And I think the answers were quite interesting
Andrea: absolutely. We had some people saying democracy is power to the people. So very simple and strong a definition, some other say like voting every three to five years.
In general, there was a good understanding of democracy, of the traditional way we see democracy.
Colombe: So I fought that I would actually pull up two definitions of democracy before tracing it back to its origins, so that we could better understand it. One of them says that democracy is defined as a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting.
So I found this very productive. I reductive democracy is way more than this. So I'll give you another one. Democracy is also defined as a government in which the Supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation, usually involving periodically held free elections.
Andrea: Very cool.
Colombe: But here again, the focus is always on the elections . But democracy is much more than this.
Andrea: The I really like the aspect of the Supreme power being vested in the people.
I think it's very powerful.
Colombe: I completely agree. And interestingly enough, I don't know if everyone knows that the first democracy was in Athens in the fifth century before Christ. And the Greek idea of democracy was quite different from today's because in Athens all adult citizens were required to take an active part in government.
So it wasn't just about voting. They were required to act and fulfill their duty. And those who didn't would be fined. By the way, quick disclaimer, women, children and slaves were not considered citizens, so they did not vote, nor take part in democracy. But there was an aspect of actively taking part in the government and in democratic life, which I think is very interesting.
And that I think we often lost today. Because democracy for me, if you didn't guess it by now, is an incredible concept. I think democracy is one of the best concepts the human race has ever come up with. I think, however, we completely failed it. There's one of my favorite sayings that says that democracy is never won, but always remains to be won.
And I think it's beautiful because it's very true. Not only does it need to be protected and defended on a day-to-day basis, democracy is an ideal state we need to constantly redefine and fight for. And that means that we need to innovate it. The fact for me that when we look at Ancient Greece, people had a more active role to play than in most countries today shows a real issue because not only did we lose that, but now we also have very innovative tools that enable us to participate in a meaningful manner online, and offline.
Instead, we don't and we are not afforded this opportunity.
Andrea: And even in very lay terms it's would that we still vote exactly like our grandparents or great-grandparents would vote. I think just wrong into the society, not update the tools and the methodology to partake in society.
Exactly. So that's why we need to completely overhaul the system.
Colombe: So as mentioned with this, what's wrong with democracy and where democracy comes from, we want to make democracy sexy again.
Andrea: Let's do it.
Colombe: We think it's needed. And for this, we don't trust mean one change in policy by which citizens will be able to participate slightly more, once in a while, we honestly believe that you have a better world, a more fair one, a more prosperous one, for individuals, communities and the planet herself, we need to be able to be heard constantly, regularly. We need to ensure that all interests are taken into account and we need to test lots of ways of doing it. And there are a lot of ways of doing it.
As Andrea mentioned earlier on, we invited digital minister, Audrey Tang from Taiwan to join us, to talk about Taiwan.
Andrea: So Taiwan is one of the most impressive democracy nowadays. It became a democracy just 25 years ago, basically. And so it's extremely recent. And in 25 years, they managed to go up the ranking of how people participate, how innovative is democracy through the incredible investment in technology and participations and processes.
So you're going to hear way more from the minister. Minister Audrey Tang Is a particular interesting figure. You're going to hear her story, but she actually spearheaded the change in democracy in Taiwan first as as a hacker and then as a first digital minister of Taiwan.
Colombe: Let's hear Audrey Tang talk about it.
Colombe Cahen-Salvador: So, hi Audrey, thanks for having this conversation with us about Taiwan, democracy and digital democracy.
Andrea Venzon: So let's talk first about history and democracy in Taiwan. We know in 1996, the first presidential election took place. We know it was also the year of the internet in Taiwan, in many other places. And since then we can confidently say that democracy blossomed across Taiwan. Why do you think that in such a short time, democracy took such a strong hold in Taiwan and is still thriving?
Audrey Tang: I think there's two main reasons. One is that democracy is very new. So we started with democracy as a form of technology that everyone can improve on. So instead of a tradition, that's passed by grandparents, grandparents people simultaneously tried participatory budget, referendum, sortation, juries, anything that you can think about in the past few decades, Taiwan probably has tried on some scale or the other. And so it made a democracy, not something from top-down, but something that can be experimented upon and collaborated upon. So that's the first thing it increased the participation rates.
And I think the second reason is that Taiwan wants to be seen as different from our past, because our parents' generation, our grandparents' generation did fight to win those freedoms. So we need to put those freedoms to good use. More over, we see that around the world, democracy is on the backslide. So much as how we export agricultural technology or medical technology or things like that, we also want to let Taiwan be seen as more unique in the world by fusing digital and democracy together as one of our exports to fight an infodemic and a pandemic, for example, with this Taiwan model.
Andrea Venzon: Fantastic. And just out of curiosity, do you think that the fact that obviously there's just tight contrast between Taiwan and communist China and this weight on, on the mind of citizens and so on, do you think this factor has accelerated the adoption of democracy and also the care that people had for democracy?
Audrey Tang: I think it made our commitment to democracy more well-rounded that is to say it's not that the ruling part is for a certain sense of digital democracy or open government, and opposition part is not very, it's not like that. All the four major parties in our parliament signed on the open parliament national action plan and all made digital democracy and civic participation part of their agenda, they compete on being more open, right from the state to the citizens. And that's partly because if someone advocates the reverse, like making the citizen transparent to the state, it will be announced and people will simply say, oh, do you want to go back to the martial law? Or do you want to be like the PRC jurisdiction? And that would not have any political clouts.
Right. So that means that we get to focus our energy on the practicality of actually improving democracy, not to debate on some ideological spectrum of you know, whether this is populism or just popular reason or things like that. We actually get to do things.
Colombe Cahen-Salvador: First I think let's take a second to dumb it down for all of us that are not tech experts. What do you mean in a couple of sentences by digital democracy?
Audrey Tang: Sure. So I want to introduce first two technical terms: bandwidth and latency.
Bandwidth is how much information you can provide to other people. So if you vote in a ballot with just four people and you only have one choice, like in a presidential election, then that's just two bits of information of bandwidth.
Latency, means you have to wait for this many time, a lack of time in, order to express your next packet of information. So if you vote for your president, once every four years, then the latency is four years. In a sense democracy, as we previously practiced it, representative democracy, means that each citizen only produce a few bits of information every few years when it comes to collective decision-making.
Now, of course, if you add referenda that helps a little bit. You double the bandwidth and the latency is shortened to maybe one half, but essentially you're still only engaged with decision level democracy once a year or something like that.
But in digital democracy, we can improve the bandwidth. By, for example, we're having a videoconference right now and we're keeping a recording and releasing it in creative commerce. So as a minister, all the interviews, all the lobbies meetings and so on with me are transcribed or published on YouTube this way. And this massively increases the bandwidth of democratic expression because each and everyone of how many citizens are, or even not how many citizens who work as social innovators can book 40 minutes of my time, every Wednesday to talk about any response they have to the social innovation they have seen in my YouTube channels or in my transcripts. And that's like just a few seconds of real-time video exchange. It's already more than the bits of all the votes that were going to vote nowadays.
So it reaches everyone and then people worry about the bidingness like whether it, you have to wait for four years for the next parliament to basically deploy such suggestion From the social innovators. But we have, for example, the e petition platform that guarantees in 60 days a point by point response, implementation or explain why it cannot be implemented, but maybe the civil society can try it out themselves. And so within 60 days, so the latency is 60 days or in a presidential hackathon the latency is around 90 days to a hundred days from an idea in a civil society, voted in through quadratic voting, is a new voting system was more bits, and ended up with presidential promise, five every year to implement those ideas from the civil society. And so on.
So digital democracy is using digital technologies to expand the limitations inherent in the physical representers democratic systems in order to increase bandwidth, meaning that people can express more fully nuanced positions and ideas, and also reduce the latency. Meaning that response is in the here and now, or at least just a few weeks afterwards, instead of having to wait for the next budget cycle or for years.
Colombe Cahen-Salvador: I love this. From a government perspective, I think it leads to transparency, accountability, and also feeling closer, I guess, for citizens to their elected representative and vice versa
You mentioned before Uber and Airbnb the licensing of alcohol and so on. Can we go, can you take us quickly through the case study of Uber? Because I think across Europe, at least, that was such a mess. Like the regulation of Uber was so complicated and I think it's due to the fact that we don't necessarily lead by consensus and we don't have a way like you do of bringing together often different opinions, different stakeholders into the room and discussing and giving them a voice to be able to come to a common conclusion.
Audrey Tang: So as you put it very well it's not just about transparency, it's about working with the people, not just for the people, in a transparent way.
So we crowdsourced the agenda, meaning that we asked everyone including taxi drivers, Uber drivers, passengers so on, for three weeks, we usually do three weeks because that's the time that we occupied the parliament I guess. In three weeks people can easily on a system called Polis, post their feelings about the uber situation. Now we crowdsource for feelings, not for decisions because the importance that we learned of the occupy movement is to make sure that people feel that there is actually a good enough consensus across previous seen as divisive camps that those camps are kind of illusory. That regardless of whether you're in a Uber camp or a taxi camp, actually, everyone cares about, for example, passengers insurance, everyone cares about a fair competition. So not undercutting existing meters. Everyone cares about empowering local, like in the less served rural places the ideas of local tempals or churches or co-ops social entrepreneurs, being able to form something like Uber and benefit from search pricing and things like that. That is seen as a common good by people of either camp and so on.
So, so I can go. But as you can see, as you're nodding, I think in other jurisdictions, it works like that as well. But if you look at the political debates, they tends to our mainstream media focus on the one or two things that are kind of more ideological, that whether it is this sharing economy or just gig economy, right. Whether this is a new form of work or is just a repackaged exploitation. And so, and I mean, this is worthy topics, but the problem is that it does not produce what I call the overlapping consensus is very difficult. Once you start with something ideological, but because we phrased the Uber conversation as: so imagine that you're, you're someone who drives to work and you pick up stranger is based on app recommendations, you would charge them for it, but you do so 10 times a day. How do you feel about this situation? And so after three weeks, we do get the rough consensus and everyone can see that actually, most people agree with most of their neighbors on most of those values most of the time. And we agree to disagree on a few ideological thing, but that's fine.
Let's just regulate the rough consensus that we have. And then we gather the stakeholders, the Uber representatives, taxi union and so one and read to them the crowdsourced agenda the common feelings and only that no other agenda. And of course they're all noting, right. They all agree with it. And so they can't help, but say, okay, we'll commit ourselves to implement this kind of norm, package that's already collaboratively created with the civil society. And so that formed the multipurpose taxi act of 2016, which is acting directly on the crossroads agenda in 2015, the Uber X conversation. After that, of course, Uber is now a legal Tony's taxi fleet and the local rural tempos churches, and so on. They're all benefiting from this new crowdsource multipurpose taxi registration.
Colombe Cahen-Salvador: So we talked about Uber, you mentioned Airbnb, sales of alcohol and so on. And I think those are all incredible case examples of how Taiwan managed to regulate and come to consensus through digital democracy. What about some other global challenges?
And the reason for which I'm mentioning this is we talk to people across the world about coming together, coming together beyond borders, using digital tools and so on, and to be able to express themselves better, to come to unity in a way and consensus, as you mentioned. But we are often told: yeah, this works on some topics, but not on everything.
So if you look at climate, for example ,is it something that you considering implementing. And I'm asking because I was reading up on Taiwan and the fact that it ranked I think 60th out of 63 countries in the latest annual climate change performance index. And every country has some areas to improve on, I think. I was wondering if, for example, those digital tools as something you are thinking of using or are already using on global urgent challenges, like climate change.
Audrey Tang: If you go to energy white paper, that PW has a model case of using this process to settle on the rough consensus of our energy transition, which was recently reinforced by the referenda results.
So the, the answer is yes. But to kind of go into details a little bit, I don't think saying that we let's have a conversation on climate works any more than let's have a conversation on the future of work, works. If we start the Uber deliberation saying, let's talk about a future of work then probably it will not lead anywhere.
So, so the trick here is to be as specific as possible, lead with specific cases, motivating cases that people can feel kind of their gut feeling of right and wrong , for their feeling can be shared more easily. But if you say, oh, let's share your feelings about the future of the planet. That's kind of very difficult actually to, to converge, to a shared, summary question.
So, yes, we've applied that to energy conversations. But no, we didn't talk about climate. We talk about specific energy transition routes.
Colombe Cahen-Salvador: Yeah. But so you are using this tools in order to try to mitigate somehow the impact of climate change and the change in the environment, even though it's not on the broader agenda.
Audrey Tang: So maybe that's the limitation of this line of thinking, because it's depends on fully informed citizenry. But because it's the internet, right? So we only have maybe 10 minutes or 20 minutes of people's time at a time. So it needs to be something specific that there already feel somewhat attracted, I guess, or distracted, but at least a kind of emotional bond with the topic.
If it's too abstract and impossible to explain 20 minutes, then maybe it's not that easy for digital democratic tools to engage people with.
Andrea Venzon: So for the benefit of our audience, let's move to the issue side. I mean, obviously digital democracy has many beautiful site. As we discussed, there are certain issues that I don't know about Taiwan, but definitely in toher democracy like the United States , the UK where we are based, have been definitely discussed a lenght. And we can refer to the case of Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and other things that where technology meddled with democracy in a negative way. So I think that what we would like to hear from you, is your general take on how did you try to edge these risks or convince people that these issues , this is fear of technology ruining the outcome of a democratic election process are not based or maybe can be avoided.
Audrey Tang: I can sum it up with this: don't hate the media, be the media. So don't don't hate anti-social social media make more pro-social social media. And so the point here is not to convince people that somehow Facebook is good for you.
I wouldn't even try. But instead saying that you know, you can actually go to a nightclub with a lot of secondhand smoke, if you would like, right. We're adults after all. If you want to drink liquors if you enjoy the company of very loud music and try to have a town hall conversation about Uber there, I mean right, but it's your freedom. We're not going to stop you doing it, but we are going to do this town hall in the digital equivalent of university campus, or digital equivalent of public library. And we're going to invite people to have a much more pro-social discussion in this space designed for this kind of policymaking, not distracted by the advertisers or distracted by any other attention economy concerns.
Right? So I think that's why in 2016 for the first time we say, okay, For the public infrastructure money in our forward-looking advanced infrastructure budget. We now say digital infrastructure in the digital realm is every bit as important as worth investing as their concrete counterparts. So previous to that, most infrastructure money was just spent on things made out of concrete, but after that, it could be made out of bits.
And that means that the people who specialize in building civic technologies, in building the kind of spaces where it's easier to get people to listen to one another than just shout at one another, have the funding to do so. And that's very important if we are to promote digital democracy. We certainly can not relying on the digital equivalent of nightclubs suddenly rebranding themselves or rebuilding themselves as town halls.
I don't think that's actually realistic.
Colombe Cahen-Salvador: So the way you build a space, the consensus building, and so on, enables people to speak in more details and to come to conclusions together. What about minorites? So in any consensus and majority kind of building processes, isn't there a risk that it would be the tyranny of the majority or that some minority rights or freedoms would be left behind?
Just because they are so small compared to the overall consensus that they wouldn't come into it. Do you have checks and balances to ensure that for example, rights are always safeguarded, regardless of the consensus.
Audrey Tang: Well in Polis the area is measured by the plurality of voices and never by the head count.
The head count means nothing. If you get 2000 people voting exactly the same way in Polis it doesn't affect the shape at all. So basically the algorithm looks for the plurality of voices. So a small number of people say 20 people, if they hold a view that is distinct as another cluster of 20,000 people, but their suggestions are more diverse than it actually gives a larger area. And so I think it's all in what you emphasize in. In Polis we emphasize that agenda must be from the people who are eclectic, nuanced. They need to resonate with people from all the different clusters. And we only hold ourselves accountable to answer to those ideas and feelings that resonates across all the clusters.
So it become a friendly competition in a way in that's the people in the larger cluster they need to bridge their values and their statements in a way that also makes sense to the smaller clusters, because they're not going away and everybody can see the distance to that. And so this is unlike many other and anti social corners of social media where a large number of likes somehow means that this is better and a smaller number of likes somehow means this is not good. In Polis, if you, everybody in 20 you know, thousand people joining in larger cluster press unlike the smaller cluster statements, it just pulls them themselves away, but it does not reduce the area of the smaller cluster.
Colombe Cahen-Salvador: That's actually extremely interesting because it's always been, it's always a discussion, right? Like if you bring about the majority together, what happens to the minority, but if it's not about numbers, but about opinions and nuanced opinions and bridging the gap, then it kind of gamifies consensus and changes the whole game.
Audrey Tang: That's exactly right.
Andrea Venzon: That's very cool to hear. Thank you so much for this explanation. I just want to linger one second on a final example that I think very very important for the time we're leaving in today: obviously Covid.
We managed to go on for a long time without speaking about Covid, but I still want to bring it up because obviously when you compare the numbers that Taiwan has achieved, despite every death is terrible but you only had 850 deaths I believe up to now while the country we live into, the United Kingdom at 129,000. So these numbers are very different. Today: 34 new cases in Taiwan, and I think 220,000 in the United Kingdom.
So clearly we're in complete different situations. So, can you tell us a bit more about how you managed to achieve this result and how digital tools and digital democracy played a role in these fantastic result?
Audrey Tang: Well, first of all, in the first day of 2020, we started border inspections and health checks for all fly passengers coming in from Wuhan to Taiwan.
That's at least 10 days before everyone else. Right. And the reason why is that the day before, the last day of 2019, Dr. Lee, sent a last message from Wuhan that there were seven sars cases in the Wuhan seafood market. It made its way to PTT, Taiwan's equivalent of Reddit, except there's no shareholder advertisers. It's a kind of digital equivalent of a university campus. It's a student pet project for 26 years, right? Opensource, co governed, all that. And so people on PTT do not spend their time on advertisements. But rather triaged this message very quickly. So that by the next day we started responding to this new strain of sarce.
And I think this shows the beauty of digital democracy because digital democracy relies on the collective intelligence, which is always several steps ahead of the government's intelligence in things like this. And so if we take away the freedom of speech, of assembly, of the present, so when we don't get advanced warnings or indeed warnings of any kind. And so this is how PTT I think, established itself as for collective intelligence, for many things related to COVID in the 2020 and 2021. So that's the first thing. And so then we of course, need to take care of people who are not that familiar with the bulletin board system that's mostly text-based. You talk about minorities. So inclusion is very important.
So very quickly we set up 1922, which is a toll free phone number that anyone can call using their landline. Just a huge call center that escalates a collective intelligence from people who prefer landlines phone calls, into the same central epidemic command center, who every 2:00 PM respond to the popular calls of the previous day in addition to the journalistic inquiry.
So for example, 2020 April, there was a young boy called saying we got masks That's great. But all I got was pink, which is not great. ALl the boys have Navy blue mosque. I didn't want to wear pink to school. And the very next 2:00 PM everyone wore pink regardless of their gender in the CCC press conference .
So was this great gender mainstreaming work, I'm sure that the boy became the most hit boy in the class for only he has the color that the heroes wear. And so pink masks, rainbow masks, whatever masks, became a fashion statement. And that massively increased the kind of people who want to wear a mask to protect themselves against their own out washed hands.
And so that's was quite sufficient to fight off even before the vaccines, the kind of entire year of 2020. But after of course the alpha, and then later on Delta variants, masks alone is not sufficient. So the g0v community, then co-created a privacy preserving QR code mechanism to do contact tracing. But without any app required. You just scan it with your own cameras and send an SMS toll free 21922 to a trusted number, and that's done. But your telecom stores it, not the government. So government doesn't know where you have been to. The telecom doesn't know either because the 15 digit random code is only known by the venue and the QR code printer, but they don't have your phone number.
So through something we call multi-party security as part of the privacy enhancing technologies. People can rest assured that after 28 days with no cases locally, their records will be deleted and there will be no kind of privacy impact on their whereabouts and so on. And wave that shortened, the contact tracing from more than 24 hours to less than 24 minutes automatically since July.
And that's how we fought out our first and really the only wave so far of the alpha and delta variants. And then of course is the mass vaccination that are now helping us to fight off the Omicron variant.
Andrea Venzon: Fantastic. My last question on this kind of future looking piece is what's next? I mean, you're doing lots of exciting stuff and obviously I don't know what you can share, but are you looking to enter with the Taiwanese government to new areas of technology? For example, a classic example that we see these days is Bitcoin cryptocurrencies with El Salvador's experiment of making like a legal currency with a lot of drawbacks. So what's next for Taiwan?
Audrey Tang: Well, full disclosure, I'm digital ministry in Taiwan, but I'm also in the board in seven international NGOs, one of which is RadicalxChange .
So, so we know something about blockchain governance and we see the blockchain governance space, not particularly about blockchain, but about starting a lot of small but important experiments on how to take the consensus to the next level. Maybe consensus on intersectional, social identities, maybe consensus on not just the norms, but also how the norms can be translated or compiled into regulations. So law as code, right? And there's many, many things in the distributed ledger community space that they are working on.
And one part that I'm really excited is in the homomorphic encryption and zero knowledge stuff. But this is not the technical conference, so I'll be brief. Basically it enables us to solve the issue of data aggregation. Previously, if you trust your clinic and your clinic trusts a cloud computing provider, it doesn't mean you trust that cloud computing provider. And with many more aggregation like this, at some point everyone suffers a catastrophic privacy or some other breach, right? And then everyone's loss in the system is, is paramount because trust is very easy to break, but very hard to reboot. And so these privacy enhancing technologies that grow from the distribute ledger space because in the public blockchain there's really no nowhere to hide, right? So they emphasize on zero knowledge. So the point here is maybe I encrypt my data. I offer it for you to compute and you compute without looking in the data much like how you can shuffle some balls in a safe, without opening the safe. And then you can return that safe to me and I decrypt and get the results. But with zero knowledge from this safe to you about the data that's actually being computed by you. So things like this offers new possibilities that let us know, think about usability of data, public good of data and privacy as a tradeoff, but rather privacy enhancing technology as trust-building democracy affirming technologies, that can be the backbone of data collection and data trust and so on. And so I think in the Europe I think it's called data altruism organizations or joint controllership or things like that. And I'm very excited to work with people in this space to make sure that the data is to be shared with all, but with zero privacy impact.
Andrea Venzon: Thank you so much, Audrey. It's been a great pleasure.
Audrey Tang: Thank you. Thank you for the great questions.
Andrea: That was really awesome. You can hear that Taiwan is really doing incredible stuff. And obviously it's far from perfect, much more must be done, but if you compare that to what we have in many established democracies like the United Kingdom or elsewhere, you can see there is a huge gap to feel. So we have a lot to do to catch up to this standard.
Colombe: We didn't only speak to Audrey Tang.
We didn't just take her word for it. We spoke to a lot more people. We talked to people who work in civil society linked to democracy and participation. We talked to hackers, we talked to Taiwanese people about it to understand what their view was.
Something really struck me. I asked someone whether they think that themselves and their friends could be heard by the government if they wanted to. And they told me yes. And this is something I don't know about you Andrea, but I would definitely say no!
Andrea: I don't know anyone that would say yes.
Colombe: Yeah. For me, these were the first people that ever told me yes. And I asked these questions because they told me look, Taiwan's participatory democracy works for those that are interested in participating in the first place, for those that are able to participate in the first place.
And this obviously is not perfect: everyone should participate. It should be so awesome that everyone wants to participate. But I think just this first thing of saying, even if I'm not interested, if I want to be heard, I can be heard. It's simply incredible.
Andrea: I fully agree. In many other countries, the only way people have to be heard is to protest, which is powerful and and it should continue, but it's not easy.
It requires a lot of effort it requires a lot of guts. It requires a lot of personal risk and sacrifices. And there's no guarantee they will work in any way. So I love the fact that in Taiwan, they found the recipee for everyone to feel included if they want to.
And there are other examples across the planet, Taiwan is just one we know very well, but there are examples of things that are working in other countries.
For example, in Ireland the big issue of how to regulate abortion in a country that is deeply religious was finally tackled through a citizen assembly.
And let's take the example of citizen assembly. Citizen assemblies are randomly assembled groups of citizens. Then in a long process that include information moderations and consensus building.
Come to give advice or recommendation to the government on issues that are deeply dividing society. A wonderful example was a citizen assembly in Ireland. They managed to both help in legalizing gay marriage in 2015 and in 2017, finally give access to abortion throughout the island because Ireland is a very religious society.
So since then it was a controversial issue. thanks to these wonderful participatory process abortions was made accessible.
Colombe: I love citizens' assemblies. I think citizens assemblies can be used at so many different level of governments from the local level and they're being tested across the world and actually already used, to the national level, like in Ireland, even regional level, we could imagine it happening in the EU, in the African union, across the world.
And hopefully one day at the global level, as a way of understanding and coming to a consensus with people from all across the world on key societal topics. I think it's an incredible model because people get to discuss in depth, not just for social media, clicks and quick soundbites, but in depth about issues that concern society
and by the way, in general, they tend to come to much better decisions for all. And I'm seeing it obviously from my very biased perspective, but I think access to abortion and marriage for all is a perfect example. And then put additions then to unlock them, for example, in Ireland better because they already have the popular backing and that they're taking us less political risk, which is not necessarily what politicians should do, but it tends to work. Other examples exist, including participatory budgeting, and I'm having a lot of issues saying this word properly. So participatory budgeting basically means that citizens get to allocate a certain amount and parts of the budget of the city or of the country to their own projects and all to projects that the city proposes.
And this is tested already and using quite a few cities, including Paris and Madrid, for example. And this enables people to actually allocate resources to what they think is needed, in addition to the government's priorities. I think this is a great way of funding community efforts and making sure that you have a say over where you taxpayers' money is going in the first place.
Those are not the only measures. There's a lot of other ones. I'll just give probably two more examples. Cause I get very excited about participatory measures. One of them includes interacting with elected officials. Audrey Tang in her interview explained how for her it's quite easy to interact with people, how her Wednesdays, I think are set apart in order for citizens to be able to create meetings and talk with her and how those meetings are livestreams. I think it's difficult to scale it up at every level of government.
But there are different ways of interacting and in Germany, in some cities, for example, they put up platforms whereby citizens can interact with elected officials. And I think in some of the cities elected officials also graded based on the response rates and which is very interesting .
Andrea: Trip Advisor of elected officials.
Colombe: Exactly. And I think actually a last one that is worth talking about, and it's both a best practice and a worst practice is the Italian example of how you can comment on pieces of legislation as a citizen
Andrea: yeah, as an Italian, if feel compelled to jump in on this one there is basically a software online, a website where if you're really interested, you can try to comment and amend and propose amendments on legislations before they get voted upon and before they turn in.
To be honest is very unknown. And to be honest, it's very complex to use. So it's not, it's a good idea, probably not very well implemented. But Italy has different Tuesday are powerful tools that I think should be useful for other countries, like the ability to call referendums on certain topics, they can be triggered by the population. I was really surprised when we started studying democracy on the planet, not to see this basic tool to participate.
Colombe: I agree. I think that's a, an amazing one. And it's been used recently, to legalize marijuana and euthanasia?
Andrea: To try to legalize marijuana and euthanasia because the problem is that obviously then the government tried to either slow down the process or find issues in the process or legiferate before the referendum is over.
We are far, very far away from a good state.
Colombe: But I think it's a really interesting way of gathering popular support around key societal issues. So the reason for which we gave you all of those examples, and there are so many more to be learned from at the local level at the national one, regional or more, is because we think they represent good snippets of what a more participatory democracy could be.
And to say it once more, the reason for which we're talking about this, the reason for which we want to make democracy sexy again, the reason for which we want to enable you to have more of a say, to be more heard, regardless of the topic is because we think it's the only way to create a fairer world. And none of the measures we mentioned are enough, in my opinion. Implementing the Taiwanese model and adding the citizens assemblies from Ireland and whatever other measure will not be enough.
For me, what we need is to just completely change the way we think about democracy.
Democracy is not just a way to be governed and to vest power into the people. Democracy is a way of achieving a better world. But for this, all voices need to be heard, which means we need to reimagine it all. From the moment someone goes to get an identity card, to be able to cast their votes, to the moment someone gets on their computer to read the news and has an idea that they want to propose to the government, to the education system.
It's something we haven't talked about, was how we never learnt in school about how we could meaningfully participate in democracy. What our place as citizens were and how we could change the world.
Andrea: Look, I fully agree. And for me, it can also be summarized in a sentence: until people around the planet won't tell you: I think I can influence this government, I think I can participate in the government of this country for real, we are failing. Because there is no more, any real technological barrier to block that. It just a choice of how we decide to govern ourselves.
Jumping into the theoretical side of things, I read the vehicle study showcasing four advantages and three disadvantages of participatory democracy. And I think it is the moment to share them to wrap up the whole conversation.
So the four main advantages that have been studied across many different cases are improved governance. So actually we govern better the countries.
Greater social cohesion.
So people feel heard people cross groups, lines and interact with each other. So there is more sense of unity and normally it also translates into better services, projects, and programmes. So the service that you use that you get from the state are on average better. And last day is more capacity building and learning, which means that if a government does something well, the next government is going to be able to implement it and continue it because of the fact that people participated and this knowledge is distributed, beyond political parties, beyond political leaders, beyond administrations.
The disadvantages are significant, not huge. They can be overcome, but they exist.
One is the cost. Obviously to run a good process, you need to invest money. You need to have staff need to have processes in place.
Obviously, if then the outcome is very positive, this money would be easily saved as well, it's more an investment than it costs.
Colombe: So if people can actually participate and it leads to better policies for everyone involved, I guess that you save a whole lot of money and lack of wellbeing.
Andrea: absolutely. In politics, money matters. So we need to say in advance. And the second disadvantage is the non-monetary cost.
So time, skills needed to be in this process. So there are parts that are not, mainly financial, but they be should be accounted for. I think the same reasoning that you mentioned from a place here? If the outcome is way better than what we have, it's definitely worth it. And last but not least. And I think they actually, this is very positive , is the risks associated to this process. So there is a risk of running this process badly, and so invalidating the outcomes or doing it in a shady way, and people won't trust you. But I think this is actually part of the same topic: is accountability of governments and how things are done.
If things are done properly, this process works. If things are not done properly, this process do not. And actually it's an additional reason to actually run this process very well.
Colombe: I couldn't agree more.
So we gave you a lot of examples of how to make democracy sexy again! We looked at countries from all across the world. We thought about how this can be the basis for a new democratic system, for new way of approaching democracy, where you get to be heard, where you get to speak your mind and where the government listens and learns from it.
For me, this is the future and this can design a whole new utopia, a more fair world for all. There's one topic that we will address in future episodes that I think is fundamental to mention quickly here: it's global democracy. For democracy to be truly lived, for democracy, to be truly fair and to be truly futuristic, we need to think about what a world government would look like. And I'm not speaking about star wars kind of government. I'm speaking very seriously. A lot of topics are global and concern us all. It's the case of climate, of fiscal justice, of nuclear proliferation, and so many others. And those topics need to be dealt with together.
I'll give you a quick example. Climate change. Take the US: it pollutes a lot. It is responsible for a lot of emissions. If you are not a US citizen, you will have no say over how the US regulates its climate policies. This is problematic because regardless it would impact you. This is just an example of how a global democracy is needed, where you, Andrea and I, and everyone else on this planet should be able to participate. And in this participation, we need to make sure that democracy remain sexy. That democracy keeps on being innovated. And when we keep on having a voice across the world. I believe that a lot of the examples we discussed today can be used in a global democracy as well. And we'll get back to this.
Andrea: And if you think about it, we already have a system like the United nations. They should be representing the will of the people across the planet. Actually the United Nation charter start with "we, the peoples" as an intro sentence, but in practice, there is no way for us to contribute in any way to global policy-making. However, our money actually are spent by the United nations, we pay taxes to our government.
They send money to the United nations. So in a way we have a framework to act together, but in practice we have no voice in it. And I think that is the biggest mistake. And the reason why today's world is so polarized, so divided, it's very difficult to move together on fundamental topics like climate change, nuclear proliferation, and many.
Colombe: So this was how to make democracy sexy again by the Equitist. We now want to hear from you. We sent you ideas. We told you about some of the great practices that are happening across the world, but tell us what you think democracy should look like. Tell us how you want to participate. To do so you can send us an email or voice notes that we can include in future episodes at [email protected].
Also leave us some comments and reviews, wherever you're listening to this podcast, it will help us in spreading the voice in spreading the word and in getting more people to listen to it, which is the point.
And finally, we have a little surprise. Unfortunately we could not include the whole interview we did with Audrey Tang because it was over an hour long.
It is amazing. She shared so many interesting insights, also jokes and cultural references that I promise you, you want to listen to. To have access to the whole episode, become a member of Atlas. All of the links are in the bio of whereever you're listening to this podcast and you will have access to it.
Andrea: So bottom line, remember to participate, comment like share: it's exactly like in a democracy, the more you contribute, the more you get out of it. Thank you so much and speak next week.
Audrey Tang: Thank you. live long and prosper.