vTaiwan: Crowdsourcing Legislation in Technology and Beyond

vTawain–a government crowdsourcing platform–takes citizen input on how to legislate up and coming industries

Taiwan is one of the first democracies in the world to leverage crowdsourcing technology to improve policy and decision making around internet and technology companies. While things like participatory democracy have been increasing, Taiwan has taken a more private sector approach to arriving at a piece of legislation, a government’s product [1]. Through vTaiwan, the government allows citizens to solve legislative problems ranging from online alcohol sales to Uber, in a way that improves citizen engagement and requires consensus.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Taiwan and the Flower Revolution

As a young democracy, transparency and participation has become increasingly important for Taiwan. The country came out of Martial Law in 1987 with an unstable democracy which ultimately led to the Sunflower Movement in 2014. Citizens protested the Cross-Straight Service Trade Agreement because they felt the agreement was going to leave the country vulnerable to China’s influence [2]. In response, the government created vTaiwan in 2015—a crowdsourcing process to improve legislative outcomes for its citizens or customers. The more people involved in the legislative process, the more likely the government will arrive at the “right solution”—an idea that is fundamental to the crowdsourcing companies engage in across the globe.

Taiwan Pushes Past Other Governments

While the private sector has been using crowdsourcing to solve technical problems, and generate and get customer feedback on new products, this approach is novel in the public sector [3]. Governments—primarily at the city level—have engaged in participatory budgeting, which allows citizens to have direct control over the budget of certain government projects, but few other governments have done that on the level of thousands of people, engaging them using a combination of an internet platform and in person meetings as opposed to solving technical issues [4]. This process is most like the crowdsourcing Wikipedia requires, in that it takes the collaborative community approach to crowdsourcing [5].   

Taiwan’s Crowdsourcing Process

The Taiwanese government vTaiwan process occurs in four stages.

                                                             1.      Stage 1: Proposal Stage—The government or the country’s citizens propose a problem that requires a legislative solution.

                                                             2.      Stage 2: Opinion Stage—Crowdsources feedback to find a resolution to the issue presented.

                                                             3.      Stage 3: Reflection—All stakeholders discuss the outcomes of the feedback, find commonalities, and come to a consensus on legislation.

                                                             4.      Stage 4: Legislation—The government ratifies consensus approved recommendation.

Visualizing the 4 Crowdsourcing Steps [6]

As of August 2018, vTaiwan has been used 26 times and has resulted in government action 80% of the time [7].

vTaiwan and the Case of Legislating Uber

Taiwan regulated Uber using vTaiwan. While the Taiwanese government viewed Uber as a transportation company subject to taxi laws, the company viewed itself as technology company that required fewer regulations [8]. Taiwan turned to its citizens to resolve this issue. Using Pol.is, the government broadcast out a survey to all stakeholders and their responses were divided into opinion groups (Uber vs non-Uber), where citizens vote on statements so legislators can identify consensus [10]. Four weeks later, the group made recommendations around topics of registration and platform usage. A two-hour livestream took place with input from industry experts. Finally, the consensus driven recommendations became law [7].

Next Steps

Originally, the Taiwanese government was hesitant to expand vTaiwan beyond technology issues. More recently, however, the Premier would like to use this at a much larger scale and for a wider variety of topics. The government will continue to invest in training for local level officials so that the crowdsourcing process and technology can spread across the country. Additionally, in the long-term the vTaiwan team is focused on “mixed-reality” meetings that allow technology to bring rural residents into the conversation [9].

Recommendations for Expansion

In the short term, vTaiwan administrators should focus on expanding the number of individuals engaging with the crowdsourcing software. In the case of Uber, only 31,115 people cast a vote on the proposed legislation [8]. Investing in marketing may lead to higher engagement. Additionally, the government should think critically about the role of experts in their crowdsourcing process. While citizens can determine how they think a certain industry should be regulated, a crowdsourced validation process should also be incorporated.

In the long term, the Taiwanese government should also focus on reducing the amount of time to reach a resolution. Currently, it takes months to run through a vTaiwan process, increasing the barrier to entry of participation. Additionally, crowdsourcing feedback and information about the social services citizens need or improvements to currently existing ones could be an incredibly powerful. Finally, the government should also formalize the use of crowdsourcing through legislation that will last beyond political regimes.

Can trends like machine learning and data collection make this process more efficient and predictive? And can the government take it easy to participate in this process?

(800 Words)

Works Cited

[1] Enriqueta Aragones, Santiago Sanchez-Page, “A theory of participatory democracy based on the real case of Porto Alegre”, European Economic Review (2006) accessed November 2018. 

[2] Jenny W. Hsu, “Young Protesters Shaking Up Taiwan’s China Policy,” Wall Street Journal,  April 1, 2014, https://www.wsj.com/articles/young-protesters-shaking-up-taiwans-china-policy-1396351842, accessed November 2018

[3] Jacques Bughin, Michael Chui, and Brad Johnson, “The Next Step in Open Innovation,” Mckinsey Quarterly, June 2008, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/the-next-step-in-open-innovation/, accessed November 2018

[4] Cristin Dorgelo and Brian Forde, “By the People, for the People: Crowdsourcing to Improve Government”, Wired, 2018, https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/04/people-people-crowdsourcing-improve-government/, accessed Nov 2018

[5] K. Boudreau and K. Lakhani. “Using the crowd as an innovation partner”, Harvard Business Review 91, no. 4 (April 2013): 61–69

[6] vTaiwan “Where Do We Go As A Society?,” https://info.vtaiwan.tw/, accessed November 2018.

[7] Chris Horton, “The Simple but Ingenious System Taiwan Uses to Crowdsource Its Laws,” MIT Technology Review, August 21, 2018, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611816/the-simple-but-ingenious-system-taiwan-uses-to-crowdsource-its-laws/, accessed November 2018

[8] Yu-TangHsiao, Shu-YangLin, AudreyTang, Darshana Narayanan, and Claudina Sarahe. 2018. vTaiwan: An Empirical Study of Open Consultation Process in Taiwan. In Proceedings of OOO, OOO, OOO,

[9] Liz Barry, “vTaiwan: Public Participation Methods on the Cyberpunk Frontier of Democracy,” Civic Hall,  August 11, 2016, https://civichall.org/civicist/vtaiwan-democracy-frontier/, accessed November 2018

 [10] Shu-Yang Lin, “Taiwan is using social media to crowdsource legislation”, Apolitical Group Limited, April 2017, https://apolitical.co/solution_article/taiwan-using-social-media-crowdsource-legislation/, accessed November 2018

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12 thoughts on “vTaiwan: Crowdsourcing Legislation in Technology and Beyond

  1. Crowdsourcing democracy with vTaiwan represents an innovative use of a process previously employed by the private-sector to access ideas and expertise of an external community. The idea of applying crowdsourcing to increasing participation by citizens in democracy is intriguing.

    In the United States, we often have low voter turnout, particularly among millennials, and engagement on legislative issues. Crowdsourcing might engage younger citizens in the democratic processes. Already, the city of Seattle, NASA, the Department of Education, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs have gathered feedback and ideas from the public to enhance their websites, create apps, and generate ideas for government initiatives. Outside of the United States, Singapore used crowdsourcing to help develop policies and services in its eGov2015 initiative. After the 2008 economic collapse, Iceland used crowdsourcing to rewrite parts of its constitution. Doing so enabled the gathering of ideas on a large-scale to create policies and initiatives to prevent a future collapse.

    The best ideas are often outside the boundaries of a particular entities. Crowdsourcing allows governments to access external expertise and creativity without assuming the costs required to hire additional consultants or employees. In addition, the process also increases engagement by citizens, who want to contribute their ideas and feedback. Obtaining more information from citizens helps governments to promote legislation or initiatives that are more in line with the needs of their citizens. Technology has changed so much about daily life, why not democracy as well?

  2. Very interesting article! I have never thought about using open innovation in a political setting. I agree that such process can be more inclusive to the populations` ideas and improve democracy.
    I believe that the challenge is really engaging the population, especially the older generations. I believe one potential solution can be simplifying the process as much as possible to make it easier for people less apt with technology to participate. In addition, I would recommend advertising vTaiwan to a broader audience.
    Regarding your open question, for sure machine learning can help making the data collection and decision making quicker and more efficient. The question is whether the population will accept a political decision made by a machine. If we want to really think out-of-the-box, we could say that, in the future, politicians may not exist anymore if efficient machines can read the populations` claims and needs and develop policies based on data. It can be a future way of ruling countries, but also very controversial for sure.

  3. Very interesting article! I think crowdsourcing offers a lot of promise from a government perspective. In the wake of recent elections, however, I wonder how vulnerable these platforms are to interference. For example, could special interest groups (or foreign governments) bombard these platforms with planted posts to influence the outcome? Overall, I think this is an interesting way to increase engagement and boost participation but trust in the system will be vital to its success.

  4. Rebeca mentioned the challenge of engaging older generations with this innovation. I think that is a critical consideration for this application because the “product”, government legislation, is going to affect everyone in Taiwan. Therefore, excluding populations of people who are not tech savvy enough to use the platform hinders the validity of the platform’s conclusions. The crowdsourced ideas may not be representative of the general public, which is the true customer.

    One could argue that traditional voting measures may be exclusive to younger voters who are less familiar with the manual process, and that this technology allows a faster means of gathering political input, which will encourage greater political engagement in the long term for everyone. However, this does not diminish the challenge faced immediately, in acquiring a comprehensive sample of users.

  5. This is very interesting. A common complaint in the US is that the legislative branch doesn’t accomplish anything. This would certainly shift responsibility to the citizens and could potentially lead to dramatically improved efficiency and quality.

    I think the risk Joe points out is real and a great point, but I don’t think that our current political system is particularly robust to the influence of special interest groups and foreign governments.

  6. I like the thought here how the population really has a say in the legal system. As many other posters have said above, I do worry about questions of access and the biases it will naturally introduce, especially to your point on the next step of crowdsourcing validation. I think there are underlying assumptions on rationality and expertise during a vote. I wonder if in certain countries where voting is perhaps more emotion-driven if this will work. For example, during election season in Indonesia there are historically campaigners that go around villages and give money to people to go and vote for them, which is essentially vote-buying. The fact that some of these practices prevail makes me concerned about potential manipulation, especially in an internet-based system where identity verification may still be difficult.
    I think this issue of experts you brought up is also a valid point. I think the issue is two-fold – the experts to be crowdsourced from, and experts for validation purposes. My concern is that some countries may not have the right experts yet in place, especially for nascent industries (blockchain comes to mind), especially on the validation side. I think the balance between the experts outside the government and within will be very important as there could be a case where only ideas that agree with the current ruling power’s ideology gets pushed through.

  7. What an insightful and well-written essay! Thanks for exploring this often overlooked area of politics where open innovation is much desired and needed. I agree with Joe and Rebeca’s concerns around ability of older citizens and potential to be affected by fake news.

    Couple ways in which governments can make it easy to participate in such processes:
    1. Publicize this facility as a social good (as you suggested – marketing) and also creating more opportunities to participate (e.g., conduct workshops on how to use the platform, have computer kiosks in malls for people to enter their votes as they walk by etc.). This increases throughput of ideas.
    2. Clarify the consequences of the vote (i.e., how will the crowdsourced opinion factor into the decision – will people have a significant say in the end outcome?)

  8. Very interesting article!
    Crowdsourcing has been implemented by multiple government across the world to actively engage their constituents, leverage their collective intellect and collect insights. I believe that governments can leverage it for multiple reasons: gather information (e.g. report problems), help with some tasks (e.g. classification of records), ask a problem and find solutions, test the popularity of an idea through voting, raise funds (e.g. crowdfunding for presidential campaigns), etc.
    In my opinion, AI and machine learning can have a huge impact on crowdsourcing. For example, AI and machine learning can support users reporting a problem through the crowsourcing platform by directly providing them with a list of solutions/ contacts based on previous similar reports. Another example where I see AI and machine learning helping is by quickly filtering and narrowing down on important posts (e.g. filter comments of users who have always put bad ideas, identify key words in posts and elevate their importance). Another way could be using AI and machine learning to directly classify users into topic expertise and potentially automatically push relevant problems to topic experts and provide them with incentive to participate (e.g. monetary award, recognition).

  9. I love the idea of citizens pitching in their opinions on thoughts to a democratically elected government even after the election cycle is done. I think one of the major benefits is that it showcases if elected representatives veer too far away from promises originally made or lets them know if public opinion has shifted since they were elected. While this is a brilliant idea in an economically developed and relatively homogeneous society like Taiwan, I would be worried about the same system becoming dominant in developing countries. To me, internet access in a developing country implies a higher socioeconomic class and concentrating opinion to one group of people would be contrary to democracy!

  10. Great read and a fascinating topic. While I love the idea of getting more people involved in legislation and government, I am actually really concerned about problems with equal access and abuse. I echo Joe’s concerns about governments or lobbyists buying “votes” and manipulating the outcome, while being able to claim the process as “democratic” and thus legitimizing their own ideas without giving the public power to hold them accountable. Further, to your point about making it easier for more people to participate, I think that ease of use would also be important to ensure everyone’s voices are heard equally. While it could potentially make it easier for marginalized voices to participate in this type of system (especially given some of the voter registration issues we have in the U.S.), one concern I have is whether this is driving the ‘digital divide’ even wider. There is already so much separation between the “digital haves” and “have nots”, I worry that this could perpetuate the issue and further drown out marginalized voices.

  11. Super interesting essay—I’d never heard of vTaiwan prior to reading it. It definitely seems like a powerful platform, and I agree with a lot of the issues raised in the comments above (particularly Joe’s). Another concern I have in terms of vTaiwan’s applications is that referenda, much more so than general elections, are particularly vulnerable to information manipulation. One particularly egregious example in recent years was Nigel Farage’s promise that “the £350m that was sent to the EU [weekly] would go the NHS” [1] following Brexit, a claim he reversed one hour (!!!) after the vote took place. How will vTaiwan ensure fair and balanced access to information ahead of a vote?

    [1] McCann, K. and Morgan, T. (2018). Nigel Farage: £350 million pledge to fund the NHS was ‘a mistake’. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/24/nigel-farage-350-million-pledge-to-fund-the-nhs-was-a-mistake/ [Accessed 15 Nov. 2018].

  12. Thanks for the great read – very interesting. I’m impressed with Taiwan’s use of technology to enable open innovation in the legislation process. I’m struck with how unique this is among governments. One thing I’m curious about is data security as it relates to this process. In the US, the common push back on digital voting is the security concern and the risk in an election being hacked/rigged. I wonder, is this problem overstated? Or has Taiwan come up with unique solutions to this problem? If no, does data security pose a risk to this process being successful in the future? Regardless, very interesting and inspiring! Would love to see this in the US. Thanks for sharing.

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