Taiwan's legal crowdsourcing tool is working surprisingly well to resolve thorny legislative problems

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/22/reasoning-together.html


Taiwan’s legal crowdsourcing tool is working surprisingly well to resolve thorny legislative problems

Wow, how cool is that, the Government actually works in that country!


I prefer the old methods.


City-state? Are you confusing Taiwan with Singapore?


I would be interested in hearing about the effects of this law-making technique vis-a-vis “tyranny of the majority”, especially in a multi-ethnic society.

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I’m part of the Canadian “civic technology” community, and I’ve been doing primary research on vTaiwan from afar for the past 2 years. In fact, I’m heading to Taiwan next month for a research fellowship to study their civic tech movement, including the part of the community that stewards the vTaiwan process :slight_smile:

The whole process is really about using the conversational intuitions that we take for granted in small group conversations, but allowing us to use them more naturally in environments where thousands are trying to participate. Just like Roberts Rules of Order are a social technology to let 200 people interact (while preserving minority opinion), vTaiwan is a developing social technology for letting 1000s+ interact (while preserving minority opinion). Or another comparison: For talking online, vTaiwan is to Twitter, like what an incorporated co-operative is to a riot. vTaiwan is about letting us “human” better in large numbers. Because we are bad at doing that in abstract digital spaces where we can’t see one another.

As to your point: It’s actually really wonderful at preserving minority views.

For example, Pol.is is the tool for the phase where they map the “emotional landscape” of the issue. They invite citizen stakeholders to submit statements about how they feel about the issue, and agree/disagree on statements of others – then the tool allows everyone to see the groups that agree and disagree together on significant numbers of these feeling-based statements. This visualizes coherent groups whether they are 10 people or 1000 people. You can see an example here, on a pilot we ran based on electoral reform in Canada: https://mydem0cracy.ca/

A coherent group of 16 people shows just as large as a group of 260, because the representation is of the bounds of the “agreement space” of the group, not the number of people in each group.

During this phase, which runs for weeks and helps set the agenda for the more exclusive phases of decision-making, all participants essentially get the super-power of seeing a live break-down of the factions that exist. I tend to think of it as “mapping the sentimental landscape”. It’s important to know the emotional baggage (the fears and hopes and aspirations) that everyone brings to the issue, if we hope to discover the middle ground and craft legislation that everyone can accept. My big learning is that confronting and grappling with emotions is just as important as grappling with facts during effective policy-making.

Interesting, pol.is simply adds a pretty visual layer and realtime functionality to a stats tool that academics have been using forever: principal component analysis. It gives all participants (not just the moderators) view of the 10,000 ft view of who’s participating. And then in a clever fashion, the participants are told that if they can find “majority opinions” on statements they submit, then those statements will be forced onto agenda of the next phase (the livestreamed stakeholder discussions). So then the most passionate people end up exploring the visualization, trying to understand the other groups, so that they can find and submit new, ever-more-nuanced consensus statements that lie between their own groups and others’. In order to get the things they care about onto the agenda, they have to spend time trying to understand other groups. And this builds empathy as a side-effect. So the most passionate participants (who might otherwise become the most divisive if participating in other processes) spend time trying to understand other groups, so that they can get what they themselves want. It’s really clever.

If you’re interested in more recent work on group decision-making, I recommend watching this TED video. If I’ve done a decent job of explaining vTaiwan, you might agree that the vTaiwan process perhaps plays a role in cultivating and elevating “high confidence grays” in the decision-making process. These players are important in helping social groups to come to consensus :slight_smile:


There are a few folks in Toronto and NYC and elsewhere who are stoked about the vTaiwan process and the g0v movement that it spun out of. We’ve run some workshops and given some talks so far. If you’re interested to participate or meet people, feel free to check out this website: http://g0v.network/ :slight_smile:

I would love to learn how their system combats troll armies.

Especially since Taiwan is at risk of Chinese state-sponsored troll armies to talk up unification and talk down independence.

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Trolls are generally frustrated by the polis phase. You don’t get exposure for finding emotional triggers that folks will engage with and amplify, but rather for finding consensus. So it’s harder to game.

And when the more advanced attacks arrive, since it’s a stats tool based on statistical methods, I am fairly optimistic that the means to detect and ferret out suspicious activity will be more on the critical path than with other tools – stats is a great way to recognize outliers :slight_smile:

Anyhow, Audrey Tang (main architect of the vTaiwan process) explained some of the philosophy very well here:

(The transcript is linked in the youtube description, and you can CTRL+F for “troll”

I know it’s a long talk, but walking the whole thing gives a massive a rare view into what’s going on in Taiwan. There’s no better place than that video to get up-to-speed!


talk up unification and talk down independence.

i know it wasn’t your main point, but fwiw, they usually keep vTaiwan to discussing digital-adjacent issues. They’re on shoestring budget as a citizen volunteer project, and so their time is not well-spent discussing non-digital issues for which they might get to the end and have many people [rightfully] say things like “Oh, but how can you be sure that senior citizens showed up to discuss pension reform”.

They mainly discuss digital issues to finish with high assurances that the right people had a chance to show up, and therefore won’t be kneecapped by that criticism.

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