How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

My office, the Public Digital Innovation Space (PDIS), incubates and facilitates public digital innovation and service. The “1922 SMS” contact tracing system is a recent example.

To eliminate community transmission, contact tracing must be done rapidly and effectively. Inaccurate information will put us in the dilemma of having to choose between protecting privacy and preventing the pandemic; rolling out a mandatory government app would only backfire. Instead of centralising contact tracing data or yielding control to multinational corporations, we sought social-sector solutions “with” the people.

This May, I worked with civic technologists in the g0v community to invent a mechanism of contact tracing based on text messages; we worked across sectors with telecom carriers to deploy the “1922 SMS” contact tracing system in a week.

By scanning a QR code with your phone’s built-in camera and sending a toll-free text message, people can keep track of their itineraries. This allows contact tracers to confirm the footprints of infected people and their contacts, without revealing any private information to venue owners.

When contact tracers apply for information about certain phone numbers, they submit requests through this platform to browse them. The phone number holder can then reverse-audit contact tracers’ requests and activities. All records are deleted after 28 days.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

The 1922 SMS system, with more than two million venues adopting the system in the first week, and more than a quarter billion messages sent in the first six months, it helped Taiwan to completely eliminate Covid again.

This collaboration cannot happen without strong trust across sectors. Of course, we need to bridge the digital gap for the elderly and visually impaired — so contact tracing can still be done through measures such as handwriting and stamping.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

With 1922 SMS, I have learned valuable lessons on how to enhance personal data sovereignty, and respond to new challenges with timely improvements.

In June, text messages sent to 1922 were discovered by a judge assessing a police search warrant. Fortunately, our secure multiparty design prevented the police from accessing the mapping between the random codes and specific venues.

The judge denied the warrant and publicly questioned the legality of wiretapping texts sent to 1922. Following discussions, the Ministry of Justice concluded that the 1922 SMS does not constitute communication under the Communication Security and Surveillance Act and, therefore, should not be repurposed for law enforcement, keeping the original civic intent intact.

What’s your favorite memory from the past year?

My favorite memory every year is always working with the interns in the RAY project.

Since 2017, my office has gathered RAY students every summer to review government digital services. The students are divided into groups to focus on upgrading particular departmental websites. Through design and usability studies, they create prototypes that showcase suggested improvements. This approach has been used to upgrade the websites of the Hike Smart Taiwan service, which is used by mountaineers and hikers.

At the beginning of 2021, the Youth Development Administration partnered directly with the RAY 4.0 team on the website revamp project, bringing the team’s user experience analysis and report into reality. This stood out as a great example of collaboration between ministries, youths and businesses to co-create digital services together.

To me, Open Government is about transforming the public service, not just working “for” the people, but working “with” the people.” RAY is a small-scale pilot project, but can give definite answers to the questions that must be answered in order to build people-public-private partnerships today.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

I would like to explore more social innovation experiments, such as the public licensing of the brand “A Chosen Future”.

Last year, the Small and Medium Enterprise Administration (SMEA), which has long been mentoring and training Taiwan’s social innovation organisations, established the “A Chosen Future” project, involving 75 annually awarded social innovation and quality manufacturers.

The project’s Mandarin name features the phonetic “zé”, which represents a combination of “responsible”(責)production and “selective”(擇)consumption. It further opens consumers’ minds to the meaning of “zé,” laying the foundations for forging a “future with choices” together.

Faced with the impact of Covid-19, the SMEA continued cultivating opportunities for social innovation organisations, as well as fast-tracking negotiations on intellectual property co-branding, pop-up stores and various e-commerce channels. One highlight was the launch in July of the “A Chosen Future Online Flagship Store” by the SMEA and homegrown e-commerce heavyweight PChome. The first wave of 20 social innovation brands, including natural ingredients and environmentally friendly products, won widespread praise upon debut.

This year, due to the belief of “Responsible consumption as a new business opportunity for all”, the SMEA decided to make the brand open to public, all organisations in public and private sectors alike are welcomed to apply for the licensing of the trademark of A Chosen Future. By promoting the 12th SDGs or offering social innovative products or services, we are creating A Chosen Future together.

What are your priorities for 2022?

As I stated in our national statement in the Summit for Democracy: We must trust our citizens and invest in public infrastructure in the digital realm.

Just like how reliable infrastructure makes our lives safer and more convenient, public infrastructure in the digital realm will bring together opinions that are currently dispersed throughout society and transform them into a motivational force for creative policies.

This will become even more important as we understand the need for our social, political and economic strategies to adapt frequently in response to ever-mutating viruses. An alliance forged between the government, the social sector and the private sector will thus be in place to meet the diverse needs of the populace in the shortest possible time.

I believe in 2022, we will see a continued emphasis on “swift and safe” technologies to bring about such broad participation. Cyber attacks and disinformation will continue to threaten democracies worldwide, but Taiwan will continue to share its experiences in adopting the tactics of “fast, fair and fun” in the fight against the pandemic and infodemic. I’m sure that allies of the same mind will step up and work together to build a resilient global neighborhood.

What gets you up in the morning?

During the day, I listened to all the different sides — however, I sometimes find it challenging to resonate with them all, so I tend to suspend my judgement and sleep on it. When the dawn comes, I always wake up with the discovery of shared values hiding in plain sight.

Image by Audrey TangCC BY 2.0.