What can we learn from the civic tech community in Taiwan about public discourse and engagement? (#FWD50)

Andrea F Hill
3 min readNov 6, 2019

Today at the FWD50 conference, I learned of the g0v (pronounced ‘gov zero’) civic tech community in Taiwan. I plan to do much more research, but the gist, as far as I understand it, is this:

  1. The g0v civic tech community holds regular hackathons, where teams self-organize around projects. Project code is housed on GitHub, and team members may shift on or off organically.
  2. One of these projects is vTaiwan, which is “an online-offline consultation process which brings together government ministries, elected representatives, scholars, experts, business leaders, civil society organizations and citizens. The process helps lawmakers implement decisions with a greater degree of legitimacy.

3. One of the tools discussed and demonstrated (briefly) was Seattle-based pol.is. Pol.is is a way to engage the public, but without the scourge of most online discussion: *no comments!* A set of statements are displayed, and the public can only choose from the options to agree, disagree, or pass. As individuals respond, they are mapped in relation to other respondents. This can then be used to identify segments of users, and compare how much consensus there is around each statement, within or across groups. This article, called pol.is in Taiwan, explains things much more in-depth.

A visualization showing two distinct groups of people, a statement, and a large note that “73% of Group 2 disagreed”

Why is this interesting?

If you follow me on twitter, you know I have a lot of questions about the distinction between public opinion research and user research. I’ll save that for another day, but what I see here is a way to offer an opportunity for the public to respond to ideas in a way where we can start to identify segments of users, and ideas or concepts that transcend vs polarize respondents.

The g0v group is outside government, although the government has “agree[d] to have binding consultation based on feedback”. The pol.is in Taiwan medium article shares an impressive story:

the deadlock on online liquor sales lasted for six years, and the vTaiwan team, using pol.is was able to break it in 3 to 5 months…I think it speaks to the extraordinary power of online deliberation in validating the people’s, the government’s ability to act.

Obviously the risks of engaging with the public in an online space has its drawbacks: we may be excluding some important voices from the conversation. But it’s surely better than the alternative, which is to hold internal discussions and debates without this level of public engagement.

This may not be the sole channel for public engagement and discourse, but perhaps it’s another tool we can have in our tool-belt to ensure we are actively including those we purport to be designing for.

Can we try it?

I see that Pol.is has an open source version available, albeit with lesser reporting functions. I’d love to see this spun up and tried out… and I’d love for the first discussion topic to be about public opinion research, user research and engagement! What are our concerns? Where is the value in engaging with people? How do we manage data? These are topics we should be discussing, and it seems to this platform could be the place!

For real, if you are more tech-oriented than I am and have an interest in spinning this up and working on this with me, please get in touch!



Andrea F Hill

Sr Digital Analyst with the BC Public Service Digital Investment Office, former web dev & product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Cat mom.