The pandemic has forced millions of students globally to stay home. How the g0v jothon team in g0v collaborated with civic tech forces across East Asia to make strides towards improving education.
COVID-19 has increased the physical space between people, but it has also given people the space to reconsider the meaning of interaction. How did g0v jothon create an online hackathon for over 100 people using existing digital collaboration tools?
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The spread of the novel coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19 pandemic have provided a powerful test of social and governance systems. Neither of the world’s two leading powers, China and the United States, has been particularly distinguished in responding. In China, an initial bout of political denial allowed the virus to spread for weeks, first domestically and then globally, before a set of forceful measures proved reasonably effective. (The Chinese government also should have been better prepared, given that viruses have jumped from animal hosts to humans within its territory on multiple occasions in the past.) The United States underwent its own bout of political denial before adopting social-distancing policies; even now, its lack of investment in public health leaves it ill-equipped for this sort of emergency. The response of the bureaucratic and often technophobic European Union may prove even worse: Italy, although far from the epicenter of the outbreak, has four times the per capita rate of cases as China does, and even famously orderly Germany is already at half China’s rate. Nations in other parts of the world, such as information-manipulating Iran, provide worse examples yet. Focusing on the countries that have done worst, however, may be less useful at this point than considering which country has so far done best: Taiwan. Despite being treated by the World Health Organization as part of China, and despite having done far broader testing than the United States (meaning the true rate of infection is far less hidden), Taiwan has only one-fifth the rate of known cases in the United States and less than one-tenth the rate in widely praised Singapore. Infections could yet spike again, especially with the global spread making visitors from around the world vectors of the virus. Yet the story of Taiwan’s initial success is worth sharing not just because of its lessons for containing the present pandemic but also because of its broader lessons about navigating pressing challenges around technology and democracy. Taiwan’s success has rested on a fusion of technology, activism, and civic participation. A small but technologically cutting-edge democracy, living in the shadow of the superpower across the strait, Taiwan has in recent years developed one of the world’s most vibrant political cultures by making technology work to democracy’s advantage rather than detriment. This culture of civic technology has proved to be the country’s strongest immune response to the new coronavirus. TECH FOR DEMOCRACY The value of Taiwan’s tech-enabled civic culture has become abundantly clear in the current crisis. Bottom-up information sharing, public-private partnerships, “hacktivism” (activism through the building of quick-and-dirty but effective proofs of concept for online public services), and participatory collective action have been central to the country’s success in coordinating a consensual and transparent set of responses to the coronavirus. A recent report from the Stanford University School of Medicine documents 124 distinct interventions that Taiwan implemented with remarkable speed. Many of these interventions bubbled into the public sector through community initiatives, hackathons, and digital deliberation on the vTaiwan digital democracy platform, on which almost half the country’s population participates. (The platform enables large-scale hacktivism, civic deliberation, and scaling up of initiatives in an orderly and largely consensual manner.) A decentralized community of participants used tools such as Slack and HackMD to refine successful projects. (Much of our analysis is based on open interviews through these tools with leaders in the g0v community of civic hackers.) One of the most celebrated examples is the Face Mask Map, a collaboration initiated by an entrepreneur working with g0v. To prevent the panicked buying of facemasks, which hindered Taiwan’s response to SARS in 2003, the government instituted a national rationing scheme of two facemasks per week per citizen. Anticipating that this national policy would be insufficient to avoid local runs on pharmacies, the government (via its prestigious digital ministry) released an application programming interface (API) that provided real-time, location-specific data to the public on mask availability. Digital Minister Audrey Tang then proceeded to work closely with entrepreneurs and g0v hacktivists in a digital chatroom to rapidly produce a range of maps and applications. These tools showed where masks were available, but they did more than that. Citizens were able to reallocate rations through intertemporal trades and donations to those who most needed them, which helped prevent the rise of a black market. As often happens in the world of hacking, the initial deployment crashed after being overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of queries in the first hours of operation, but the effort was not wasted. The broad interest stimulated the government to provide the necessary computational resources and bandwidth to allow a version of this service that could serve the whole population. The result has not just facilitated a more effective distribution of masks but also reduced panic and generated widespread, and justified, pride. A second example is a platform that helps citizens work together to reduce exposure to the virus. The work on this platform (which again grew out of a collaboration between a group of entrepreneurs, the digital ministry, and the g0v movement) was motivated in part by the arrival of passengers from a cruise ship with a high rate of infection. Individuals used the platform to share reports, voluntarily and in real time, about symptoms using a variety of media (such as a call-in line and smartphones); this information was quickly verified and collated. The result was then combined with more community-created apps that allowed users to download their smartphone location history to determine if they may have been exposed. It was a common-sense design that encouraged proactive behavior. Users who worried about exposure limited their subsequent interactions to protect others. The guiding principle was not top-down control but mutual respect and cooperation. Privacy was carefully protected, and the movements of an individual were not visible to others. This approach supported an astonishing degree of social coordination, which reduced transmission. And despite being an open, participatory system, the platform did not spur the spread of disinformation or panic. By ensuring reported histories of movement corresponded to plausible patterns, without recording their details, trolls were excluded, thereby avoiding the dysfunctions that degrade commercial social media in times of crisis. The availability of this information dramatically reduced the economic burden of achieving containment by avoiding uniform and extreme social-distancing policies. Instead, citizens were able to avoid or disinfect compromised locations; those who had visited them could self-quarantine. These are only two examples. Dozens of community-created apps helped reduce the intensity of government-enforced interventions and at the same time supported the world’s best response to the pandemic. They allowed Taiwan to avoid the lack of coordination and the misallocation of supplies and tests that have characterized the U.S. and European responses, as well as the secretive, hierarchical approach of centralized Chinese planning. By making the health-crisis response extremely transparent—Digital Minister Tang livestreams all her meetings—Taiwan built public confidence. By communicating challenges faced by the government, rather than projecting an aura of invincibility, it encouraged a range of decentralized actors to contribute to solutions and build on official information. And by tightly targeting responses to locations and types of activities that posed a threat, made visible by data from the community, it was able …
零時小學校在 2021 年推出「沒有人與他們的產地」Live Podcast，讓你在課後時間加入一個只需要說話，不需要寫程式的線上對談，從零開始理解 g0v 這個充滿沒有人的社群。