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After Sunflower Movement, Taiwan's g0v Uses Open Source to Open the Government

BY Sonia Roubini and Jason R. Tashea | Wednesday, November 5 2014

g0v took the lead in organizing Taiwan's Sunflower movement (speedbug/flickr)

This past March, hundreds of protestors stormed Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, in opposition to a pending trade deal with China. Dubbed the Sunflower Movement protests, students occupied the legislature for 17 days to demand line-by-line review of what was perceived to be a cloaked attack on Taiwan’s independence from an ever-growing China. During the protests, organizers brought in food for the occupiers, mobilized 100,000 person strong rallies, and kept the public at-large informed. This impressive act of online and in-person organizing was co-lead by an online community called g0v.

g0v wants to make government more transparent and accessible. By doing so, it hopes to help citizens understand both how government works and how to make it better. Specifically, g0v believes that current online participation tools like social media outlets and online message boards fell short in creating offline action or collaboration. g0v places itself at the center of open-sourced, hands-on, and public-spirited activism with a desire to engage citizens to create real social change.

g0v’s work is proving that open-source communities can successfully open up and improve government. Ideologically, g0v does not believe that its activism needs to create an enemy out of government, but rather that everyone—the government and the people—wins when creative solutions improve existing public structures. This was reflected during the Sunflower Movement, when g0v was organizing protestors but also took the time to make tea for the police sent to quell the protests.

This collaborative ethos was apparent in g0v’s Open Political Donation Project. In one 24-hour period this spring, 9,000 people in Taiwan worked together to digitize 300,000 political donation records. This action was a response to Taiwan’s Campaign Donation Act of 2004, which allowed the public access to campaign donation documents but only in paper copy, in-person, and at a government office. This project gained the attention of both Taiwan’s traditional media and the government. It also played a proactive role in promoting an amendment to Taiwan’s transparency laws.

The Open Political Donation Project embodies the movement’s emphasis on collaboration. The structure of the movement is simultaneously bottom-up and horizontal. It is bottom-up in that it strives to tackle social issues from the citizens’ level, and horizontal in that every member within g0v is considered an equally capable contributor. g0v relies on collaboration tools including platforms like Hackpad, GitHub, Google Drive, and EtherCalc. These tools allow members to collaborate on a project in real time and to make edits in a shared space. g0v even approaches interview requests, including this one from techPresident, by setting up a Hackpad so that the entire community can respond to questions.

g0v’s collaborative approach goes beyond streamlining public protests and shedding light on political donations. g0v also hosts bimonthly, in-real-life hackathons. The hackathons bring together 100 – 700 individuals, who normally interact online, to focus on current problems and brainstorm solutions. These hackathons have the added benefits of breaking down digital barriers and allowing people who are not tech-savvy to get involved. In its open-source and non-hierarchical structure, g0v has no mechanisms in place for determining which projects to undertake; g0v will accept proposals for any project. However, community members are not likely to be interested if the project fails to show a clear problem or provide a clear solution. This decentralized and open approach to problem solving is what makes g0v unique and one of the largest open-source communities in Asia today.

Beyond trying to improve government, g0v is looking to expand and evolve itself. This weekend, g0v will hold its first conference. On November 8, hundreds of activists from nine countries will descend on the Academia Sinica in Taipei to discuss open data, civic technologies, and participatory government amongst other topics. On November 9, there will be a free unconference with keynote speaker Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody. With help from the Sunlight Foundation, Microsoft Azure, and other academic, private, and public sponsors, g0v hopes to continue to grow local and international capacity to help government open up and better work with and for the people it represents.

Making the government work for the people is at the core of what g0v does. During the Sunflower Movement and the occupation of the Legislative Yuan, g0v members ran 17 streaming video feeds from the legislative building, three text feeds, and created a public hackfolder to aggregate the information coming from occupiers. While the occupation of the legislature ended in April, the movement has moved to broader Taiwanese society. The original protests left the controversial trade agreement unsigned and there is concerted political effort now to reform Taiwan’s referendum laws and to create an official legislative review of the trade agreement.

g0v’s brand of activism is about making sure government does its job better. g0v explains on its website, it substituted the “o” in gov for a “0” to change the way we see government working. Through civic tech, hacktivism, and a belief that government can and should work, g0v is already showing that it can change the way that government sees itself and the way that people can interact with their government.

Sonia Roubini is a Paralegal with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. Prior to that, she helped coordinate PDF 2014. You can find her on Twitter @sonia_roubini.

Jason Tashea is a is a criminal law and legal tech consultant and freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @jtashea.