It helped back in December, while coronovirus was just starting to spread inside the Chinese city of Wuhan and the World Health Organization was still a few months away from declaring a global pandemic, with the Taiwanese government enacting the US Defense Ministry Act for its production Deployed equal to. Undercover for its citizens. Army personnel went to work in mask-making factories to churn out adequate supplies for the entire country. Taiwan’s youngest digital minister, Aud Roger, said, “The early idea was that the habit of wearing masks and hand-weaning is found in three-quarters of the population.” In the same way that vaccines can produce herd immunity, if enough people get the pill, most people with masks can achieve a similar effect.
But it was releasing supply-chain data to the public, allowing them to get masks where they needed to go. Taiwan’s National Health Insurance System, a government-run single-payer health insurer, maintains a database of all products that have a nationwide network of pharmacies in stock, updated in real-time. Tang proposed building a mask-ration system on top of that. Swipe your card, get your allocated quota mask.
And significantly, it pushed, through an open API, to release that data to the general public. Once the project was greener, Tang invited a group of citizen-minded hackers to it. And they built more than 140 apps, showing the map that still had a supply of pharmacies, how many masks were distributed and where, and voice assistants for the blind.
Tang says the insight allowed the government to see more clearly how it was failing some of its citizens, namely those in rural areas that did not have easy access to pharmacies. So the government revised the strategy, which led to the introduction of convenience stores to fill gaps. “We make sure that technologies get to where people are, adapt to people’s needs, and empower those closest to the pain to be technologists,” Tang says. “In other words, capacity building is not literacy.”
And the experience provided even more space for mutual innovation in the form of new challenges. How to handle nightclubs became a particularly thorny problem. The densely packed, poorly ventilated places had given rise to super-spreading events in places like South Korea. However, the Taiwan government was wary of shutting down the industry for fear of undergrounding those activities, losing visibility of the virus, and making the situation unpredictable. The problem was, they needed night club staff and patrons to cooperate in contact-tracing efforts. And that would mean giving some privacy. “It looks like a business,” Tang says. “But it’s only a trade-off if you don’t innovate.”
Instead of ordering clubs to close, they were told that if they could open a “real contact” system, it meant that nightclubs would not have to track people’s real names or identities when Until they did not have effective way to reach them. They then let the club owners figure out how to make it work. And he innovated — building systems for social distancing and enforcing mask masks for code names, single-use email and burner phone numbers. This put everyone on the same team, and strengthened the social fabric of the epidemic response rather than pushing it forward.
The power of approach extends beyond the current epidemic, says Tang. Instead of receiving data, messages and narratives in a technically rooted democracy, citizens can be the creators of these things. In other words: give data to people, give them the power to write their luck and their nation. As Tang said: “Reliable data is the foundation of trust.”
More than WIRED25