Public Service

Participation Officer Network

Bring Relevant Ministries to Citizens
Project Overview
Collaboration is key to innovation, and it is the same for public services. However, the embedded structure of silos and hierarchies often times blocked public servants from collaborating with their neighbouring departments.

In the central government of Taiwan, there was a rare chance to establish an innovation lab, PDIS, sitting across 32 ministries, which gives it perfect legitimacy to create a network of passionate public servants devoted to cross-ministerial collaboration. We call this network: Participation Officer Network.

The network of about 75 POs (Participation Officers) meets every month and decides 3 to 4 problems to be looked at for the coming month. The problems the network works on either come from citizens through a petition website or are suggested by the public servants themselves through the network.

Here is a list of all 120 problems discussed since the start of the Participation Officer Network.
How it Started
PO Network is the work of many. It was built on previous efforts of citizen participatory and deliberative work. It requires passionate public servants, active citizens, and lots of support from various organisations. Local deliberative groups and design community help facilitate and train facilitators. Open source and civic-tech community help documentation and broadcasting collaborative workshops. PDIS works as a versatile workforce, pulling resources and supporting Participation Officer Network.

Here are two key steps that set the start of Participation Officer Network:

1. Identify change-makers
To break silos, it is important to leverage and identify a group of civil servants who are already doing it. Audrey Tang, Digital Minister who heads PDIS, was one of the strongest advocates behind this at the start. This was also largely agreed among all PDIS members. We thought that the change needed to come from the government (instead of a contracted consultant) for sustainable growth. Therefore, it was a critical step to recruit and identify civil servants who are passionate about their work so that they can act as change-makers.

Observations and actions 2016-2017
2. Empower the change-makers
To best empower the change-makers, it's important to hear their ideas and provide them with the resources. We positioned PDIS as the supporting organisation, working closely with POs and empowering their initiatives. We made it clear again and again that PDIS would act as the "servant of public servants" and give them full power to act on behalf of PDIS if necessary.

How might we rearchitect public sector and share agenda setting power with citizens?

Monthly meeting
Each month, Participation Officers meet and vote for 3 to 4 problems to collaborate on for the next month. The problems either come from citizens through a petition website ( or are suggested by the public servants themselves through the network. Each problem is affiliated with a least one most relevant ministry before being voted. Multiple ministries could be affiliated with the same problem if obvious. After the problems were voted on, the ones ranked top 3 or 4 would be chosen. Each chosen problem then would be assigned a target date for hosting a workshop-style meeting with relevant stakeholders, which would be organised by the POs of the affiliated ministries.

Monthly meetings run with Open Space Technology, so after deciding on the problems, the POs can also choose to use the time to discuss anything helpful for their work, such as sharing work progress from the previous month or proposing changes to the PO mechanism.

Monthly meetings lead to a series of collaborations among Participation Officers. Participation Officers who become organisers of the month would then start coordinating and preparing for hosting the collaborative meeting. They can involve other POs as co-organisers. They define the scope of the problems, identify possible solutions, and evaluate the options. When possible, they host pre-workshop meetings and involve the petitioner's opinion for directions. Participation Officers without specific problems can also participate for learning purposes.

Collaborative meeting
Collaborative meetings are problem-based workshops inviting relevant stakeholders including relevant departments and interested citizens. The topics of these workshops come from problems chosen by POs during their monthly meeting. POs would involve relevant governmental departments when preparing for the workshop. The workshop date would be announced in public, and citizens who are interested in participating can apply and enter the workshops subject to a first come first serve basis.

Collaborative meetings are usually full-day events. The first half of the day usually is around problem understanding, and for the rest of the day, participants would be split into smaller groups and brainstorm solutions. The entire meeting is live-streamed and transcribed. Results or action items would be presented at the end of the workshop.

Quarterly meeting
Every quarter, all ministry representatives would meet and receive presentations from all Participation Officers about their quarterly achievements. This quarterly share back gives Participation Officers a perfect opportunity to present their progress and ask for the support they might need.

How it Works
Monthly meeting
Collaborative meeting
Quarterly meeting
During the tax reporting season in 2017, a UX designer made an e-petition: “We have an explosively user-hostile tax reporting system.” PO of the Ministry of Finance brought this petition to one of the monthly meetings. It then unfolded a series of work in bettering the online tax reporting experience.

The original interface of tax filing system was outdated, jargon-heavy, and often times users would only know what more documents to prepare when they are already in the middle of the reporting process. All these problems were identified in the first collaboration workshop, which resulted in 3 more consecutive workshops in the following four months. A diverse range of stakeholders, including users, IT contractors, and government workers, and designers, participated in those workshops and co-created prototypes out of paper-cut components. The design and engineering community continued with making them into interactive working prototypes. The final mock-up was then handed to the contractor for implementing the tax filing system of Taiwan.

The new system was launched in 2018 right before the tax reporting month. The UX was massively improved and embedded in the new interface, making it a straightforward experience. Users commented that they could finish tax reporting in an enormously shorter time frame. "Even within a cup of bubble tea's time.", commented one of the users.
Case Study 1
Redesign Tax Reporting System
2017 #CM007
In 2017 summer, a popular petition to ban single-use utensils raised above the 5000 signatures threshold and later on passed the monthly voting among Participation Officers. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Economy Affairs set out to prepare for the open collocation meeting. While reaching out to stakeholders they realised that the petitioner was a 16-year-old student who created the petition as part of her civics class assignment.

A diverse group of stakeholders was invited, including public officials Environmental Protection Agency, environmental activists, street food shop owners, housemakers, and more. Among them, single-use utensil manufacturers also participated and added their perspectives. Utensil makers explained that they entered the businesses to produce single-use utensils when hepatitis B was prevalent in Taiwan. They make those single-use utensils to safeguard public health from the virus. As hepatitis B became less of a threat to public health, they are also looking for new materials. The afternoon session became a brainstorming workshop to find new materials for manufacturing straws. Nowadays in Taiwan, you can find not only paper straws but also straws made of sugarcane waste that is zero or negative carbon in its carbon capturing. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Economy Affairs were aligned with the direction and committed to work on a stronger strength when rolling out a gradual ban.

In July 2019, Taiwan banned the use of petroleum-based plastic straws in many public spaces, firstly in government agencies, schools, department stores, and chain restaurants for dine-in customers. As a result, 100 million straws will be removed from circulation annually.
Case Study 2
Ban plastic straws
2017 #CM013
There are more than 200 distinct peaks over 3,000 meters in height in Taiwan. For most of them, intended hikers would need to apply for an entry permit and be approved before going on the hike. The application services were scattered over pages, and paperwork could be designed independently by different administrations, making it a hassle for mountain hikers. In early August 2019, the Ministry of the Interior, the government body Mountaineering in Taiwan, proposed at the Participation Officers' monthly meeting that the case be brought forward for collaboration, for a better hiking permit application experience.

Relevant stakeholders were invited to participate in a collaboration meeting, and a digital survey tool,, was used to gather wider opinions across the Internet. It became apparent that an integrated system for mountain climbing applications. PDIS involved student interns in building mockups and testing them. With limited resources, the final solution called for RESTful API (Open API Specification 3.0), commissioning original IT system makers to build API, and another contractor to build an integrated system.
Case Study 3
Integrating Mountaineering System
2019 #CM045