A Hub for Flexibility and Innovation. My Experiences with the g0v Community 

Written by Peter Cui (@peter in g0v’s slack)

Image Credit: 20220924_101652 by g0v.tw 零時政府/Flicker, license: CC BY 2.0

The g0v (pronounced “gov zero”) community is a civic hacking community full of participants from diverse backgrounds, including computer science, sociology, law, engineering, media, and art. The vitality of the community, diversity of participants, and flexibility for every participant to choose how to contribute are always amazing for newcomers to g0v and the media press that want to cover civic hacking in Taiwan. 

I write this article to introduce how flexibility has become the core feature of the g0v community, which has enabled great diversity within the community and kept the vitality of the community for nearly ten years despite radical political and civil society changes in Taiwan. This feature makes the community stronger. For instance, the g0v society created many projects related to the pandemic treatment and got many active participants after the COVID-19 outbreaks.

What I refer to as flexibility is that a participant in this community can choose how to contribute to the projects and the community, choose the time to join and leave, and enjoy full autonomy to start a project independently. Nothing is fixed.

As a participant who has been participating in the community for three years since my junior year in university, I view flexibility as an important feature of g0v, which makes it much easier for newbies to find a way to contribute to the community and keep up with the discussion and sign up with events. In addition, this flexibility allows participants to decide when to join in and when to leave, creating a hub for ideas and practices to spread, and the hub is very inclusive. 

Therefore, participants don’t need to worry about whether their physical or mental condition allows them to be fully committed to g0v since under discussion with other participants (who are inclusive and respect your feeling), you can choose the way to contribute to the community in any form or leave it at any time. But on the other hand, flexibility also requires the project managers to maintain their enthusiasm for their projects and make constant progress in promoting their projects to already-engaged ones and newcomers. 

The flexibility also creates a space for creativity to breed, which means that the community can continue to make progress. The naming process for the bimonthly hackathon is a good example. When The Economists called Taiwan “the most dangerous place on earth”, participants in the society voted to name the next hackathon “the most dangerous hackathon on earth”.

That is where the diversity of participants and vitality of the society comes from. With the inclusiveness and creativity fuelled by the flexible nature of the community, participants have less pressure when they work on civic tech projects. It also helps foster the bonding network for newcomers to come in. Many participants join the g0v community through the invitation of other participants and soon build bonds with other participants in the same projects or similar ones. The network is especially important for the continuity of the community since there are always participants fading out or leaving the society, often temporary due to personal reasons like family, career path or pursuit of higher education. Of course, that is not the only reason for g0v society to succeed for a decade, but it is important. 

Where does the flexibility come from?

Flexibility originated from the value encoded in the core spirit of the g0v community, which many members deeply treasure. Open source is the value that equals the Constitution of g0v. Code of conduct ( CoCs), which serves as the norm of discussion happening in society, also emphasises respect for everyone’s individuality, prioritises friendliness and the importance of creating an environment without disturbance. Respect for individuality is a pivotal element in making flexibility come true. 

Another value which contributes a lot to flexibility is equality. In the governance of the g0v community, every participant has the equal right to voice their opinion. The community does not have titles like “coordinator”, “founder”, or “representative”. Project manager ( 坑主 in Chinese, Kengzhu) is maybe the only title used, but that function is more like a correspondent to help new contributors join a project. The community has also abandoned the word “member” since many in the community believe that the community is not an organisation but a community. The flatness of society also fosters flexibility. Since no one has higher authority than others, no one can ask others to do anything without their will. Hence, freedom is preserved, and respectfulness is guaranteed. 

 Lastly, in the g0v community, many participants enjoy referring to themselves as “nobody”, and there is a famous motto from the community: “the nobody is powerful.” We encourage every participant to raise ideas and realise the ideas with a co-editing note on the HackMD platform or start a project on GitHub. Under this atmosphere, everyone is encouraged to create their project, carry on making it much sounder, and achieve the goal or solve the problem. Everyone can start their own business without permission from others, and society also provides an environment (thanks to many volunteering participants) that is convenient for everyone to contribute to the ongoing work. 

However, having the spirit, mottos, and code of conduct is not enough to write it down on an online document. It also takes much continuous effort from countless participants and project managers to maintain flexibility. I am glad to see almost everyone in the community is a believer, promoter and realiser of this value. When there is anyone who is not used to the flexibility, kind reminders will be sent. It is the participants that secure the flexibility through their actions. 

Cultivating Sustainability

Some may be concerned that such flexibility might lead to disorder instead of sustainability and thus makes projects less efficient. But in my experience, the reality is not so: the flexibility may sometimes cause extra time and process to do discussion. However, it also creates the space for people to relax in society and incentives for those interested to join in. That is to say, although we sacrifice a little efficiency to trade for flexibility, it also brings in more sustainability and the possibility of future development of society. 

The g0v community will celebrate its tenth anniversary in October 2022. It has transformed itself from a group full of computer engineers who want to contribute their leisure time to do something meaningful to a huge society with more than 20,000 participants in online discussion groups. The participants range from their 20s to 60s, with government officials, teachers, artists, and media workers from Taiwan, Japan, the United States, and many other countries worldwide. During the process of growing, g0v society has also bred many civic-tech projects covering almost every field of society, like an online dictionary for an indigenous language in Taiwan, an online platform to spot illegal factories located in the farming land, a virtual discussion platform for regulations and laws, and a website combating disinformation and alternative facts with the help from citizens. 

All projects above were born by the participant under the environment of flexibility, diversity, and vitality. In recent years, we have started a series of works under the project “sch001” to promote the open-source value and g0v society to the students at colleges and senior high schools in Taiwan. I am deeply persuaded that with more younger participants joining the organisation, more possibilities will come true in the next ten years of g0v society. 

Peter Cui is a graduate student in the Department of Law, National Taiwan University; a volunteer for the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty; a research assistant at the Taiwan Democratic Foundation, and a participant of the g0v community.

This article was published as part of a special issue on “The g0v decade”

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