As the Philippines makes the transition to digital government, a delegation of senior public sector officials participated in the Individual-country Observational Study Mission (IOSM) on 18 to 19 October 2021 via Zoom. The delegates learned about digital innovation in Taiwan through the initiatives of the New Taipei City-Amazon Web Services (NTPC-AWS) Joint Innovation Center and the Public Digital Innovation Space (PDIS). The study mission was a joint effort between the  Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP), the China Productivity Center (CPC), and the Asian Productivity Organization (APO), and attended by officials from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Civil Service Commission (CSC), and Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Participants from the Philippines and Taiwan during the culminating activity of IOSM 2021

The shift to digital transformation

Nicole Chan of the Joint Innovation Center opened the first day of IOSM with the benefits of digital transformation. She explained that when information and communications technology (ICT) is used to optimize services, resources are maximized and the productivity of human and capital resources is increased. This results in improved public satisfaction, which leads to increased patronage and a higher net profit margin.

Nicole Chan of the NTPC-AWS Joint Innovation Center explains the benefits of digital transformation.

However, it is not enough to simply go digital, as public sector organizations with limited resources should think twice about transforming from one system to another. Chan explained that digital transformation needs to be anchored on three important keys: identifying the problem, upgrading to digital technologies, and changing the culture. While the first two are critical for improving public services and establishing a data-driven environment in the public sector, Chan highlighted that the “real challenge is the change of mindset” in shaping a culture of digital innovation, which would entail a shift from traditional values to new innovative thinking.

Nicole Chan explains three keys of digital transformation to guide organizations in the journey to going digital.

Senior Vice-President Magdalena Mendoza of the DAP asked about the social impacts of this digital transformation. Chan replied that while legislation can be too slow in catching up with the speed of ICT development, there should be a mechanism for self-regulation in place.

After establishing the need for a paradigm shift, Chan then presented the work of the NTPC-AWS Joint Innovation Center, a public-private partnership between New Taipei City (NTPC) Government, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and First China Capital (FCC) Partners Inc. She explained that this partnership integrates government, industrial, and economic resources to create a world-class ecosystem with the goal of accelerating startup incubation and contributing to digital public solutions.

She detailed that the Joint Innovation Center has an intensive program for startups and traditional enterprises on step-by-step digital transformation. AWS provides digital services and technology expertise while the NTPC provides government support through the National Development Fund. Finally, partners from the FCC offer business courses and consultation on fundraising initiatives. The Center also holds social activities where startups exchange experiences and create business opportunities.

Nicole Chan explains the collaboration of parties making up the Joint Innovation Center.

Chan shared that currently, the Center houses 70 startups, including Heroic Faith Medical Science and VEYOND Reality Technology, that help build niche solutions in various sectors such as manufacturing, retail, healthcare, education, and tourism.

Nicole Chan presents innovations from Heroic Faith Medical Science and VEYOND Reality Technology.

PPP for public service

On the second day of IOSM, Zach Huang and Yi-Wen Chan discussed the origins and activities of PDIS, which was itself established in 2016 as a PPP with the goal of introducing digital innovation in the public sphere. Huang emphasized that digital innovation is “not only the responsibility of the government but also the responsibility of the private sector,” and this requires that everyone is involved in the process through Open Government, Social Innovation, and Youth Engagement. Chan further expanded this by discussing her organization’s new approach to public-private partnership, which seeks to involve stakeholders in the earliest stages of government planning in order to garner wider acceptance and support from citizens.

Yi-Wen Chan discusses innovations in the Public-Private Partnership process.

Chan then proceeded to further discuss the collaborative approach that PDIS employs, which promotes open dialogue between the government and the public on social problems requiring government attention. Through the JOIN platform, a mobile application developed by the National Development Council (NDC) of Taiwan, a citizen can voice out their opinion publicly or initiate a proposal. A Participation Officer from the government will then find competent public sector authorities that will respond to the topics raised by the public. PDIS ensures that the public is well-informed before attending by publishing major facts relevant to the topic for discussion. At present, over a hundred of these collaborative meetings with citizens have been conducted. 

Yi-Wen Chan explains how collaborative meetings work in the early stages of government policymaking.

Another example of PDIS’ collaborative efforts is the creation of the Mask Map, a mobile application that details the location and current face mask inventories of pharmacies throughout Taiwan. This addresses supply chain issues and the possibility of cluster infections created when agitated citizens begin panic buying during shortages, thus ensuring the equitable and safe distribution of face masks. The app even has an option to reserve face masks for purchase, allowing otherwise busy citizens to be able to ensure their personal supply.

Yi-Wen Chan presents the features of Mask Map and its use in helping people find nearby pharmacies with available face masks.

To close the IOSM, Huang discussed Taiwan’s road map towards digital transformation and how it could relate to the Philippines’ own ongoing transition. He emphasized that while Taiwan’s approach was far from perfect, they quickly learned that the only way it could work was if there is true partnership between the public and the private sectors. He reminded the delegation that “the Philippines, as a developing country, would not be in any disadvantaged position when it comes to social innovation as long as everyone feels that they can do something to make a difference, as long as everyone believes they can be part of the solution.”