Engaging citizens for a more sustainable Taiwan

Please allow me start my story with a failure. But worry not, for I will try to end it with hope.

After two years of education on industrial ecology at Leiden University and TU Delft of the Netherlands, I came home to Taiwan in 2016 and worked on chemicals management regulatory research as a consultant. In the beginning, my mind was loaded with hope to transform all the heavy resource-consuming industries into ones that are circular through my profession.

However, it was merely six month down the road when it was proven unfeasible. First of all, my supervisor didn’t buy into what I wanted to do. More importantly, I lacked the connections required to really know what was actually going on with the industry. I failed to define the problem I was so desperately trying to solve, let alone coming up with plans to act from my position.

In the end, I moved on.

I knew that I needed more experience working with real people to have true insights. Currently I am working at a think tank that provides policy advice to the Taiwan government on energy regulations both on the local and national level. My team functions as a bridge between the civil society and the government, facilitating their communication and foster opportunities on collaboration. While there’s a strong political will to push forward the agenda of energy transition, public communication and citizen engagement remain challenging as the jargons of energy policy is often not easily relatable the people.

As a team member of the project that aims at forming the first national energy transition white paper, my work was to put together working groups consist of leaders from civil society organizations, businesses, academia, and the government; and also to provide background information and agendas to facilitate fruitful discussions. We gather citizens’ concerns, present them to the working group so they could discuss and come up with responses and solutions to the issues. The discussion outcome will then be written up into action plans on energy transition.

Besides assisting the government making decisions with our research, my organization is also dedicated to improving energy data transparency, improve energy literacy, and facilitate citizen engagement in policy discussion. It has been extremely challenging, as experts traditionally decided energy policy. It could be difficult to build social trust because of the lack of link between ordinary people and the policy. I did notice, though, with the government willing to open up more space for the civil society to be on the negotiation table to allow for the possibility of exchange and sharing. Now some civil servants would even ask us to create more links between different agencies for such experience-sharing and collaboration.

Here my Industrial Ecologist training gave me a lot of guidance on my daily work. Which, to be honest, is a surprise as I spent half of the time in school doubting if I can ever put all those fancy academic papers into practice. For example, organizational behavior, back-casting, and the importance of coordination etc, which turned out to be quite useful and were validated through my daily interactions between different players in the field of energy policy. This past year has been rewarding to witness the transition that the society undergoes. I look back to what I learned in IE all the time and realize the learning process actually goes far beyond the two year diploma itself but is rather endless.

If you’re interested in what I do and want to know more about Industrial Ecology, please contact me at shojlin@gmail.com