HK's Digital 21 plan needs to tap online channels for feedback

The Hong Kong government has opened public consultation for Digital 21 plans, but isn't it missing out on the opportunity for more regular engagement through social media channels?

The Hong Kong government recently announced another round of public consultation to solicit feedback for its Digital 21 plan — its digital master plan first started in 1998 and now in its fifth iteration. If there's something the government here is good for, it has to be public consultations, and you'd kind of think that it would get better at these, right?

But if you click over to the Digital 21 website, you will find towards the bottom of the page a very enthusiastic "Send us your views!" section (just below a very massive 130-page report (PDF) from IBM China), listing the email address, snail mail address, and a fax number for the consultation of a Digital 21 strategy. Perhaps it's someone's idea of sarcasm, or there may be a side bet somewhere to see whether there truly will be a faxed response.

More importantly, can I tweet a response, leave a comment on a Facebook page, or just holler on an online forum? After all, it did proudly declare that Hong Kong has huge broadband (85 percent) and mobile penetration rates (231 percent) on the very same page, so it must know that people here aren't really quite into hearing the connecting tones of a fax. If there were any such digital channels, they were clearly left out — yet, they must know that most folks are preoccupied these days with doing the looking-down-and-walking thing.

It's high time the government recognizes that feedback doesn't really have to always come in formal letters or emails once every four to five years through a public consultation. If it was truly keen to get more feedback, there are plenty of listening opportunities out there, and promoting digital channels will yield more regular feedback.

And in the spirit of providing constructive feedback, let me start by saying it's no surprise that the digital certificate required for some transactional online public services such as paying for road tax is terribly unpopular and needs to be overhauled. It really shouldn't have taken it that long, or required a consultant like IBM (OK, I did scan through that 130-page report), to point out that having just 63,000 active digital certificate users in 2012 should qualify as a massive fail.

Just take a page out of online banking here, where the use of tokens and SMS verification for two-factor authentication is enough to make over 8 million online banking account holders happy, and would really accelerate the take-up of online services. I'm pretty sure there are millions of other residents like me who want to use more e-services, but don't want to jump through hoops like signing up with Hongkong Post and pay HK$50 per year (no, you can't pay HK$150 for a three-year subscription) to get a digital certificate — which, impressively, until as late as March this year, was available to be stored on a floppy disk.

So let's see whether it hears my digital chatter before I print this out and look for a fax machine.