By Douglas Broderick and Francine Pickup
The high turnout at last Wednesday’s elections is one indication that democracy is alive and well in Indonesia.
Another sign of a well-functioning democracy is that decisions are made transparently with citizen engagement. Data plays an important role: it conveys citizens’ realities and perceptions. Data should inform decisions about how to spend public funds and assessments of the impact and effectiveness of programmes and policies.
Evidence-based decision-making is challenging in Indonesia because the country is spread across so many islands and power is very decentralized. Decisions about the way money is spent on public services such as health, education, infrastructure development and poverty eradication are made at the local level.
The Village Fund, for example, disperses between 800 million to 1.2 billion rupiah directly to every village in Indonesia for the purpose of community development and poverty eradication. Indonesia’s 400 districts and 75,000 villages need information at their fingertips to make informed decisions about how to spend this money effectively and transparently.
Local level administrations recognize that decision-making power must be accompanied by knowledge. They want better capacity to understand data and its implications for policy and planning. The Indonesian Bureau of Statistics understands this need and is working to build capacity at the local level to analyze data on issues such as poverty.
Local level administrations are reaching out to the central Government for help to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has piloted the SDGs tool in Riau province to help local government, in partnership with the private sector and civil society, to collect data and understand how to achieve the goals by 2030. Others want to do the same.
The closer people are to an issue, the better they are positioned to understand and act on the data. Traditional surveys collect information from households and process it centrally, with a report released one year later. Survey data is limited in usefulness to communities, which need a broader array of data, available quickly, to help make decisions.
Communities are innovating ways to collect and use different types of data all the time. PetaBencana is an open-source platform in which twitter and telegram users can share real-time information with others about flooding in Greater Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung to inform their travel plans.
Solo Kota Kita provides tools to residents for the annual participatory development planning process – known as musrenbang. During musrenbang, people can use the data to understand the conditions in their neighborhoods and propose solutions based on real needs – not speculation.
Indonesia must seize opportunities that arise from the digital revolution. The number of smartphone users in Indonesia is expected to increase from 10 million in 2011 to 92 million in 2019. Making data available to the public online improves accountability and transparency – important in Indonesia’s fight against corruption. Indonesia has digitised court case tracking system, with support from UNDP and the European Union. Now people can access court's hearing schedule and track their cases online in more than 750 courts across Indonesia. The Government has now made 1.5 million verdicts available online. These initiatives ultimately reduce bureaucracy and improve transparency within the judiciary.
Indonesia has a very high maternal mortality rate (MMR) of more than 300 out of 100,000 live births. In Lombok midwives are required to complete nine paper-based records for each service interaction. It results in too much time spent on administration. These records feed central-level archives but are not useful to frontline service providers.
The UN is working to turn this situation around so that data can empower citizens and frontline service providers rather than just be a bureaucratic burden. Through its pilot program, the UN works with government partners to digitize data so that midwives are able to spend more time on at-risk pregnancies, rather than filling forms. This kind of data innovation could reduce the MMR rate in Lombok. Data could save lives.
Haze Gazer, a crisis analysis and visualization tool developed by the UN’s Pulse Lab Jakarta, helps the Indonesian government identify haze hotspots and fires. This dashboard collects data from online text, image, social media and video sources. Haze Gazer helps the Government respond to forest and peatland fires.
Better connectivity and big data can help bring decision-makers closer to data and analysis. So far, few agreements have been brokered with the telecoms companies, banks and other data-owners. UNDP and Pulse Lab Jakarta are working with the Government to see how big data can help fill the information gaps faced by Indonesian policy makers. On 21st and 22nd February, the UN, along with the Government of Indonesia and the Government of Australia, will host the Data Revolution for Policy Makers International Conference. This is an opportunity to promote data empowered communities and local administrations.
Last week, visionary and educator Hans Rosling passed away. He was widely known as ‘the father of data’ for his visual presentations on the benefit of data to shape the world. One week later, Indonesia’s biggest telecommunications company Arianespace launched a satellite, which will provide high quality connection for millions of Indonesians. These are exciting times. Increasing people’s connectivity, particularly in rural areas provides great potential for change. With greater connectivity come more data exchanges – with more data comes more knowledge, informing decision-makers to improve policies that save lives. To paraphrase what Hans Rosling said in his 2009 TEDTalk: “Our interest is not data, it's the world. And part of world development you can see in data ... Let the dataset change your mindset”.
Douglas Broderick is the United Nations in Indonesia Resident Coordinator
Francine Pickup is the Deputy Country Director at UNDP Indonesia
This opinion piece was originally published in The Jakarta Post, 22 February 2017