Complex Development Agenda needs Non-linear Interconnected Solutions: How Indonesia is Building Forward Better from the Village Level

By Juliaty Sopacua, SDG Advisor, UNDP Indonesia and Patrick Duong, Local Governance Advisor, UNDP Regional Hub for Asia and the Pacific.

The defining global health crisis of the modern age, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing lives of millions of Indonesians, many of whom live in small villages across the archipelago.

A fisherman living in Ponelo village of Gorontalo province is losing his source of income, as the fish markets are closed due to the social restrictions implementation to curb the spread of the COVID-19. A mother from Malambe village who sells steamed yellow rice (a traditional Indonesian dish) to send her kids to school has been suffering from low sales since the hit of the pandemic.

A trans-migrant mother with two kids (Gorontalo)

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is much more than a health crisis, it exacerbates the vulnerabilities of the marginalized groups living in rural areas, widening inequalities and slowing down the progress towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs, now wounded by COVID-19, and their complex interactions can at times be seen as overwhelming. Particularly for national and local stakeholders who are at the forefront of sustainable development and the battle against COVID-19. While the global community has been spreading the word about how integrated non-linear approaches are needed to implement the SDGs, actual examples of hands-on experiences that turn the often-heard theoretical terms like “portfolios”, “non-linearity” and “platforms” into implementable local governance practices, are still sparse.

So how can these complex and interconnected SDG goals be turned into real outcomes for people?

In Indonesia, as part of a regional initiative on Social Innovation Platforms (SIP), UNDP is currently trying to answer just that through experimenting with open innovation approaches to tackle some of Indonesia’s most pressing challenges, including the severe socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and the efforts to put SDGs back on track.

The Musrenbang

Indonesia’s current approach to development planning process is a well-established annual participatory planning and budgeting process called “Musrenbang”, during which people collaborate and discuss the issues facing their communities and decide upon priorities for improvements. These priorities are submitted to the government planning agency, which will then assign resources to each neighborhood depending upon the needs, opportunities and available budget.

While this process makes it possible for residents to articulate their needs to the government, it has yet to better facilitate a deeper understanding of the systemic nature of challenges. In “Musrenbang”, residents are consulted on the pressing issues affecting their lives, however, they have a limited role in the actual decision-making processes — this is mainly due to the current sequential linear steps of defining, analyzing and solving the local challenges. An innovative non-linear approach might help to complement the “Musrenbang” processes.

Social Innovation Platform in Indonesia: building forward better from the villages

The “Musrenbang” is a bottom-up multi-tiered process, from the village level to the central government. The Ministry of Village, Development of Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration of the Republic of Indonesia (Kemendesa PDTT) and UNDP Indonesia have joined forces to establish the Indonesian Social Innovation Platform (SIP Indonesia).

Supported by UNDP’s Bangkok Regional Hub and the Basque Social Innovation Lab Agirre Lehendakaria Center (ALC), SIP Indonesia aims to inform regional and local development planning and budgeting to help vulnerable groups living in villages recover from the impact of COVID-19, realize socio-economic transformation and use the SDGs to build forward better.

The pilot implementation of SIP will run for a year (2020 –2021) in the provinces of Gorontalo and West Java, where UNDP will be providing technical assistance to support both provinces in developing a Portfolio of Solutions at Kawasan Perdesaan level (cluster of villages). Kemendesa PDTT and UNDP Indonesia launched SIP Indonesia through jointly hosting a Kick-Off Meeting (KOM) in late 2020, with the participation of Gorontalo and West Java local authorities, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub and ALC.

How will SIP help Indonesia?

Non-linear and Inclusive Processes

While Indonesia’s “Musrenbang” includes methods for listening and consensus-building, it has yet to engage an instrument to help to listen to people’s day-to-day narratives. SIP will complement the “Musrenbang” processes by facilitating an active listening method that captures and analyzes hidden narratives in the communities and thus enabling a richer understanding of development challenges.

Recently under SIP Indonesia, this process has ushered in (remote digital) ‘Deep Listening’ exercises in both provinces with a diverse set of actors, including fishermen, mothers, micro-business owners and local authorities to assess the impact of COVID-19 and the delay of SDG progress.

As important as listening, SIP enables ‘Sensemaking’ process, by which people themselves give meaning to their collective experiences — to help overcome the traditional top-down approaches in which, exclusively, experts analyze and interpret locally gathered data.

So far, communities in Gorontalo seem to perceive COVID-19 as an amplifier of already existing challenges, such as unequal access to clean water, more than a problem itself. In West Java, while COVID-19 has affected tourism, communities are more concerned with the current tourism strategy and how it is affecting their existing way of life.

The data that results from the listening is a form of collective intelligence — the body of knowledge that grows out of a group’s combined capacity and capability. While Indonesia’s current development planning is based on citizen participation, it has yet to embrace the human-centered design processes that produce collective intelligence necessary for co-creating development solutions. SIP enables ‘Co-creation’ by addressing perceptions and social dynamics in these two territories at the same time. This ensures that development solutions are not only linked to the region’s needs and opportunities but are also supported by communities.

The Five Levels of Portfolio Interventions

The result of ‘Co-Creation’ process is a portfolio that consists of prototypes that are designed to address development issues systemically through five interconnected levels, namely (i) community relations, (ii) small-scale businesses, (iii) large-scale public-private partnerships, (iv) public service redesign and (v) new regulation. This corresponds to the urgent need for a holistic approach to clarifying the interrelationships between the SDGs, while tackling issues in many different areas, such as gender equality, youth, climate change, governance and green economic recovery.

Using the Portfolio of Solutions, SIP can help convene various sources of development actors (public, private, philanthropy) and different investment tools (government programs, equity, social impact bonds, crowdfunding). SIP Indonesia can facilitate the fisherman in Ponelo village in accessing alternative marketing channels for his fisheries products, support the mother from Malambe village to explore innovative ways to connect her with wider steamed yellow rice consumers and help many more villagers to have access to climate-resilient sustainable livelihoods.

With only nine years to realize the SDGs, UNDP is supporting Indonesia in developing a platform approach, instead of a single point linear solution, to enrich Indonesia’s development agenda and to build the nation from the village level.

The Community of Practice

As knowledge sharing and organizational learning is essential for UNDP, a Community of Practice of Asia Pacific SIP pioneers was recently launched. This COP provides space for people working on SIP, particularly those from the three pilot countries Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan, to share lessons and challenges on co-designing platforms for complex and interrelated development issues at the local and subnational level. Interested in learning more on Social Innovation Platforms? Please get in touch with us at Juliaty Sopacua/Patrick Duong.

In the Asia-Pacific region, we are interpreting the renewed mandate for innovation as an opportunity to reframe: follow us and contribute as we explore