Inclusive Innovation Series: Stories Across the Ecosystem — Field Notes from Pulse Lab Jakarta


In this #InclusiveInnovation Series: Stories Across the Ecosystem, we are building upon the research frameworks lifted from our recent UNDP-Nesta ‘ Strategies for Supporting Inclusive Innovation: Insights from South East Asia” Report. For more context you can see a quick background on ‘The Why’ ,implications in the COVID19 era, and the full launch details plus report and recording here. Previous Field Notes Posts covered Bangladesh, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

In this post, Petra Karetji (Head) and Maesy Angelina (Social Systems Lead) of Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ), part of the UN Global Pulse network, are interviewed by Courtney Savie Lawrence of the UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Innovation Center Team.

Courtney- RIC: First of all, for those who are not yet super familiar with the work of Pulse Lab Jakarta, can you share a little more in terms of the focus and the mechanics of how you approach your work? We know that you’ve been collaborating with the Government of Indonesia as an ‘open laboratory to experiment with big data for policy making’.

Petra — PLJ: Since our start in 2013, as you can see in our recent annual report, we recognised that we have transitioned from explorations focusing on big data, to combinations with more traditional datasets. This combination supports a more incremental shift in practice, particularly for policy makers who rely on official statistics and government generated data. This increases comfort levels when we can show how analytics and insights emerging from big data are complementary and do not replace existing data collection processes. At the same time, we are able to show how use of big data can provide faster and cheaper updates, which support calibration of government policy between periods and schedules of labor and resource-intensive official data collection.

Our priority domains, to provide some focus to our work, connect with the four main thematic areas: (1) Disaster Risk Reduction/Climate Change, (2) Food Production/Security, (3) Urban Dynamics, and (4) Financial Inclusion.

Importantly, I think we want to be known for our mixed-method approach as a data innovations lab, by effectively combining data science approaches and methodologies with behavioral insights and human centered designs undertaken by our social systems team. This has proven important particularly on issues where technological advances can only provide partial solutions. Some good examples of this is where “smart-cities” are not necessarily “safe cities”, hence our collaboration with UN Women to undertake our recently completed “After Dark” research, looking at challenges faced as well as strategies taken by women workers who make up 40% of the Indonesian workforce at night. Also our work on financial inclusion, where we found that although Indonesia has a number of e-finance platforms oriented towards micro-financing, these were not actually being accessed by needy micro-entrepreneurs, and so needed a range of human centred adaptations.

Pusle Lab Jakarta’s Data Journey over the years — more here.

Courtney- RIC: Thanks for letting us know about your recently released Annual Report (it is indeed a great overview); it is striking how PLJ has been evolving over the past 8 years. What does your practice look like now, and how have you been internally innovating along the way?

Petra — PLJ: That’s a really interesting question! As a team we actually did a full portfolio sensemaking workshop late last year to figure this out ourselves and summarised this in a blog about how we are “repositioning”. Basically, we realised that the overall operating environment in which PLJ exists has changed dramatically, and now it is not so much about convincing government counterparts about the usefulness of Big Data for policy making, reflected in our early work which was mainly about creating a range of prototypes and testing ideas.

Now our challenge is to be able to develop data innovations collaboratively (or inclusively) with partners and government counterparts to impact on their actual day to day operations. To do this, we also have to build strong partnerships and help bridge relationships between government agencies and producers of new data sources.

All of this meant that we needed to look internally at how the team is structured, what core competencies are required and how we are effectively monitoring and reporting on the results and impact of PLJ. We have now restructured as a team into three main units (data innovations and policy; social systems; and partnerships and advocacy), each of which can operate to a certain extent autonomously, but also must collaborate with each other through the distribution of distinct competencies in each unit. We are now working much more closely with the Government of Indonesia, with a high level of ownership reflected also in our annual report.

Courtney- RIC: Let’s shift to the topic that is certainly most pressing- COVID19 and ensuring that ‘no one is left behind’. As we have seen echo throughout the interwebs, Arundhati Roy suggests, ‘the pandemic is a portal’ — we can only go forward, yet it provides us an opportunity to reimagine and create a new world. Given the space PLJ occupies, especially data innovation for inclusive growth and sustainable development, what challenges and opportunities are you noticing emerge as a result of the pandemic?

Maesy — PLJ : I loved that you mention Arundhati Roy’s article, which so eloquently describes how the pandemic reveals the structural, social and economic inequalities in a society. Responding to COVID-19 goes beyond tracing the spread of a virus, it also requires us to take into account how structural factors (such as socioeconomic status, age, geographical location, and education level, among other factors) results in disproportionate impact of the pandemic within communities and affects how interventions should be rolled out.

This challenge is part of our conversation with government counterparts as well: what kind of data can provide insights to communities that are more vulnerable to COVID-19? While PLJ is experimenting with population density maps that can provide more granular information on these communities, we also want to acknowledge the importance of ‘thick data’, qualitative insights on the behaviours of particular communities. For instance, based on a body of ethnographic research, we know that although many people in rural communities have access to smartphones, they do not pay special attention to government messages and often ignore official information conveyed through phones. These insights are instrumental in shaping interventions for rural communities.

Maesy emphasizes the importance of ‘thick data’ and highlights the ethnographic work of Empatika
PLJ has been experimenting with Big Data for better understanding domestic migration patterns that occur in response to natural disasters

So to give an example, along with public communication messaging on physical distancing and hand-washing, one of the early, immediate COVID-19 response initiatives in Indonesia, both from the government, civil society, and private sector, revolve around data. Local governments set up websites as a one-stop information center on COVID-19 in their areas (Pikobar, West Java’s government information app, also integrates the use of QR codes to manage patient appointments in healthcare facilities ), civil society initiatives such as LaporCOVID-19 focus on crowdsourcing data and citizen reports, and several tech companies released datasets or insights from their datasets that are relevant to COVID-19 response.

There seems to be an increased acceptance of the use of proxies and alternative datasets during this time, accompanied by more nuanced discussions around the social infrastructure required for successful tech solutions, data access mechanisms, ethical use of personal data, and regulations to protect privacy.

We can observe these dynamics in discussions around contact tracing technology; there are lively discussions around the social and cultural factors that would determine the success of using such technology in Indonesia, the trade-off between its potential use and risks for future surveillance, and revival of public discussion to push progress on Indonesia’s Personal Data Protection Bill,(which started back in 2012 and has since stagnated). These discourses present opportunities for better data governance in Indonesia.

Petra- PLJ: In terms of this pandemic, we play a supporting role to the various agencies engaged in handling this crisis. As we know, and as Maesy mentioned, the pandemic impacts across so many issues, all requiring effective data flows to plan and track not only medical or health related goods and services, but also food production and distribution and other vital needs.

We have been documenting- to the extent possible- on how this is playing out and highlighting gaps in capacity as well as issues of coverage and underlying ICT infrastructure. For instance, by mapping out how COVID-19 cases are being officially reported, we can see what data processes and tools are being used in different provinces and districts, which districts are regularly and consistently updating their figures, and how this is being consolidated at provincial level through to national level. From this we have tried to provide recommendations for protocols and procedures to be established which would improve the flow and consistency. Unfortunately, there is still an issue around data access and data sharing, and even internally we have our own legal parameters which protract processes of obtaining data from the private sector.

This highlights the need for pre-existing protocols for data access for instance from telecommunications companies which should immediately come into effect in the occurrence of an emergency which also is mindful of privacy and mechanisms to ensure data integrity and security.

Outside of data innovations, what is really interesting is the reemergence of traditional practices as local innovations to cope with COVID-19. For example in Yogyakarta, where communities are setting up “lumbung desa” essentially community based food warehouses to stock up on food supplies for the village.

This was originally practiced traditionally, but disappeared with improvements in food distribution and supply. Also encouraging has been efforts spearheaded by provincial governments such as West Java, with their own integrated data platform called PIKOBAR combining public reporting of cases with information and contacts to handle queries. This also reflects existing capacity within the province and more robust data infrastructure and systems compared to other provinces.

Courtney- RIC: Thanks- you both share so many interesting examples from across civil society to local governance interventions. To segue a little- as you know we’ve been working with Nesta to examine what ‘inclusive innovation’ means in the context of Asia, and not only that, but the implication and power that comes from both governing, or designing policy. In our previous ‘field note’ posts we have been drawing out examples of upstream work as well as highlighting ‘grassroots innovation’. Could you share some examples of where you see both of these at play- especially in terms of the unique role and purview that Pulse Lab Jakarta holds?

With or without technology, citizens are smart.” — Maesy Angelina, image credit of traffic cone drainage drip: @unconditionaldesign @Antasari Cilandak

PLJ-Maesy: Communities in Indonesia are creative and resilient, they are used to solving their own problems with resources available at hand. There is plenty evidence of grassroot innovations during COVID-19, which ranges from ingenious hacks for hand-washing stations in areas where clean water is not easily accessible (Unconditional Design collects photos and videos of many designs, such as this hand-free solution and repurposing a traffic cone for drainage), installing a plastic shield to protect essential workers in a convenience store from infection, to creating a face mask with transparent materials to enable lip-reading for deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

In terms of citizens initiative involving technology, emerged as a platform to facilitate workers solidarity through peer-to-peer wealth redistribution. Acknowledging that the majority of workers in the hospitality, tourism, and creative industries are facing problems in getting income, the platform enables them to sign up for financial assistance and calls for workers with a stable income to donate a portion of their income through a third-party financial service. The platform, run 100% by volunteers, has recently teamed up with Indonesia’s labour union for media and creative industry workers to broaden their reach.

However, the best citizen initiatives are not a substitute for government policies to enable structural inclusion.

PLJ-Petra: I agree, I think the breadth and magnitude of the issues- creates or even necessitates an enabling environment for more inclusive approaches, so one aspect that is needed are platforms to encourage and profile locally generated and effective initiatives which others can adopt.

This could be combined with governments initiating massive response mechanisms, for instance in Indonesia through policies around village funds, (known as Dana Desa), with new protocols and procedures developed around the menu of what village funds can be used for, with over 70, 000 villages each receiving around US$100,000 allocated from the national government budget.

Courtney — RIC: There is a lot of talk about the dichotomy between smart cities vs. smart citizens. Some of the work you have recently contributed to has been receiving more traction in this space — from smaller scale experiments, to actually having some of the insights being adopted by the private sector. Can you share what you have/ been discovering?

PLJ — Maesy: With or without technology, citizens are smart. From After Dark research that we conducted with UN Women, for example, we learned that women service industry workers have plenty of tactics at their disposal to navigate less-than-ideal public transportation in their cities at night. The role of ‘smart cities’ is to make cities safer for women, enabling them to have safe transportation experience at all times, with or without the tactics that they currently use for self-protection. Understanding the way different citizens interact with public space and services will go a long way in enabling smart cities that serve its citizens inclusively.

PLJ — Petra: I think the issue is when the drive for smart cities makes assumptions and takes liberties over the rights of citizens who then become statistics and digits to organize and manage. Even if a new innovation “can” be undertaken in any given urban context (for instance movement tracking and face recognition), is there sufficient time and effort taken in asking “should” the innovation be implemented? Particularly important as we have seen with the After Dark research is whether there has been sufficient attention given to disaggregating the data to understand the needs and the issues faced by particular segments of the population, for instance women, the disabled and children.

You can see the full research online here

With the After Dark research, behavioral insights were charted for an even more specific segment of women citizens, being those having to use public transportation at night. Responses from municipality governments have been positive, by taking on recommendations presented in the study, including installation of CCTV cameras, but this is where clear privacy protocols should also be established, to protect the rights of individuals captured on camera. We are also very grateful that a corporation like Gojek has taken up our recommendations to improve the safety of its ride-hailing shelters.

Let us know your thoughts — you can follow Petra Karetji (Head) and Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ)join us at the new open community of practice here on LinkedIn or this #InclusiveInnovation Twitter list.

If you are keen to contribute to the agenda, you can continue the conversation with UNDP Regional Innovation Center’s Head of Exploration, Courtney Savie Lawrence here or through LinkedIn here. Let us know more examples you see from the ecosystem, as we run the #InclusiveInnovation Series: Stories Across the Ecosystem.



Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

Doing development differently through designing, developing, curating, collating and championing innovation and digital across the Asia Pacific Region.