IN ASIA

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Digital Governance in Indonesia: An On and Offline Battle

May 18, 2016

By Aris Huang, Yuandra Ismiraldi, and Andrew Thornley

The data revolution has permeated beyond the closeted realm of computer science into becoming a lynchpin of public policy-making. Data in all of its buzzy forms (big data, little data, open data) are transforming the face of public governance into a digital one. With the dawn of the data revolution comes digital innovation. But effective implementation and integration of digital innovation in support of more effective governance is not without its significant challenges.

Indonesia’s story of digital innovation in the public sphere is an excitingly recent one. In 2014, national legislative and presidential elections – data heavy and dripping with significance for the direction of democratic governance – prompted the creation of digital platforms such as Kawal Pemilu, as well as the country’s first governance-inspired hackathon, Code for Vote – all of which facilitated public participation in elections beyond merely voting.

Indonesia’s story of digital innovation in the public sphere is an excitingly recent one. In 2014, national legislative and presidential elections prompted the creation of digital platforms such as Kawal Pemilu, as well as the country’s first governance-inspired hackathon, Code for Vote.

Indonesia’s story of digital innovation in the public sphere is an excitingly recent one. In 2014, national legislative and presidential elections prompted the creation of digital platforms such as Kawal Pemilu, as well as the country’s first governance-inspired hackathon, Code for Vote.

Since then, widespread adoption of digital apps focusing on public service provision, such as Qlue and Lapor! have eased the process for Indonesians to voice their opinions with their government. (The timeliness and effectiveness of government response to these aspirations is a different question.) Data portals are providing a necessary wedge in support of greater transparency of a complex bureaucracy, and in turn are promoting increased public sector accountability.

Nagara is currently conducting a first-of-its-kind mapping of the digital governance ecosystem in Indonesia in order to promote a more thorough understanding of the landscape and identify opportunities for action and collaboration. Digital governance here is defined as any digital-based initiative that aims to promote transparency, accountability, and public participation to improve governance.

Initial findings suggest that while products and programs are proliferating, innovative tools and approaches lack effective and sustainable integration among themselves as well as within any national governance framework. They are, not surprisingly, centered in large municipalities (such as Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung – see Figure 1) and tend to focus more on top-down information dissemination.

Figure 1. Heatmap showing the concentration of current digital governance initiatives throughout Indonesia.

Figure 1. Heatmap showing the concentration of current digital governance initiatives throughout Indonesia.

Three distinct challenges to digital innovation are evident.

Competition vs. Collaboration. Cross-institutional linkage between actors – such as government institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs), international development partners, and the private sector – is thin because it is subject to competing and conflicting institutional interests, both within and across sectors. A leading CSO, Perludem, for example, has supported the National Election Commission to promote the transparency and accessibility of election data through initiatives such as its Elections API. “Publish What You Pay” focuses solely on the area of extractive industries. Various Smart City initiatives have been building digital platforms for metropolitan public service delivery. However, collaboration among these could result in more integrated election monitoring platforms and holding elected municipal officials accountable to their campaign promises, for example.

But there are positive signs pointing toward greater integration. The Asia Foundation’s Innovation and Collaboration for Development (In.CoDe) initiative explores opportunities for government, CSOs, investors, international development partners, and technology companies to work more closely together in the design and implementation of innovative solutions to key development problems. A vibrant and inclusive Indonesian Open Data Club – consisting mostly of information-sharing via WhatsApp with occasional offline gatherings – includes international members and representatives from the Executive Office of the President down to regional app developers.

Integration vs. Disintegration. There is no overarching policy framework within Indonesia to promote, direct, and integrate digital breakthroughs. The U.S. government has a full set of such laws, such as the 2002 E-Government Act, as well as specific agencies to push for digital innovations, such as 18F (an office inside the U.S. General Services Administration that helps other federal agencies build, buy, and share efficient and easy-to-use digital services). In comparison, Indonesia has the 2008 Freedom of Information law, its status and commitments as a founding member state of the Open Government Partnership, and a budding bromance between President Joko Widodo and the titans of Silicon Valley. Indonesia does not yet have one institution tasked and sufficiently backed to promote and integrate digital innovation. At the national level, Open Government Indonesia and the Executive Office of the President have been the backbone of coordination and facilitation of digital innovation in public service delivery. However, these two national bodies have not been able to orchestrate coordinated digital innovation services as they lack a sufficient mandate and the necessary resources. Indonesia needs to develop a strong and forward-looking legal, policy, and regulatory framework for digital innovation. The foundations for such innovation – such as the promotion of the country’s digital infrastructure and a relevantly skilled workforce – depend on executive leadership.

Exclusivity vs. Inclusivity. Digital innovation in governance is still a game dominated by technocrats, primarily data analysts and software engineers with the occasional political scientist. The implication is twofold. Technocratic instincts differ from the people-centered as well as political realities behind good governance. App creation alone will never offer a comprehensive solution to, say, improved health services, because tackling such a problem also requires public engagement, policy reform, and bureaucratic compliance – each of which is an offline battleground.

Furthermore, breaking the boundary between technocrat-led development to a thorough public embrace of digital governance tools will require a socio-cultural shift in understanding of the ways in which public services should be delivered – and the rights and responsibilities of the public as well as public sector around these services. This will play out only over the next generation or so. But this shift is inevitable, and to opt out will mean to be left out.

Indonesia’s Network of Investigative Journalists, JARING, offers an interesting example of adaptation in this direction – notable given the media’s role in pushing for more open data and translating complex data sources into public interest stories and features. Last year, JARING began implementing detailed data journalism trainings and mentoring. The recent Panama Papers leak highlights what a prescient move this was.

What all of this points to is that collaboration and partnerships in the promotion of effective digital governance are essential. Relevant innovations can (and have already) come from numerous sources, but implementation and sustainable benefits depend on greater integration of public and private efforts – within, as well as with each other – and the promotion of a more inclusive digital culture across the country.

Aris Huang and Yuandra Ismiraldi are researchers at Nagara. They can be reached at aris@nagara.io and andra@nagara.io. Andrew Thornley is a program director for The Asia Foundation in Indonesia and can be reached at andrew.thornley@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

Related locations: Indonesia
Related programs: Strengthen Governance, Technology & Development
Related topics: Civic Tech, Civil Society

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In Asia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia\’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, In Asia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

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