Insights and Analysis

Tech for Good: Civic Tech and Indonesian Development

April 6, 2016

Indonesia’s digital era is well underway. Many start-ups have been established and achieved notable success, the number of technopreneurs is growing, and the government has now decided to open the economy to more investment in e-commerce.

Add a new idea into the mix. Where some IT initiatives tend to focus on business and the economy, The Asia Foundation is taking a very difference approach, promoting the idea of “civic tech” or “tech for good.” The concepts aims to utilize technology to enable more engagement and participation from the public. Taking development as the key issue of civic tech, The Asia Foundation initiated a program called “In.CoDe,” which stands for Innovation and Collaboration for Development.

In.CoDe is a process and competition for innovative technology to break with the traditional ways to solve development challenges. The initiative is pushing the collaboration of civil society, business, government, academia and app developers to create new solutions for development in Indonesia. Launched on Feb. 3, 2016, In.CoDe has been made possible by the support of the Government of Australia and its interest in the Government of Indonesia’s democratic governance reform priorities. The Asia Foundation also partnered with AmCham Indonesia, Google, Pulse Lab Jakarta, Twitter, Open Government Indonesia, Binus University, KOMPAK, and the British Council to run the program. The program also is seeking additional corporate partners.

The program is inviting submissions from civil society organizations, start-ups, local government and universities to propose key development challenges in four main areas: public services; environmental management/natural resources utilization; rural community empowerment; and open and transparent parliament.

There will be a matchmaking of partners to solve the challenges and a roadshow will be held in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya to gather app developers to collaborate on the solutions.

AmChamAmCham Indonesia met with Andrew Thornley and Popon Anarita of the The Asia Foundation’s In.CoDe team to discuss the program, the background behind the initiative and how the private sector can help shape the initiative.

AmCham Indonesia: What is In.CoDe, and how was the program initiated?

Popon Anarita: The program is held under the umbrella of ICE (Innovating in Civic Engagement) which The Asia Foundation initiated. This is a program that emphasizes how we can utilize information technology for development programs.

Previously, we conducted a similar approach when we collaborated with Indonesia’s General Election Commission (KPU) to help it disseminate election information to a wider community using IT. We invited app developers to help create apps for the commission, and it ran very well, helping the commission to reach more voters, and helped to tackle the problem of information distribution in Indonesia’s elections. This approach changed the way the KPU works and helped it be more advanced, practical and time-efficient in delivering information.

Andrew Thornley: After the success of the cooperation with the KPU, we sharpened the ICE program. We realized a gap exists between the development world [CSO and government] and technology [technology companies and app developers] and we have examples of how successful it will be if we bridge the gap. That is what the In.CoDe program is aimed at, to gather different actors with different expertise to collaborate and create innovation for development in Indonesia. In.CoDe was born out of an acknowledgement by the Government of Australia and all of the people that we have worked with that this is an obviously dynamic environment for discussing innovation, yet we tend to work in silos.

In our opinion, we are lacking systematic engagement between the business community, government, and the incredibly dynamic tech sector, as well as other actors that have significant resources in these areas. We tend not to reach out to each other. So again, In.CoDe came to break the wall down, to open up more collaboration in development.

Why were those four areas chosen as the main topics for the challenge?

Thornley: We would like to be open to submissions for broad enough issues. We do not want to limit the submissions that we have received at this stage. But we also want issues that have some technical focus so we can provide technical support to those people who are submitting ideas. We agreed that there are intersects of priorities from all stakeholders of development. These four big themes are clearly stated as priorities by the Indonesian government, clear priorities of international donor communities, as well as most of our CSO partners and businesses doing corporate social responsibility. So we think this program can be a platform for these issues.

Why did you choose IT as the heart of the initiative?

Thornley: Simply because the potential of IT here is phenomenal. You can’t ignore it in business, you can’t ignore what’s happening technologically here in Indonesia. You’ve got these incredible young people in the sectors and you’ve also got a government that is committed to technological advancement. Maybe the problem within is that it happens so quickly and leaves some of us behind a little bit on technical matters or an ability to keep up with an integrated system of what we do. We can continue to ignore it and work the way we do it, but I think we will be missing an opportunity. I think lot of people agree on that too.

The program aims to use technology apps as the solution of the development challenge, but the digital gap continues in Indonesia. How can this program ensure that the output can also address the grass-roots level that do not have access to technology?

Thornley: First of all, we are hoping that this is not the end of the process. This is an initiative about bringing us together. This platform could potentially continue to exist.

The issue of the digital gap is really an issue here, but we know that the government is now consistently improving digital coverage. This program is not talking about this year, we are also talking about five to 10 years from now. The point of this is to develop a sense of literacy on this issue, to start the process and embrace this inevitable digital trend.

Anarita: The other reason why we started the process and invited lots of stakeholders to participate is actually also to address the question you asked. In the submissions, we are not only asking about the profile of the challenge, but we also ask who the organization is. It is to give us the confidence that it actually has experience in the issue it proposed. We know some of them have already been working on the issue offline. This In.CoDe program will surely supplement what they are doing.

How can the private sector get involved in this process?

Thornley: The first wave of this program is opening submissions from civil society, local governments and universities on the challenges that they propose to be solved. We received a total of 147 challenges within the three-week submission period, which ended on February 24. On February 25, we re-launched the site to reflect all the submitted ideas. The next phase will be a matchmaking process to find interested partners to collaborate to solve the challenges. That is the opportunity where the private sector can participate to look at some of these ideas and work on collaborations.

At the same time, we also hope the private sector can participate to help us and other participants understand where the private sector can contribute to this kind of initiative. Google and Twitter have made significant contributions. Nobody has argued with the four issues we are working on. It is all good. I think the role we are looking at for the private sector is to come and help us to shape this in a way that is beneficial for them, fits with their strategy in a way that allows them to collaborate with the variety of partners we have.

How can this program address the different approaches taken by different stakeholders in development?

Thornley: We genuinely believe that our partners will do what they do, business will do what they do. But there are intersecting areas that can be opportunities for us to collaborate. We think information technology is the liveliest area that’s going to bring us together. That’s part of what’s behind this initiative.

For the private sector, we think the true difficulties are actually going to be to find a way for how they should work together. This program is just one step of the process because we simply don’t have enough conversations about it.

That is also a reason why we partnered with AmCham Indonesia to be our reliable partner in engaging with the private sector. We don’t work in business on a daily basis, so that is why we need partners that represent business interests that help us set the standard.
In fact, all of our co-partners are very involved. We can’t ignore that there may be some perspectives saying business may have some skepticism working with NGOs, while other stakeholders have also skepticism working with business. It also applies to government entities and the way others see the prospect of collaboration with them. That is why, again, let’s talk about this, let’s find the common ground through this In.CoDe program.

Find out How to Get Involved With In.CoDe. This article was first published by the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia (AmCham).

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

Related locations: Indonesia
Related programs: Good Governance, Technology & Development
Related topics: Civic Spaces


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