“Policy is always two steps behind reality.” But it need not be so. Quality data is essential to ensure that the government can make informed, evidenced-based decisions and overcome policy challenges, Yanuar Nugroho, Deputy Chief of Staff, Executive Office of the President, Indonesia, recently said.

Indonesians have embraced mobile technology at a staggering pace. About 67% of the population are mobile users, while almost half are active on social media. But despite the steep uptake in technology, development in the country is still lagging, and the lack of quality data from the ground is contributing to this, Nugroho noted at the recent GovPay 2019 summit, hosted by GovInsider in Jakarta.

“Development is about addressing uncertainties – be they uncertainty in legal, health, education,” he noted. “They can claim that they have better development if they are able to address their uncertainty or uncertainties; this is where data comes in.”

He shared with the audience four areas of reform for the government to improve decisionmaking: the government will build mechanisms that support robust problem identification; it will introduce initiatives to improve data quality; it will boost participative government; and it will look at using technology to support better decisionmaking.

He pointed out how, in the province of Sumatra, efforts at boosting food security have been hampered by the lack of data sharing and a disconnect between ministries. They were tasked to build dams and irrigation systems, but it turned out that these structures were dozens of kilometres away from each other – and much too far away to be of use. One main challenge in decisionmaking is the “absence of coordination and a siloed approach”, Nugroho noted.

To this end, the government will soon deregulate its Satu Data (One Data) initiative. “We already have the present regulations on e-government; we are going to have deregulation on One Data soon,” he said. “We don’t care what the application is, whether open source or proprietary, I don’t care as long as you help the government to come up with better evidenced decision-making.”

Meanwhile, there is a pressing need for ministries to ensure that they collect quality data for Satu Peta (One Map), a national government geo-portal that allows for land use policy planning, geospatial data correction, and evidence-based policy. It currently has 85 thematic maps layered over each other, Nugroho shared. “We can now for the first time, with data, not just Indonesians, not just rumours, we really have data now.”

And One Map is proving crucial in conflict resolution around mining in protected forests and consevation areas, Nugroho added. “Now with the data, not only do we understand the problem much better, remember – what looks fine from a certain scale will look very different if you zoom in.”

He remarked that “understanding the fact that policy is always two steps behind reality, the government itself needs to whatever it can to improve, to be smarter”, and bridge the gap between policy and the development challenges that Indonesia still faces. “If the government is not able to catch up, the government will soon be irrelevant; that is the most dangerous thing,” Nugroho concluded.

He was speaking at GovPay, held in Jakarta on 22 January 2019, Indonesia’s leading government tech summit for data, finance and citizen engagement produced by GovInsider. The summit brought together 300 senior influencers from Indonesia including Governors, Mayors, CIOs and tech chiefs.

Dr Bambang Brodjonegoro, Minister of National Development Planning, opened the day’s events with a keynote speech. Rini Widyantini, Deputy Minister for Institutional Affairs and Governance, Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform, and Atika Nur Rahmania, Head of Communication, Information and Statistics Department, DKI Jakarta, also spoke at the event.

In the breakout sessions, Widyo Gunadi, Advisor of the Digital Finance Innovation Group at the Financial Services Authority, discussed his key focus areas for the future of fintech in Indonesia. Meanwhile, Kyong-yul Lee, Secretary General at the World Smart Sustainable Cities Organisation, shared his international lessons for building inclusive smart cities.

The summit was concluded with a panel on disaster management, which gathered experts across government and industry to discuss strategies for mitigating natural disasters before they happen.