The pandemic has put Indonesia’s plans for a new capital on hold. Instead, the government was forced to relocate most of its funding to the fight against the Covid-19 outbreak.

The country will spend over US$29 billion on healthcare, social safety nets and support for smaller businesses. But ministries and agencies first need good data to decide where and how all of this funding should be spent. “Everything requires data in decision making,” says National Planning Minister, Dr. HC. Ir. H. Suharso Monoarfa.

GovInsider spoke with Suharso to discuss Indonesia’s vision for data and how this could improve welfare distribution in the country.

Improving welfare services

In 2019, President Jokowi signed the key Satu Data law that will introduce standards for how data is managed and used across every level of government. The country’s vision is to make decisions based on “data that are accurate, current, integrated, accountable, accessible, and easily shared”, explains Suharso, who is chair of the Satu Data Steering Board.

The initiative introduces common principles for data accuracy, metadata, interoperability and referencing across every government. Without these, ministries used inaccurate and inconsistent data to make policies, he says. With Satu Data, “the disharmony of such policies and funding will largely be overcome”.

Satu Data’s first step is to tackle existing databases of information, particularly those addressing government funding for poverty, education and healthcare. With Indonesia’s population of 271 million, “poverty is dynamic, and there are government limitations in terms of budget”, highlights Suharso. Linking databases would reduce discrepancies and ensure that funding is distributed accurately.

For instance, farm sizes are a key factor in deciding whether small farmers get access to subsidies. In 2018, the Central Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture and Geospatial Information Agency used Satu Data’s pilot programme to integrate agricultural data. “Farm area size used to be a contentious issue because the agencies mentioned above had different methods in calculating it. The joint-effort managed to settle this difference”, says Suharso.

The regulation’s next step is to integrate non-cash funding like contributions to health insurance, education, and food aid. These are particularly important as the government supports families hit hard by the pandemic. Decisions such as “how much direct assistance is given to the community and from which ministries; and of how much economic stimulus is given, need a lot of data from many sources”, says Suharso.

The third step will be to use data to be more responsive in how welfare is distributed at the local level, he adds. The government has created units in 187 districts and cities to coordinate support for the poorest communities. These units will need to update their data regularly to handle complaints and give referrals for welfare services and funding.

New structures

The Satu Data law introduced new roles and structures to ensure the standards are maintained in every agency. Centrally, the initiative is overseen by a board from seven agencies, chaired by the Minister of National Planning (Bappenas).

Every agency has a Walidata (data manager) and data producers to guarantee reliability and transparency. Data producers are tasked with accuracy at the grassroots level, ensuring their institution complies with standards like metadata and interoperability.

The Walidata then collects and checks the information submitted by their network of producers. “All data produced by data producers in one institution are collected, examined, and managed and disseminated by Walidata,” Suharso says. He estimates that the country requires at least 634 Walidatas, and thousands of data producers to implement the law and its policies.

In the future, more accurate and uniform data across ministries will allow the government to advance analysis with artificial intelligence, he believes. “With statistical data, spatial data, financial data available from all institutions in Satu Data Indonesia, what is really needed now is the ability of Bappenas in analysing the data.”

As the pandemic threw a wrench into Indonesia’s plans to build a new capital, the country has had to immediately pivot to focus on the immediate needs of families and businesses instead. It will be a real test of the early impact of the Satu Data vision.