How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation. 

Home to more than 270 million people on more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire, making it prone to natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and volcanic eruptions. The country recorded one of the world’s deadliest natural disasters during the 2004 Aceh’s earthquake and tsunami. Exacerbated by climate change, the economic, environmental, and social costs of these disasters urge collective action and innovative methods (more here).

As the Head of Exploration in UNDP Accelerator Lab Indonesia, I utilise different sources of data to build a case for change, identify emerging trends in development, and establish innovative partnerships to enable impact. To better understand the increasingly intractable development challenges, I employ different technologies for data collection, analysis, and visualisation to create actionable intelligence.

We had the opportunity to collaborate with the National Planning Ministry to conduct lean research in developing a bottom-up policy brief towards flood mitigation, jointly implemented with civil society organizations and grassroot communities. Through immersion, public surveys, and social media listening, the research combined thick data on social construction from impacted communities with thin data on public perception around infrastructure and water-related disasters.

Integrating multiple data sources enabled the government to pursue evidence-based policy making and develop inclusive mitigation measures that represent local knowledge and aspirations.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year? 

The inclusive policy project successfully paved the way for a mindset shift around the role of social innovation and systemic resilience in Indonesia. By enabling a safe space for dialogue between policymakers and local communities, we were able to identify gaps and potential building blocks between prevailing regulation and realities on the ground.

Through facilitating meaningful exchanges, we developed a policy brief (accessible here) supported by traditional and non-traditional sources of data. This is in consideration of contribution towards the National Urban Flood Resilience Program in Indonesia.

A significant ‘win’ of the project was incorporating indigenous knowledge, nature-based and local solutions into policy design. Ultimately, policymakers were keen on embracing more innovative and systemic approaches towards disaster mitigation, whereas local community partners expressed enthusiasm of being involved as agents of change.

Overseeing the transformation among different partners has been truly exciting, as this is the first step to achieving systemic resilience. Furthermore, there have been initial discussions on the possibility of using Machine Learning to integrate insights from previous datasets into interactive dashboards that showcase disaster projections and vulnerability levels from unconventional indicators to better inform at-risk communities.

What is the one unexpected learning from 2021?

The second year of the pandemic has provided the time to slow down, reflect and realign goals. Taking a step back has also impacted my professional lenses, where reviewing our portfolio approach towards systemic resilience requires a few adjustments and cooperation with unusual partners.

From datasets in the inclusive policy project, I was astounded at the vastly different perception between stakeholders in the development sector and local communities, even from menial aspects such as ‘the definition of flooding’.

This realisation requires us to acknowledge the knowledge from people that are closest to the problem, where more novel approaches are arising from unpredicted places.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year? 

Designing a dynamic futures survey for the public as part of our Accelerator Lab’s launch that merges data collection on emerging trends and inventive personas on innovation (take the quiz here).

By using concepts of gamification and advocating attractive visual elements in a dedicated microsite, the survey flourished in reaching various participants in the country and beyond, with the majority being youth and young professionals.

We rapidly analysed the survey results and used them to develop future scenarios to ignite reflection from the public. The journey was a challenging yet rewarding one, and brought about positive feedback and interest for replication from other Labs and UNDP counterparts!

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore and what are your priorities in 2022? 

Early warning and action are pivotal to minimising the impact of future extreme weather events and climate change. Ensuring that local knowledge from communities is included in the discussion and development of policies is a key priority.

Moreover, building the capacity of government stakeholders to understand the value of incorporating these insights and creatively use new data sources are critical to increase systemic resilience.

Building upon the insights from the inclusive policy project, we are embarking on a new journey of prototyping citizen science and placemaking. I am keen to delve deeper into localised and contextualised sources of data around resilient strategies. These datasets can complement existing national databases around disasters by using tools and methods such as low-cost sensors and cultural cartography.

Additionally, using technology as a platform to foster better collaboration between citizens and experts while feeding back real-time data to communities as agents of change enables us to move towards data empowerment. I am interested in developing digital toolkits that increase citizens’ awareness through transparency, such as Right to Know, which democratises environmental information that is affecting citizens’ health.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you? 

There have been so many compassionate mentors throughout my journey who I am blessed to have learned and worked with: Bas Leurs who showcased the value of transdisciplinary practices; Toshi Nakamura for bestowing crucial lessons of innovation in development; and Aarathi Krishnan who empowers others in creating a platform for underrepresented voices.

All their hard work has laid the ground to an equitable future where there are ample opportunities for change and motivated me to seek new ways of doing things and push boundaries through my role.

What gets you up in the morning?

The belief that everyone – particularly those considered marginalised and vulnerable – possess the power to change. Through many field excursions, two things are clear: people’s resilience and strength to grow amidst challenges are unparalleled.

In Extreme Economies (2019), Richard Davies showcased various case studies on resilience. For example, in the face of disasters, survivors from the 2004 Aceh tsunami returned quickly and built back their society and businesses, despite advice to relocate away from the coast.

Almost two decades later, these communities have persevered and thrived in their own way, beyond surviving. Having the opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn from similar grassroot communities have propelled me to grow further and deliver lasting change in society.