Augmenting Big Data: Haze Edition

By George Hodge, Kautsar Anggakara & Zakiya Pramestri

Local rangers and fire response teams working in Dumai, Riau Province, Indonesia.

How can organisations blend big data and user research to create value for stakeholders? As a data innovation lab, we believe that numbers need context and vice versa. Below we share the beginnings of our next Pulse Story which we hope will start to answer this question. And we’ll try to capture our learning in a series of blogs over the coming months.

Pulse Stories

It has been a little over a year since Pulse Lab Jakarta began sharing Pulse Stories. These publications capture the insights our ethnographers develop during their field trips, with topics to date including haze events, maternal healthcare services, education and entrepreneurship.

We have experienced an increase in demand from partners for services in this area alone. But when we established a service design team within the Lab, the intention was always to augment our findings from big data with qualitative insights from user research, or, in the words of Tricia Wang, to develop thick data.

After honing our user research skills in other sectors we are returning to the topic of haze, but this time with the intention of blending big and thick data.

Big Data on Haze

Earlier this year we shared information on Haze Gazer, a prototype which brings together various data streams to provide insights on haze events across Indonesia. The tool analyses open data, aggregated citizen feedback data from official channels and near-real-time big data from social media.

Following a data dive into Haze Gazer and on Crimson Hexagon, we have identified several trends and behaviours from the severe haze season in 2015 on which we would like to gain more contextual understanding through qualitative research. Our team will use in-depth interviews, as informed by user/ethnographic research, to gain context on the trends and anomalies captured in the insights from big data.

Alongside the investigation of observed trends and behaviours, the ethnographic research team will also look for local-level coping mechanisms, assets and innovators that are already grappling with the issues associated with forest fires and haze. This aspect of the research is informed by ideas associated with positive deviance, and articulated beautifully by our friends Giulio, Bas and Shaun. In combination, the research team should develop intimate knowledge of the local dynamics and capabilities.

Questions for the Research Team

The insights from Haze Gazer and Crimson Hexagon raised a lot of interesting questions on issues such as information sharing, the causes of the haze events, health, education, transportation, productivity and employment. The research team will be deployed to Riau Province; below is a sample of issues they will be investigating.

Analysis of both twitter data and fire hotspot locations highlights a time lag of two to three days between hotspots being detected by satellites and an increase in references to haze on twitter in affected communities.

  • Why does this delay exist?
  • Why don’t the authorities use the time to inform residents? Or do they, via other channels?

Twitter data highlights a reduction in ‘check-ins’ in public spaces and an increase in tweeting from desktop computers during haze events. We believe that this is symptomatic of reduced mobility among haze-affected populations.

  • In what ways do haze events result in reduced mobility? Does this correlate well with the changes in behavour captured in the social media metadata?

Twitter data suggests that people living in haze-prone areas worry about the impact of haze on their health.

  • What key terms relating to health and haze do people use on twitter? Does this reflect the health issues that residents really worry about?
  • What are the other health impacts of haze not captured in the twitter data?
  • Concerning the other haze impacts, which do residents worry about the most? Why?

According to news sources, haze events result in school closures, postponed examinations, extra study-hours during non-haze days, and catch-up classes during holidays. The Ministry of Education even established an alternative academic calendar for schools in Riau Province, and mandates school closures when the Air Pollution Standards Index reaches 200 for kindergartens and elementary schools, and 300 for all other educational institutions.

  • Did the alternative academic calendar, catch-up classes and extra study hours run as planned?
  • How were decisions to close schools taken, in situ?
  • Were there any other matters that influenced school closures?
  • How did families and communities react to the school closures in terms of their children’s education?

What’s next?

As highlighted above, we have seen an increase in demand from partners for our user research and design services. Our partners seem to like the depth of insights contained within the stories from service users.

With some partners we have built on the user research insights by using design-led approaches to empower residents in areas targeted by development programmes. And, through a partnership with Unicef, we plan to do the same with this haze research initiative. We will use all the insights generated from the research components to inform a co-design workshop with Unicef and its stakeholders in December, which will shape its programme over the coming year(s).

We also plan to write-up the entire case study as the next edition of Pulse Stories; at last, we hope, reaching our objective of blending the two approaches. Will it create value for our partners? We have no idea as yet, but watch this space for updates…


Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Government of Australia.

This project is linked to Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, and Sustainable Development Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.