Peering Through the Haze

By Kautsar Anggakara, Lody Andrian & Dalia Kuwatly

Pulse Lab Jakarta recently conducted the first installment of our Co-design for Change workshop: a workshop that aims to provide a creative approach in tackling some of Indonesia’s most pressing national issues. This time, we worked together with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Reality Check Approach (RCA) to gain insights on the haze crisis.

I ndonesia’s haze crisis in 2015 attracted wide international concern, but residents in affected areas in Indonesia have been dealing with fire-induced haze annually since 1997. It amounts to nearly a decade of health issues, educational disruption, environmental destruction, economic losses, and political tension.

Significant investments have been made from government and development partners to prevent, alleviate, and tackle this — but haze continues to be one of the most challenging environmental issues in Indonesia today.

Together with UNICEF and RCA, Pulse Lab Jakarta tried to identify new opportunities that have the potential to bring about a different perspective to how we can collectively tackle the haze issue. We jointly hosted a co-design workshop in Jakarta: a 2-day session inviting participants from various sectors and backgrounds to participate in a process of ideation, empathy-building, and prototyping. Here are some of the highlights.

Rethinking the problem

Recent policies have been developed to intensify national efforts in preventing the fires that induce haze. The Indonesian government has taken accountability measures to investigate and arrest corporate executives that show strong connection with fires, and at one point has issued a moratorium on new peatland development following the 2015 crisis. Traditionally, the root cause of the issue has been linked to lax policy measures in place to prevent slash-and-burn practices. Yet, we have identified a different angle to the problem. An aspect untouched by efforts of fire prevention and enforcement, and one that addresses the real societal impact of the haze crisis — on health, education, and access to information.

We gathered a series of qualitative studies undertaken by UNICEF and RCA, and combined them with our own fieldwork results to reveal a more complex cause behind the issue. Slash-and-burn practices have been linked to corporations within the affected areas, but a more human-centered approach reveals that pain points and opportunity areas exist in the everyday environment for the everyday people. For instance, residents in affected areas adamantly refuse to use masks during the haze, citing lack of comfort as the main reason. Yet, we found a few potential agents of change that strive to work around this pain point, including a local university professor who is in the process of making a sustainable and affordable air-filtration system for homes.

While initiatives have been poured into tackling the environmental side of the issue, not many have effectively addressed the behavioural aspect of the crisis. And while those that are most affected by the crisis are everyday residents, their stories have rarely been taken into account in policy-making.

Using this lens, the issue that we wanted to explore further was not why the haze crisis happens, but why society allows it to persist. For instance, why do residents feel that their main burden from the haze is their lack of mobility rather than their persistent respiratory problem? Why do social media conversations thrive but actions remain passive? Why are schools closed during bad periods of haze, and yet children are still allowed to play outside? These are the issues we aimed to explore further during the workshop, and find potential solutions for.

Different strokes

Because our jump-off point is to understand human perceptions behind haze, for this initial workshop we decided to invite a slightly different crowd in addition to development practitioners: we welcomed creative consultants, designers, engineers, and marketing experts — those who are well experienced in discerning behavioural insights and translating its nuances into actionable messages.

We hoped that having these kinds of expertise alongside our domain experts and development practitioners would provide a new, innovative way of seeing things. One that addresses the behavioural aspect of the crisis, a shift away from technicalities.

Participants were divided into 6 groups, each with an equal proportion of strategists, designers, industry experts, and development practitioners to bring ideas to life while at the same time ground them to ensure actionable implementation.

Emulating an environment

Empathy always has been a foundational element of the human-centered design process. Recognising that our participants are far removed from the haze crisis that affect areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan, a number of stimuli were placed in the workshop area to emulate the sense of responsibility that the empathy process brings, albeit from a distance. As much as possible, we wanted the participants to feel the pain points uncovered from the qualitative studies.

Participants were positioned as prime investigators for the cause, situated within an investigative ‘war-room’ with research findings presented in the form of evidential archive. This resulted in two days of intense discussion and insight mining, in an attempt to ‘crack’ the complexity of the issue.

To create a sense of interaction, data gained from respondents in the field were represented as persona archetypes, where we employed a set of professional actors to share some of the emotions and insights involved with being victims of the haze, creating an additional way to remotely empathise with the situation.

Digital storytelling videos were also shared by RCA — these videos were created and told from the perspectives of those most affected by the haze. Through the videos, participants were given a glimpse to the daily lives of parents and children during haze and forest fires.

Future Forecast

We injected the ideation process with a question: “If this idea were to be implemented, what would happen in Indonesia in 20 years?” By implementing this exercise in speculative design, participants were encouraged to envision their idea in context of the larger national environment, while also identifying the unintended consequences that their idea might bring should it be implemented.

Upon identifying the unintended consequences of their ideas, participants were given a chance to add ‘enabling factors’ to their solutions — a set of complementary ideas that make the main idea effective and implementable in the long run. For instance, while an open-sourced online information platform for youth might be an ideal solution to answer the gap in data provision for haze-affected residents, a few factors might inhibit the effective implementation of such a platform — think access to technology, data literacy, and lack of validation process. To help address some of these limitations, participants then identified enabling factors and developed complementary ideas: the provision of a toolkit for youths to enable strategy design, the assignment of role models to inspire change, offline data centres at strategic locations in the area. This enabled the participants to not only think of innovative ideas in isolation, but to present a comprehensive ecosystem that the concept would operate in, during the final presentation session of the workshop.

In two days, a diverse group of 30 people came up with six creative solutions to address one of the most complex socio-environmental issues that Indonesia faces today. Moving forward, we would need to test the suitability and feasibility of these concepts in collaboration with key actors in haze-prone areas. As we attempt to demystify the haze, we will need to work with a broader set of stakeholders in order to ensure that the ideas and insights identified through this process progress from the realm of creative concepts to the world of implementable actions.


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