Pulse Lab Jakarta Repositioning 2.0


Since our portfolio sensemaking process in November 2019 aimed at repositioning Pulse Lab Jakarta, much has occurred internally and externally. A recent invitation from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), our main financial contributor[1], to fill in a training session provided an extremely useful opportunity to reflect on factors impacting on the Lab and what has progressed. A framework discussed during this training session called: “Impact Creation Logic” (Christian Seelos & Johanna Mair, 2019) proved relevant for us in further consolidating our workflow and in building perspectives on how we can be more impactful in policies and action to support effective development and humanitarian practices and outcomes.

Mid-September 2020 we were asked to fill in a training session convened by DFAT’s Innovation Exchange on the topic of “Scaling and Working in Systems”. This request was apparently sparked by our internal sustainability report which had been reviewed by the Director of the Exchange, Dr. Elizabeth St. George and the Knowledge to Policy Unit in DFAT Jakarta.

The report outlines three options, whether PLJ should: (i) shift towards a minimum growth engagement trajectory (closing at the end of the current funding period in 2023); (ii) maintain the current level of engagement (noting that we will not be able to aptly cover the growing demands for our services); or (iii) move to an aggressive engagement, high impact growth model which requires additional resourcing to support going beyond prototyping.

Elizabeth and her colleagues were particularly interested in the potential scaling of our operations in relation to our context and the systems we are interacting with. Responding to this interest, we decided to cover five factors related to innovations and scaling based on our experiences and underlying our current positioning for Pulse Lab Jakarta’s future. These included:

  1. Our understanding of our working/operational environment or development “context”;
  2. The nature of the Lab as a vehicle for innovation, in terms of the level of embeddedness in government and the systems we are trying to impact on;
  3. The nature of the system(s) we are interacting with, in terms of readiness and openness for disruptions caused by proposed innovations;
  4. The capacity to engage with stakeholders and early adopters (and their incentives or barriers for change); and
  5. The nature of the innovations we are progressing or proposing, in terms of: (i) type of impact we are trying to make (methodological, operational or eco-systemic) (ii) scale of disruption; (iii) level of embeddedness of innovations in existing systems; (iv) existing or required technical capacity to absorb and operationalise innovations within systems we are interacting with; and, (v) potential pivots to alternative adopters (civil society and/or private sector).

Summarized below are PLJ’s current perspectives towards each factor:

Factors Impacting Our Scaling of Innovations

The session was effectively convened by Dr. Christian Seelos[2], who then framed the discussion utilizing his “Impact Creation Logic”. This framework was created to balance perspectives particularly when seeking to progress innovations to scale. Further detailed in his book co-written with Johanna Mair, titled: “Innovation and Scaling for Impact: How Effective Social Enterprises Do It”, the framework looks at three elements or spaces: Identity, Problem and Solution.

In applying the framework to Pulse Lab Jakarta, it became clear that during PLJ’s first phase, our work was mainly in the “Solution Space”, with our data innovations and policy unit creating scores of prototypes which hopefully could inspire potential “stakeholders” to adopt and apply prototypes in their domains. The emergence of the social systems unit in PLJ marked a transition where we began looking more closely in the “Problem Space”, utilising qualitative research to understand issues and existing practices which might (or might not) require digital solutions. The latest restructuring of PLJ established a partnerships and advocacy unit which is working in the “identity space”. This unit’s role is focussed on identifying and developing collaboration with institutions, understanding their mandates, the nature of their systems and their incentives and barriers to change.

Adapted from “Innovation and Scaling for Impact: How Effective Social Enterprises Do It” by Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair

We realised that the framework not only helped us in better articulating the functions of our units and structure, but also in understanding what factors may have hampered us from achieving impact at scale, where our focus on problems and solutions was not balanced with a clear perspective of the “identities” we partner and support.

Applying the impact creation logic has also led us to redefine and sharpen a number of organisational intents or objectives that emerged throughout the portfolio sensemaking process. The clarity on work flows supports our intent “to improve the management of our work and the team’s wellbeing through stronger project decision-making and communication protocols”. Clarifying the role of our partnerships and advocacy unit also supports our intent “to select and foster longer-term partnerships which strengthen PLJ’s position and reputation”.

In particular, we have revisited our intent “to promote our branding/niche as a mixed-methods approach data innovation lab with a proven track record of adherence to our principles, values and the responsible and ethical use of data”. Rather than trying to compel units to collaborate in order to demonstrate we are applying mixed-methods in our work, the impact creation logic model instead signifies that each unit is equally critical and has distinct roles, whether it is on (i) establishing clear partnerships and understanding the mandate, roles and functions and incentives of the institutions we are collaborating with, (ii) honing in on the pertinent issues and problems to be addressed, or (iii) developing fit-for-purpose innovations and catalysing stronger data ecosystems in Indonesian and the Asia Pacific region.

As we consolidate around this emerging identity, we envisage we will be able to play a more impactful role in policies and action to support effective development and humanitarian practices and outcomes. Further catalysing connections across the public and private sectors, as well as civil society will also be central for us as we transition our identity from being merely a “Big Data Innovation Lab”, to becoming an “Analytic Partnerships Accelerator”.

[1] The Government of Australia through the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has provided programme funding for Pulse Lab Jakarta since 2013

[2] Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Global Innovation for Impact Lab at the Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society

Author: Petrarca Karetji (Head), Pulse Lab Jakarta

Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia



UN Global Pulse Asia Pacific
United Nations Global Pulse Asia Pacific

UN Global Pulse Asia Pacific is a regional hub that aims to drive data innovation and sustainable development to ensure that no one is left behind.