Repositioning Pulse Lab Jakarta


Snippets of our recent sensemaking team retreat: time well-spent reflecting on our accomplishments over the past 5+ years & work planning and strategising for the years ahead with a vibrant, dedicated and amazing team.

Since Pulse Lab Jakarta was established in 2012, much has changed in the context in which it operates. In receiving new programme funding from the Australian Government, the Lab is now entering its second phase (2019–2023). A key question though that our team needed to answer is whether this means business as usual for the Lab, or is it instead an important juncture in PLJ’s existence, where we need to examine our current portfolio and gauge the strategic value of our work. To initiate such dialogue, a sensemaking team retreat was planned to encourage members of our team to reflect on what the Lab has accomplished to date, and to discuss its emerging roles in the changing development ecosystems.

Changes in PLJ’s Context

In its early days, Pulse Lab Jakarta’s existence was very much as a pioneer in the development ecosystem of Asia Pacific and Indonesia in particular, where various interconnected institutions and individuals were focused on engaging in sustained social, economic and political change for the well-being of those impacted. Talk of “big data” was still an emerging topic in the region, and there was limited knowledge of what it was, where to find it, and what to do with it.

PLJ had found itself self-initiating projects; convincing private sector players to responsibly provide access to their data for public good; analysing and contextualising the insights it was discovering; as well as shaping partnerships between data owners, practitioners, and other stakeholders in national, regional and global development policy domains. One of our key roles was to convince actors in a variety of development ecosystems of the value of data innovation through experiential evidence. We focused on presenting concepts to highlight the benefits of utilising new data sources, by modelling and piloting ways in which big data could provide actionable insights on development issues in a more timely and cost-efficient manner. Our projects coupled advanced data analytics with targeted human centered design and research.

Fast-forward to 2019, and we find ourselves in a very different operational context (our reflection on the changing dynamics in data-driven approaches might be of interest). PLJ is now having to cautiously select which requests to honour due to the overwhelming demand to share our accumulated knowledge and experience over the past five years, as well as for our involvement, collaboration and services. This increase in demand perhaps positively correlates to the vast growth in the volume of data and its complexity, which is also related to the increasing accessibility of big data from private sector players seeking to responsibly deliver public value from their accumulated data.

The wealth of data now available has increased the awareness that more actionable insights should be forthcoming. This has also resulted in a growing number of institutions and individuals engaging in data innovations for development, which are increasingly influencing approaches and perspectives in dominant systems. As the number of institutions and networks within the national and regional development ecosystems have grown, so too have their combined influence and the resources allocated to data science facilities. While stakeholders have increasingly valued and demanded PLJ’s collaboration over the years, we’ve at the same time realised that our own resources are limited and often dwarfed by other private and public data labs focusing on particular sectors or problem domains.

Making Sense of Our Portfolio

Acknowledging the changes in PLJ’s operating environment and the need to reorient ourselves, after some internal discussion we decided to embark on a team retreat. To avoid workshop fatigue, we approached the UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Innovation Center (RIC), who, in collaboration with Axilo, has developed a new portfolio sense-making approach that seemed ideally suited for PLJ’s needs.

The “Portfolio Sensemaking Workshop” process — aptly facilitated by the RIC’s Head of Experimentation, Diastika Rahwidiati — guided PLJ’s team to obtain insights from a portfolio of 13 projects that were selected from more than 30 active research activities. Insights were mapped with regard to intent, relationships, capabilities, needs, resources and ways of doing work. These insights were then synthesized and discussed, resulting in the formulation of 6 “claims”. These claims helped to provide a clear picture of how the team perceived the Lab’s current condition. Agreement on these claims led to a number of propositions to address and/or achieve the claims. These were further broken down into specific action items.

As almost all of the senior (and often the most vocal) members of the team were tasked as mappers, the process created space for even the most passive team member to engage and present inputs, as well as raise questions with project presenters. With this broader engagement within the team, several valuable ideas emerged on where further collaboration within the team, and linkages between activities, could occur. Collectively the team broke down workload issues and pressure points, resulting in a set of approaches to improve our business processes and the overall health and vibrancy of the team. Recognised was the need to create clearer branding to articulate the added value PLJ provides, in particular its use of mixed-methods to ground-truth insights from big data analysis resulting from collaborative activities between PLJ’s Data Science and Social Systems teams. The strengths and assets of PLJ were also recognised and celebrated as a team.

Also discussed was the need to further strengthen the team structure particularly to improve PLJ’s capacity in managing partnerships and advocate for adoption and scaling of its innovations. Strengthening of PLJ’s results tracking and measurement of impact and influence was also seen as critical to increase its accountability to funders and to highlight PLJ’s contributions towards the United Nations and the Government of Indonesia’s priorities. These include the UN Country Team in Indonesia SDG results frameworks and the Government of Indonesia’s Medium Term Development Plan 2019–2024 targets.

Our Repositioning Agenda

With changes in PLJ’s context and new leadership of the Lab, this sensemaking process was extremely important to jointly develop change agendas to ensure that team members both engage on required changes and understand why these changes are necessary. Understanding the changes and responding or repositioning to embrace these changes nonetheless can be extremely difficult, particularly when a team already has a record of strong results. In this sense, the workshop exceeded expectations.

Within what was effectively a 3-week process of preparation, execution and wrap up, the team was able to configure and agree on key components and agendas to continue improving its profile and performance for the next 3 to 5 years. This highlighted both cost and time efficiencies gained by undertaking the portfolio sensemaking process, as these agendas would normally be the result of several weeks of processing.

In summary, the key components of our repositioning agenda include:

  1. Continuing our intent to research and develop fit-for-purpose innovations and be a catalyst for a strong data ecosystem in Indonesia and the Asia-Pacific Region;
  2. Building more effective and forward-thinking relationships with our key governance stakeholders;
  3. Improving management of our work and the team’s wellbeing through stronger project decision-making and communication protocols;
  4. Promoting 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; and
  5. Selecting and fostering longer-term partnerships which strengthen PLJ’s position and reputation.

We’re grateful for all our stakeholders, partners, collaborators and friends who have helped us to reach this milestone. As we move forward, we will continue to share updates of our work — please do keep watching this space!

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.