Technology fixes for public admin in Indonesia: the ultimate shortcut?

By Kautsar Anggakara and Diastika Rahwidiati

Behind the service interface, civil registration, Papua Province.

Pulse Lab Jakarta was recently in Papua Province with the LANDASAN team from KOMPAK looking at the data and information systems behind frontline services. Below we share some of the stories from both sides of the service interface and our thoughts on the challenges to digital transformation of the public sector in Indonesia.

It’s 11 am in the civil registry office in Papua, the furthermost eastern province of Indonesia. Papua’s breathtaking, one-of-a-kind views also come with consequences. Access is limited in most parts of the province, and while infrastructure has improved, reliable communications connections are yet to reach rural areas.

Back in the civil registry office, it was suffocatingly hot; a couple of dozen citizens, most carrying a look of confusion, were standing outside.

“I need the papers as they are a requirement for applying for school for my daughter,” says one woman. “I’ve spent so much money already staying in the city, as we live so far from here,” she adds.

Suddenly a commotion rose from within the queue. A middle-aged man yells at the registrars, “I came all the way here to collect my family card and you’re now telling me that I can’t have it because of wrong information?!”

Many citizens headed home frustrated, some with and some without the documents they sought. Some had traveled far, and despite the service being free of charge, there were significant financial and opportunity costs incurred.

Beginning the journey…

Through observation and interviews, we mapped the journey that citizens typically navigate when registering for national ID cards, family cards, and birth certificates. We identified their actions and emotions at each of the service touchpoints, as well as the actions of the civil registrars.

The automation of the national ID card and the family card, for example, has taken the service further away from citizens. Registration processes that used to take place at either the level of subdistricts or villages now have to be delivered in district administrations, a more remote level of governance. It is evident that the pursuit of automation has come at a cost to service access and experience.

What was interesting for our stakeholders was the insight that the beginning of citizen’s service journey does not start with the moment they step into the civil registry office. It starts with a need. Such as the need to apply to school, to request a loan, or to travel.

The frustrations we heard in the queue actually start far before citizens get to the office: from knowing which source of information to believe, to finding long-lost documents, to traveling to the city.

By visualising the whole journey, we obtained a better understanding of what and how citizens feel throughout the process. We identified ‘pain points’ at each of the service interfaces, and came up with opportunity areas to improve the process for the benefit of citizens. The key differentiating factor here is that we started by understanding citizens’ needs and feelings, then figured out ways for the service to fit this context.

The tech fix?

The day after our conversation with the people in the civil registry queue, we sat down with one of the subdistrict heads for a conversation over coffee.

“We need an information system — maybe a dashboard,” the Subdistrict Head said, “so that it would be easier for us to understand the conditions of the different villages within this district.”

When we asked how having this kind of information would help the subdistrict do its work, the answer implied more complex underlying reasons:

“Now, all of the information is at the village level, because the resources are there. But where does the information go? It should go to us.”

But why?

“So that when people like you come to visit, we will have something good to show.”

This sentiment keeps cropping up during our work on frontline services in different parts of Indonesia. The excitement and novelty of having a technological solution, such an app or a dashboard, often outpaces considerations around the broader organisational, social or cultural context.

Good stuff exists, but…

Following our conversation with the Subdistrict Head, we were curious to see the reality of village data and information systems.

A relatively rigorous data collection system does indeed exist: village governments collect and regularly update detailed demographic and socio-economic data, which the administrators highlight are more accurate than the national statistics as they are not sample-based.

We were also impressed that the data is actually used for the planning and budgeting of village funds, as well as the day-to-day administrative needs of citizens.

But there is still a gap between the data collection system and the technological, administrative and organisational capacities necessary to obtain optimum benefit from the data.

For example, the entire database is stored on one computer; most of the administrators do not know how to utilise the database apart from querying the standard user interface; and those that can navigate the user interface do not know how to troubleshoot, how to train others, or how to interpret the data beyond the standard aggregation templates.

Context, context, context

Yet the very existence of the database was a clear asset, and as designers, we try to see every challenge as an opportunity. So from our conversations with the subdistrict and village administrators we tried to envision the “ideal ecosystem,” which focused not only on what the technology solutions would look like, but also on what the enabling factors would be.

Using insights derived from the research, we tried to map the ideal learning experience, answering questions including: how do I benefit from the system? How do I best process information? How do I learn and react? How do I know that I’m doing the right thing? How do I share my learning with others?

Instead of focussing on the look, feel and function of the information system requested by the Subdistrict Head, we thought it more important to gain as many insights as possible during the field mission to help us create onboarding strategies, think of creative ways to deliver training, identify how to sustain people’s motivation to use and develop the system, create feedback mechanisms that should be in place, and other “fluffy” — but contextually significant — stuff.

Because at the end of the day, what we need to craft is not a database, not a dashboard, not an information system, but a meaningful user experience — be it to improve civil registration, or to enable a district or village administrator to use the public database to its full potential.

And it is fundamental that we do this together with the users and providers of a service, as they know their context best.


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