Tracking Road Infrastructure Projects with Smartphones

By Awan Aristo, Oscar Baskoro & George Hodge

Testing the Premise app with members of the Road Traffic Transport Forum on Lombok Island.

How can a small team track road infrastructure projects across thousands of islands? Over the past year the Indonesia Infrastructure Initiative (IndII), Pulse Lab Jakarta and Premise have collaborated in testing a cutting-edge approach to road infrastructure project verification in Indonesia. In wrapping up the project we return to the questions outlined in our earlier blog.

Traditional project verification approaches by big road infrastructure programmes use a random sampling method to deploy engineers. Inevitably a few poor quality roads and irresponsible contractors slip through the net. Our objective was to test a new approach to road infrastructure project verification in Indonesia which could reduce information asymmetries and increase the efficiency of project implementation.

The partners deployed a survey via the Premise app to a network of contributors across Lombok Island. The contributors were directed to between ten and 13 locations, which corresponded to areas where specific road maintenance had been conducted, along three roads that had been upgraded in 2015.

We received 983 observations submitted by contributors, representing multiple images and survey questions per survey type. At the outset of the initiative we asked several questions, to which we now have the beginnings of answers.

Tech Solution

First, we asked whether a technology similar to that deployed under the project crowdsourcing food prices could be applied to the verification of road infrastructure works.

The answer to this question is categorically affirmative. Similar technology was used by this project to crowdsource observations of road infrastructure works from a distributed community of contributors and generated consistent outputs that could be visualised and interpreted by engineers in a location remote to the road infrastructure works.

Quality Assurance

Secondly, we investigated whether local communities could generate reliable data and consistent observations as to the quality of road infrastructure works.

The data on road works created by the contributors who were tasked through the Premise application are of high quality. Some minor issues occurred in the form of oversensitivity in reporting, as evidenced by the 15 percent of observations being classified as false positives (i.e. they identified faults where there were none) and the variability in the quality of photographs submitted by contributors, but, broadly, the community of contributors generated consistent and useful observations.

Remote Verification

Thirdly, we wished to understand whether engineers based off-site could use these data to effectively monitor project implementation and deem contractual obligations as satisfied.

User testing of the data visualisation interface suggests that the tool is valuable for remote monitoring of project implementation, but the issue of whether this is sufficient to deem contractual obligations as satisfied depends on the specific regulations of the programme manager and it was not possible to evaluate this aspect.

Cost Savings

Finally, we asked whether the approach tested under the pilot project holds potential to reduce the costs of project verification for road infrastructure programmes.

It is clear from the pilot project that potential certainly exists for reducing the costs of project verification. Realising these savings, however, will depend upon the model adopted for up-scaling the approach and on sound project management. Due to the cost of establishing the technology tool as well as recruiting and training the network of contributors, the cost savings are proportional to the size of the portfolio of road infrastructure contracts under management.

Looking beyond the lens of financial costs, the approach offers additional data points to the programme, enabling triangulation of verification reports, as well as a more participatory governance model. Should the approach be up-scaled, a public-facing dashboard could be developed to bring greater transparency into road infrastructure works and to communicate the successes of the programme.

The Road Traffic Transport Forum on Lombok Island

As part of the initiative we presented the results to and socialised the community verification approach with the Road Traffic Transport Forum on Lombok Island held on 21st November 2016. The Forum participants expressed interest in the results and the potential of the approach, especially the possibility that it could be combined with the FLLAJ-NTB (Forum Lalu Lintas dan Angkutan Jalan Provinsi Nusa Tenggara Barat). As part of this engagement, we also conducted a training workshop on the use of the technology tool, and facilitated an app testing session on a newly constructed road on the south of the island.

The Provincial Road Improvement and Maintenance team at IndII should be commended for engaging in an experimental initiative of this nature, and we hope that other infrastructure programmes follow its lead.

The Indonesia Infrastructure Initiative and Pulse Lab Jakarta are grateful for the generous support of the Government of Australia.