Indonesia has an annual participatory budgeting process (musrenbang) where residents can openly engage with local governments to highlight the community’s priorities for short-term improvements. Traditionally, musrenbang has been an exclusive process — only the older, elite individuals with access to limited public information partook in the discussions. This, however, is slowly changing due to one organization’s effort to advance civic engagement using SMS surveys and data visualization.
Kota Kita (an Indonesian NGO) emerged in 2009 out of John Taylor and his friends’ initiative, Solo Kota Kita. They were interested in improving the budgetary process in the city of Solo, but discovered that citizens lacked information about their city’s local service delivery. What was more, even the local government lacked fine-grained information on the services they offered. “We saw a need to change the status quo of the budgetary process, and create a culture where anyone can engage in musrenbang by having data about their communities to improve urban planning,” Taylor remarked.
Addressing this challenge required collecting data on key social and economic issues and visualizing the results. Taylor and his teammates received buy-in from then mayor of the area Joko Widodo (who is now the President of Indonesia), neighborhood elected leaders, and resident volunteers to gather information on sanitations, water, education, poverty and health care in 51 neighborhood districts within Solo.
During the pilot phase, Taylor and his teammates collected results using paper and pencil surveys. But this took five months just for gathering data, so in 2012 the team decided to use SMS gateway to collect data to make the process faster, cheaper, and more efficient. With SMS survey, the Kota Kita Solo team gathered data from all 51 districts in just two month.
“Digitizing the survey made the analysis process easier,” Taylor commented. “We were able to quickly map out the results because the data was organized better. We created posters or ‘mini-atlases’ that showed patterns of problems and opportunities, like which areas were not getting electricity, how many children were attending schools in certain districts, how much water citizens were getting, etc.” The Kota Kita Solo team posted the maps throughout the city where people come together (at kiosks and community centers) and also on solokotakita.org. These mini-atlases aided citizens visualize and understand what services needed the most attention.
As a result from distributing critical socio-economic information, more citizens- not just the older elites – can partake in the urban planning process. And now, increasingly more citiznes are attending musrenban in Solo to advocate for what they think are urgent areas to receive funding in their neighborhoods.
Having proven that this model works, the Kota Kita team has been replicating this survey-mapping approach to improve urban planning in other Indonesian cities as well. More recently, they applied the method to help the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia identify service needs of the rapidly growing population living in portable yurts in outskirts of the capitol.
The team used the same approach as Kota Kita Solo by surveying the socio-economic situations of yurt migrants, mapping out the survey results, and then using the data for the 2014 budgetary discussions for the city. The survey and mapping process was an eye-opening experience because it was the first the former Soviet Union country openly engaged in a dialogue between the citizens and the government.
So what makes the Kota Kita model so successful? Taylor noted that to implement an impactful, citizen-oriented urban planning program, three things must be kept in mind.
- First, it should take a bottom-up approach that involves the community so that civic concerns are incorporated.
- Second, having the community actively involved (by involving neighborhood leaders, for example) is imperative to make sure the results are accurate.
- Lastly, endorsement and demand from top government level officials for the program is important. In the case of program in Solo, the then-mayor Joko Widodo’s buy-in and excitement for the civic mapping was critical for the success of the program.
Taylor remarked that advancement of ICT tools has definitely helped his organization do more work in transparency and civic engagement space. “Kota Kita hopes to continue creating opportunities for open dialogues between the government and the citizens, especially for young people. We’re now creating a budget implementation tracker using Facebook so that more youth can comment and participate in their community decision-making process.”
The tracker is still in its early phase, but it’ll be exciting to see how Kota Kita will continue using visual data tools to empower more citizens to democratically engage with their governments in Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia.
Maiko Nakagaki is a Program Officer at Center for International Private Enterprise