Interview with organizer of #HackJak: a hackathon in Jakarta Indonesia

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The #HackJak hackathon, happening this weekend, is the first of this type of event using data opened up by the Local Government of Jakarta. The hackathon is in collaboration with Southeast Asia Technology and Transparency Initiative (SEATTI),  Jakarta's local government, the President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight, DailySocial and the World Wide Web Foundation
With an emphasis on open government data and tackling issues that affect the city, #HACKJAK aims to open, share, and use the data to benefit the wider community.
We caught up with one of the organizers, Shita Laksmi – Program Manager of SEATTI, to ask her about hopes for the day and what might come out of the hackathon in terms of tackling some of the problems that the city of Jakarta faces.

Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ): A couple of years back you worked on a report on civic engagement and new media in Indonesia. What is your perspective on the open data movement in Indonesia today and how can it favour citizen engagement?

Shita: Citizens are drivers of change; when we look at the major changes around the world (e.g. the Arab spring, Reformasi in Indonesia or leadership changes in the Philippines), the major actor –though not the only one– is the citizen. With new forms of digital and social media becoming more widespread, there is potential to amplify citizens' voices and foster better dialogue between citizens and public institutions. That movement is gaining momentum and the same goes for open data. That is very clear when we talk to people involved in the open data movement for quite some time and hear about their experiences in their own countries; for example in Kenya and in the Philippines. It is very important to consult citizens in order to optimize the utility of the data being opened up. Of course it is good when data is made available but the next challenge is how to make sure the data is presented in a way that is useful for people. 

Take for example, Indonesia's budget. Based on the Open Budget Index survey in 2012, Indonesia is listed as the country which has the highest level of transparency, compared to other Southeast Asia countries. That will be more meaningful if the transparency can be translated into quality of engagement with citizens. In order to achieve that engagement we need to have a more accessible budget format that can be interpreted by a broader audience. To respond to that, we at SEATTI are working to support FITRA, the budget organization, in preparing a site in which regular people, and a wider audience can understand the Indonesian budget, both the content and how the process works. There are two data sets provided in the HackJak, public transportation and budget data for 2014.

PLJ:  What motivated you to organize HackJakarta and what are your expectations for the event?

Shita: Southeast Asia Technology and Transparency Initiative (SEATTI) is trying to build a supportive ecosystem involving many stakeholders to achieve public sector transparency and accountability. For us, that translates into encouraging the adoption of user-friendly technology, meeting user demand and engaging citizens. We also hope we can contribute to achieving a more accountable governance mechanism. 

SEATTI is trying to build on the momentum in Indonesia since the country is chairing the Open Government Partnership this year. This means that stakeholders in the area of open government are particularly motivated to strive for good performance because – in a sense – all eyes are on us. Moreover, at the local level, the Jakarta government is starting to open its data. All these factors make this a very good moment to hold an open data challenge. From the hackathon we expect to foster engagement between the government and the developer community.  We hope to end up with applications that can engage citizens in monitoring and giving input to government. 

PLJ: The Open Government Partnership summit in May seems like a great opportunity to advance the open data agenda in Indonesia. What are you looking forward to?

Shita: The public discourse is still quite limited when compared to other regions. But we are seeing anecdotal evidenceof initiatives cropping up here and there. I hope that the summit in May will bring to the fore more stories from which we can learn, more exchange of experience, perhaps later, some peer learning between the Asia Pacific countries.


PLJ: The city of Jakarta seems to see open and big data as part of the same push towards data-driven policy making. What is your take on big data – do you see any opportunities for citizens to get involved? What recommendations would you have for organizations like us that focus on big data?

Shita:  The Guardian had a good piece on Open and Big data recently: There are some potentially good opportunities for synergy to explore in the area. My worry is on the security side of the data, including privacy. I am not sure that in Indonesia we have a good understanding of how we should strategically use technology while protecting privacy and security. But I think this is perhaps where UN Global Pulse can help so that people better understand the issues involved.
Shita Laksmi @slaksmi is program Manager of South East Asian Technology and Transparency Initiative and also works for international development organization HIVOS.

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