How Indonesia’s Local Governments are Getting Vital COVID-19 Data to the People Who Need It

Local governments in Indonesia have used digital tools such as smartphone apps to keep people updated on COVID-19. Photo: ADB
Local governments in Indonesia have used digital tools such as smartphone apps to keep people updated on COVID-19. Photo: ADB

By Kate Walton, Hanif Rahemtulla

Indonesia’s provincial, municipal and other local governments are finding innovative digital solutions to map COVID-19 and make the information available to the public.

Hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Indonesia has turned to technology to help share information and provide regular updates. As the virus spread across the archipelago, governments and citizens alike found themselves increasingly in need of accurate, timely information. Data on the location of active COVID-19 cases and which areas are deemed to be ‘red zones’ not only help individuals protect themselves but also assist local governments in planning appropriate courses of action for crucial public services such as health and education.

After 20 years of decentralization, most Indonesian public services are now managed by local governments. This makes them key players in the fight against COVID-19, especially in terms of data compilation, management, and transparency. In mid-April, President Joko Widodo encouraged all government bodies to improve data transparency: “Data [must be made] transparent so that everyone can easily access this data,” Jokowi stated. “It should be updated accurately every day.”

Local governments in Indonesia have taken advantage of the digital revolution and are leading the charge to map COVID-19 data and share it with the public. Many provide excellent examples of data compilation and transparency. The provincial government of DKI Jakarta was one of the first to share COVID-19 case information online using a simple database database and map; users can click on their sub-district (Kelurahan) on the map to see the number of active COVID-19 cases nearby.

While the DKI Jakarta provincial government has a longer history of transparency, other local governments are newer to open data initiatives. Between 2017 and early 2020, the Pacitan District in East Java initially developed databases and digital dashboards. Now, they have been able to use this knowledge to create their own COVID-19 dashboards, maps, and graphs for the district, providing daily updates on the spread of the virus. The city of Makassar in South Sulawesi has meanwhile been using geospatial data to better understand correlations between COVID-19, poverty, density, and access to services.

This has helped the municipal government respond to locale-based clusters. These efforts are complemented by other transparency initiatives, such as in Lampung, where the University of Lampung has created and managed a Sustainable Development Goals dashboard.

The most transparent and thorough information-sharing initiatives during the pandemic have come from Java, Indonesia’s most populous and technologically-developed island. West Java’s efforts are particularly noteworthy. Its PIKOBAR website and smartphone app provides a wealth of information: case data, news, call center phone numbers, practical information on how to avoid catching the virus, and even an interactive COVID-19 symptom checker that encourages users to go to the hospital if the answers they provide indicate they may have COVID-19.

The governments of East Java and Central Java provide similar data on their own provincial websites, ensuring that local residents have access to the most up-to-date information possible. Central Java even offers an interactive direct message chatbot on COVID-19 information, statistics, and services through its Twitter account.

Indonesian civil society data initiatives have also been crucial in spreading information during the pandemic, especially during the initial weeks when official data had not yet been made available. Websites like KAWAL COVID19 and Indonesia Bergerak (Indonesia on the Move) provide case data, infographics, situation reports, and educational materials such as stories from health workers and COVID-19 survivors.

Local governments in Indonesia have taken advantage of the digital revolution and are leading the charge to map COVID-19 data and share it with the public.

The efforts of Indonesia’s local governments to publicize COVID-19 data and updates through digital technology should be applauded for their openness and responsiveness. With the rise of cheap mobile internet packages, the number of Indonesians accessing the internet has almost doubled in the past five years, from around 110 million in 2015 to around 200 million in 2020. Home internet connections are comparatively rare due to both price and availability, so local governments’ attempts to inform citizens through smartphone apps and mobile phone-friendly websites is an effective use of technology, especially when information needs to be shared quickly such as during a pandemic.

Other local governments are also using social media and chat messaging apps such as WhatsApp to distribute information to key stakeholders for them to pass on to their local communities. For example, the Sleman District Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Office in Yogyakarta Province has been sharing information on COVID-19 since late March 2020 via Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and its website. Crucially, it runs several WhatsApp groups called Keluarga CERDIG. These groups have over 7,500 members, consisting of religious leaders, community leaders, community health volunteers, and other respected local figures. Members receive easily-digestible daily updates on COVID-19 and tips on how to avoid catching the virus; they are expected to pass information onto their communities to combat fake information and hoaxes.

Nonetheless, a significant minority of Indonesians remain unable to access the internet. Fortunately, many local governments recognize this and are doing their best to ensure COVID-19 updates are shared on public information boards (both printed and television-based) and to journalists.

After a comparatively slower start, Indonesia’s central government also publishes daily updates on its COVID-19 website, including comprehensive maps, graphs, and daily caseload infographics. The national website also includes a ‘hoax buster’ sub-site that aims to combat myths and fake information around the pandemic.

Making accurate and transparent information on COVID-19 available and easily accessible is not a simple undertaking, and Indonesia’s experience confirms that governments must be fully committed to doing so if they are to achieve this.

When presented in easily understood formats and supported by explanatory information, COVID-19 data helps people better determine their risk and take steps to protect themselves and their communities. By prioritizing transparency and openness, local governments can significantly improve citizens’ awareness and health outcomes.