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Antya Widita: The social innovator using open data for positive social change

Blog | October 4, 2017

In 2016-2017, the Open Data Lab in Jakarta implemented the Innovating for Open Cities project, supported by Making All Voices Count, in an effort to deliver the most innovative solutions to improve cities across Indonesia, inspired and designed by citizens for the benefit of citizens.

We asked the Lab Manager Antya Widita about himself and his experience, motivation and learning on innovating to ensure open data leads to social benefit.


Antya

Antya Widita (on the right) with Illiza Sa'adudin Djamala, former Mayor of Banda Aceh and local innovator from the 'Innovating for Open Cities' Project.

Tell me about yourself…

I’m Antya Widita, Lab Manager at the Web Foundation’s Open Data Lab Jakarta, a data innovation lab based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Our work is centred on utilising open data to find sustainable solutions to pressing social issues.

I was born in a small regency called Lumajang in East Java and spent my childhood in several cities across Indonesia, following my father’s assignments as a civil servant. I was on my 3rd grade of elementary school before we finally settled down in Jakarta. Perhaps because of this background and being exposed to new places constantly as I grew up, I find myself really passionate about learning and understanding new things, including people, culture, food, and novel solutions or approach to solve everyday problems. I believe in the power of locally developed innovations, designed based on a clear understanding of the local context and end beneficiaries’ needs.

“Innovating for Open Cities” - what is it about?

When we started our “Innovating for Open Cities” project last year, we embarked on a mission to demonstrate the value of open data to create opportunities for citizens to collectively tackle urban challenges more quickly and effectively. The project was implemented in two Indonesian cities, Jakarta and Banda Aceh.

In the Tech Hub project, we acted as a “data innovation intermediary” and provided activists, entrepreneurs, researchers, and champions from government with the infrastructure, knowledge and network to develop, prototype and test ideas for data driven solutions.

We supported three local innovators, who developed three prototypes: ICAIOS from Banda Aceh created  a web-based platform that geo-locates and promotes local products in Banda Aceh; Radya Labs from Bandung designed an app that helps the city fire department of Jakarta respond to fire emergencies better, and Perkumpulan Skala from Jakarta made a disaster data information platform that helps raise awareness of Jakarta citizens about disasters.

What motivated you to come up with such an innovation?

As an innovation lab, we are constantly trying to identify new and better solutions, building use cases, and testing models of how open data could lead to positive social change. The Making All Voices Count program allowed us to accomplish this and provided us with enough flexibility to experiment and iterate with our local partners.

What is your greatest strength and in what areas do you feel you could grow?

Personally, I believe that my greatest strengths are my curiosity for new things and my passion for solving problems. Conversely, I feel that I need to stop relying too much on my instincts and have more structure in approaching things.

What learning have you incorporated into your work?

There are at least four things that I have learned from the project and incorporated to my work:

  • Collaboration is a key enabler for innovation. Social problems are often complex and our resources are limited, thus we need to work and collaborate with like-minded champions and innovators, both from within government as well as non-government actors to achieve our objectives.
  • Do not reinvent the wheel. Try to avoid building an entirely new solution because most of the time, some other individual or organization has already worked on, or might be working on, a similar problem/solution. It’s better to work with them and improve collectively than to work on the same thing and compete with each other (this goes back to lesson #1 above).
  • Incubation needs persistence. Good processes will yield good results, because innovation requires constant designing, redesigning and testing. That said, seeing impact on the ground takes time.
  • Civic-tech is promising, but needs more investments for long-term application. We have seen high demand for civic-tech innovation, with initial results showing potential for growth, expansion and real-situation adoption of civic-tech driven solutions. However, the main challenge remains to be finding the right business models for sustainability.

What change is ‘Innovating for Open Cities’ contributing to? 

The Tech Hub project has contributed in at least three ways:

  • Increased the awareness of citizens of Jakarta and Banda Aceh - including government and non-government actors - of the value of open data in improving citizens’ lives.
  • Increased the involvement of citizens of Jakarta and Banda Aceh in collectively tackling urban challenges and influencing policy making processes.
  • Increased the interest of citizens of Jakarta and Banda Aceh to implement other open data-driven solutions and civic-tech innovations.

Going forward, one of the main challenges is to sustain and improve the above results, which will require more time and resources for continuous testing, learning, and refining. As a social innovator, another important thing is to measure the impact on the ground, which will need to be tracked beyond the project timeline. For these reasons, we always try to keep our focus and build on our previous work, so we don’t start from scratch.

What challenges have you experienced so far?

In running the project, limited time and personnel were the main challenges we faced. After reviewing the timeline and our available resources, we had to change and downsize our initial plan from working in three cities and incubating five local innovators, to two cities and three innovators.

Another challenge in incubating the three projects effectively was physical distance. We found out that distance (the projects and the Jakarta Lab being located in different places) posed a great challenge in coordination and collaboration. Although online communication was used heavily through emails, chats, and video calls, we found that face-to-face interaction and mentoring is still the best method in incubation.

Based on your learning from the implementation of the innovation, what recommendations would you share with other social innovators?

I can think of three recommendations off the top of my head:

  • Constantly implement the “innovation cycle”. Verify assumptions/hypotheses and test the prototype with end users for verification, then adjust and refine the prototype based on the findings to ensure that the innovation actually solves the problems identified and benefits the end users.
  • Join communities of practice and connect with other innovators to learn from each other.
  • Document your project thoroughly and properly. Craft a compelling use case/impact story and strong messaging for the purpose of fund-raising or seeking impact investment, or even for future sharing and lessons-exchange with other people or organisations tackling similar projects or themes.

What are your future plans?

I am planning to continue:

  • Looking for ways, building use cases, and testing models of how open data could lead to social benefits.
  • Looking for opportunities to scale-up our current innovations, reach more users, and deliver more impact.
  • Looking for opportunities to work with other innovators, develop and test open data-driven solutions or civic-tech innovations, and solve urban problems together.

What is your message to other ambitious innovators?

Be persistent and connect with like-minded innovators. Bringing social impact to life is often a complex and long process, and as such requires persistence and support by learning from and connecting with other innovators.

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