Blog | May 18, 2017 | Open Data Labs

When we first started our Innovating for Open Cities project last year with the support of Making All Voices Count, we embarked on a mission to demonstrate the value of open data in improving citizens’ lives in Indonesian cities, specifically in Jakarta and Banda Aceh.

The goal was to open up opportunities for citizens and civil society to influence policy-making at the local level and collectively tackle urban challenges more quickly and effectively.

The groundwork: Fostering open data dialogues

We realised that to be able to achieve this, we needed to get everyone on board. Therefore, we continuously engaged with various stakeholders, from government officers to urban-activists, researchers, social entrepreneurs, journalists and civic-hackers.

We hosted events that allowed for constructive dialogue on open data and promoted collaboration between the groups to develop joint approaches to tackle social, political and economic challenges in cities using data.

We started by organising a one-day sharing and gathering event to celebrate Open Data Day 2016 in March last year, which was the collaborative effort of ten organisations and data experts. Then we officially launched the Innovating for Open Cities project in May, through a sharing and learning event with speakers from local-level open data champions in Jakarta and Banda Aceh. We also hosted a series of meetups and informal discussions on open data that we called Open Data Jam Sessions from August to September.

Taking it to the next level: Incubating innovators

These series of engagement activities led to the realisation that to effectively demonstrate the value of open data and influence policy-making, we need to actually implement (open) data-based solutions that could solve real problems in cities and bring tangible impact to citizens’ lives. With selected partners, we embarked on an incubation programme to develop and test data-driven, innovative ideas, prototypes and solutions to practical challenges.

We knew that it’s probably quite an ambitious mission, given the 5-months effective incubation period that we had. Thus it was important for us to seek and work with like-minded innovators: people who want to solve specific cities problems, who have started working on concrete solutions by implementing their ideas on the ground, and most importantly, who share our belief in the power of openness and data-driven solutions. We are extremely grateful to be able to have found and worked with such innovators, namely ICAIOSPerkumpulan Skala, and Radya Labs.

The incubation work itself was far from easy. The first challenge was to bring the open data concept and principles into the solution and design equation, making sure that open data driven approaches could actually bring improvement and increase the solution’s effectiveness. Then, the biggest challenge was to actually implement the innovation cycle: identify the root cause of the problems that we wanted to tackle, understand the beneficiaries and their ecosystem in order to better design the solution, do prototyping, test the prototypes, validate our assumptions, make adjustments, and iterate the process over and over again until we achieve the set goals.

Wrapping it all up: Our key takeaways

We learned throughout the incubation programme that collaboration is key. Not only collaboration between us and the innovators, but also between the innovators and external partners. We learned that city problems are usually complex, and that there is no such thing as “leave this to me and I’ll solve the problem”.

To make a solution work, there are actually many factors that we may know nothing about, things that can only be answered when we work and collaborate with partners across the board.

Just as we believe that open data is a key enabler for citizen participation (such as governments collaborating with citizens), we also believe that collaboration is a key enabler for innovation. Thus, we believe that open data and innovation are intertwined.

With this in mind, Open Data Lab Jakarta commits to continuing its role as an open data enabler and convener in Southeast Asia, working with local partners to run innovative open data initiatives that lead to social benefits, and of course continuing to share what we learn along the way.

What’s next?

We will share our lessons learned and showcase the result of the Innovating for Open Cities project, together with our partners. We aim to tap into the takeaways and experience gained from implementing these innovations on the ground as we move forward and explore future collaboration opportunities with more Indonesian cities.

About the author

Launched in 2014, the Open Data Jakarta Lab engages partners all over Southeast Asia to unlock the social, political, and economic benefits of open data.

About this blog

This is the first blog of an Open Data Labs series, originally published here. You can contact the team's Innovation and Engagement Manager, Antya Widita, at or message him on Twitter @AntyaWidita to learn more about the project and what’s next for it. Follow the Jakarta Lab @ODLabJkt to stay updated on its activities.