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Local Knowledge MattersPower, Context and Policy Making in Indonesia$

Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, and Hans Antlov

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781447348078

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447348078.001.0001

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Introduction: local knowledge matters!

Introduction: local knowledge matters!

(p.1) One Introduction: local knowledge matters!
Local Knowledge Matters
Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, Hans Antlov
Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

The introduction provides a brief description of knowledge-to-policy and the landscape of knowledge hierarchies that shape the journey to policy influence. It introduces the three main types of knowledge in policy processes: scientific, professional and local knowledge. Finally, the chapter describes the knowledge sector in Indonesia, and the decentralized political context for knowledge production and policy making in Indonesia.

Keywords:   knowledge types, policy processes, co-production, decentralization, knowledge sector, Indonesia

‘The problem of knowledge is that there are many more books on birds written by ornithologists than books on birds written by birds or books on ornithologists written by birds.’

(Naseem Nicholas Taleb, 2010: 77)

Indonesia, a diverse archipelago of 17,000 islands and more than 300 ethno-linguistic groups, has many rich sources of knowledge that are produced and communicated outside of formal research institutions. Local knowledge enriches policy making by providing context and improving targeting. Local knowledge channels new forms of knowledge to local policy makers. It can also revitalise traditional cultures and their expressions. However, it is easy to believe that scholarly research is more important for influencing public policy. We will suggest in this book that it is a mistake to ignore local knowledge, as it plays a key role in improving public policy at both local and national levels. Without local knowledge, science can find it difficult to influence policy. There is extensive disagreement about classifications of different types of knowledge (Agrawal, 1995; Briggs, 2005). We review and take a position on classification that focuses squarely on bringing local knowledge to the fore in policy processes. This volume (p.2) seeks to identify how local knowledge has been developed and used in policy processes in Indonesia, and to situate local knowledge with other forms of knowledge that influence public policy. Our hypothesis is that the use of evidence in the public policy process will be more effective if all parts of the knowledge sector are actively engaged, and that building the functions of the knowledge sector and progressively linking them will enhance the use of high quality evidence produced and communicated by researchers, and used by policy makers. A sustainable knowledge sector1 is based on research that is of high quality, is locally contextualised, and that can be used effectively in the public policy-making process. Developing policy responses to the complex social and economic challenges that Indonesia faces means that government agencies require access to increasingly sophisticated data and nuanced analysis from multiple sources to inform policy decisions. Democratisation is increasing demand from civil society for greater openness in the policy-making process, and decentralisation is providing local governments with the space to experiment with policy solutions relevant to local contexts and needs. This presents an important opportunity to integrate local knowledge in policy processes.

This volume represents an attempt to document the use of local knowledge in policy processes in Indonesia and as such we hope that it will be useful to practitioners seeking to understand and integrate local knowledge into their efforts to influence policy. In 2014, the Jakarta-based Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI)2 began exploring (p.3) local knowledge and how alternative forms of knowledge could influence and enrich public policy. We define ‘local knowledge’ as the knowledge that people in given communities or organisations have accumulated over time through direct experience and interaction with society and the environment. Local knowledge often deals with the same subject matter as scholarly research. However, local knowledge embodies different perspectives, meanings and understandings that are informed by local contexts and shaped by human interaction with the physical environment.

A competitive research grant scheme was announced in late 2014. The aim was to understand the role of local organisations in the production of local knowledge, channelling alternative knowledge to local policy makers, the mechanisms they use and the constraints and opportunities they face. The aim was to capture and promote innovation in knowledge-to-policy processes to encourage a broad range of players, a diversity of ideas, and novel means of communicating information to policy makers. Innovation was also expected in the creation of space for dialogue between coalitions of unlikely actors, on strategic public policy issues. The grant scheme targeted Indonesian civil society and community-based organisations, policy research institutes, and university-based research centres with direct experience in the use of local knowledge in public policy processes.

This current book is based on ten case studies selected competitively through this scheme from a pool of more than 500 proposals. The overwhelming response indicates the interest and demand for support for research on local knowledge. These cases were presented at a conference in Jakarta in April 2016, and subsequently turned into this book by the authors, who all worked at KSI at the time.

The ten case studies (presented in more detail in Chapters Four to Six) are listed in Table 1.1. (p.4)

Table 1.1 The ten case studies

Organisation/ Location

Purpose of Activity

Activity Description

Pikul Timor, East Nusa Tenggara

To explore ways to successfully manage community-based water management

The activity constitutes participatory research and documentation to study the management of community-based water resources on the island of Timor that are able to sustain both traditional and modern approaches. It maps the prerequisites of the successful management of water resources by the community, demonstrating success in resource management.

Poros Photo Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara

To conduct a visual ethnographic study to improve the welfare of traditional fishermen in East Nusa Tenggara

The activity aims to identify, document and systematise the coverage of village-based local wisdom among whale fishing communities on the island of Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara, and how they link to social policies and local government programmes.

PUSKA UI (Centre for Anthropological Studies, University of Indonesia) Indramayu, West Java and East Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara

To improve farmers’ traditional and more recent empirical knowledge to respond better to climate change

This activity aims to advocate to policy makers that, in the midst of on-going climate change, it is important to combine farmers’ traditional knowledge with agro-meteorological learning. The study also documents how scientific and local knowledge complement each other.

PATTIRO (Centre for Regional Studies and Information) Haruku, Central Maluku

To promote the contribution of local knowledge to maritime resources policy

This activity documents the traditional sasi local practice of resource sharing in maritime resources management in Central Maluku. Sasi is the hereditary local knowledge of indigenous people on the islands of Maluku that utilises natural resources and maintains environmental sustainability.

LK3 (Institute for Islamic and Society Studies) Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan

To revitalise river conservation culture to adapt to climate change through policy advocacy and urban development

The activity aims to encourage and support the government of Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan to consider preserving rivers and the culture of rivers through river revitalisation policies, to support and increase community participation in the revitalisation of the culture of the river. The study also documents links between religious and traditional knowledge.

(p.5) BIGS (Bandung Institute for Governance Studies) Kendal, Central Java

To promote local knowledge relevant for the conservation of the Pakis Mountain Forest in Kendal, Central Java

This activity aims to understand the role of local knowledge used in community-based forest conservation among the people living in mountainous forests, and to build community forest conservation based on local knowledge.

PKPM (Centre for Education and Community Studies) Aceh Besar, Aceh

To revitalise local values and the role of Keujruen Blang, traditional institutions in Aceh Besar

The activity aims to identify local values in the community of farmers in Aceh Besar through a study of the existence, role and function of customary actors and institutions of Keujruen Blang, a traditional resource-sharing mechanism.

YKU (Foundation for People’s Welfare) Aceh Besar, Aceh

To conduct a study on the role of the traditional mawah financial mechanism in supporting the livelihoods of vulnerable communities in Aceh Besar

The activity aims to identify and analyse the comparative advantages of a traditional profit-sharing system (mawah) and how it can collaborate with other existing formal and informal financial services in rural communities of Aceh Besar.

POLGOV UGM (Research Centre for Politics and Government, University of Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta) Belu and Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara

To strengthen local knowledge for natural resource management using case studies of farmers’ resistance to mining

This activity aims to bridge, encourage and empower local knowledge that is used to influence policy making in extractive resource management. The activity facilitates and documents several local mechanisms employed and preserved by the community in producing knowledge related to resource management.

LAHA (Institute for HIV/AIDS Advocacy) South Konawe, Southeast Sulawesi

To develop a community-based insurance model using local knowledge from Southeast Sulawesi

The activity aims to assist the community to finance community healthcare through a traditional insurance system inspired by local values in South Konawe, Southeast Sulawesi. The long-term plan is to establish a community-based Health Insurance Management Agency.

(p.6) This book is based on the personal experiences and expertise of the authors, combined with knowledge gained through the ten case studies. The cases are diverse: they are from Aceh, Java, Southeast Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, Kalimantan and Maluku (see Map 1.1 on page 7). They address forest management, water resources, maritime resource management, financial services, resistance to mining and other community topics. The cases represent influence in many domains. We will learn about the impact of documenting traditional forest management practices on reducing erosion, efforts to revitalise the traditional river culture, and the importance of poetry and songs in educating people on conservation and preservation.

Knowledge in policy processes

We start with a few words about what we mean by policy processes and evidence-based policy making, situating this conversation in the broader knowledge-to-policy debate (Pawson, 2006; Carden, 2009; Cartwright and Hardie, 2012). The most common depiction of this knowledge-to-policy process is as a cycle (see Figure 1.1) in which policy makers seek evidence; intermediaries – policy analysts, policy research institutes – interpret the question to researchers; if new research is needed, researchers set about producing it, otherwise they provide the intermediaries with the evidence; and the intermediaries in turn interpret it back to policy makers in ways that they can use for their specific purposes. Sometimes the connection is directly between a researcher and a policy maker, but the more common model uses intermediaries, reflecting some inability among researchers to communicate effectively with policy makers.

In reality, however, the process is not simple, nor a neat cycle. Many political, social and economic factors come into play, and there is seldom pure and direct influence of knowledge on policy. Figure 1.1 assumes that requests originate from policy makers, while researchers fulfil the requests and people with communication skills make sure that the policy makers understand so they can use the evidence. It is a model that largely ignores externalities: does the evidence interfere (p.7)

Introduction: local knowledge matters!

Map 1.1: Case study locations


Introduction: local knowledge matters!

Figure 1.1: A simple knowledge-to-policy cycle

with the power of the policy maker? Does it fit the values of the political party in power? Research shows that often an issue is raised through research first and then brought to the policy process, so we need to allow for a range of starting points when considering the influence of evidence on policy processes (Carden, 2009). Further, this simple model assumes a clean and simple set of relationships, when in fact there are often many actors who play a role both directly and indirectly. Intermediaries who interpret may also have evidence to present themselves; local communities have knowledge, as do bureaucrats, religious leaders and others.

While this set of complications is increasingly recognised, there is still the tendency to accept the fundamental assumption that the knowledge that influences public policy is scientific knowledge. We set out to demonstrate that this is a narrow view that ignores the realities of knowledge generation and use. Without this broader view of knowledge, scientific knowledge can fall on deaf ears. The policy process is not the neat, clean process illustrated above. Rather, it is more like the messy image shown in Figure 1.2, in which multiple actors (p.9)

Introduction: local knowledge matters!

Figure 1.2: The knowledge-to-policy cycle revisited

Used with permission from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

with multiple value propositions and different bases of knowledge all interact in processes that ultimately lead to policy formulation.

This means that the role of evidence and knowledge is not just (or mainly) a technical process. In a technical process, such as building a bridge, knowledge about the construction and safety of the bridge affects the design and construction processes directly. Knowledge applied to policy processes is quite different. Instead of standing on its own merits, it must interact and compete with political values and cultural beliefs. As Parkhurst (2017: 66) notes, ‘seeing policy making as defined by competition over interests and beliefs, and conceptualising the policy process as the arena through which that competition occurs, has fundamental implications for our understanding of the politics of evidence’. He goes on to make the point that we ‘should expect to see strategic use of evidence by interest groups pursuing policy positions rather than seeing it as an aberration or somehow surprising’ (Parkhurst, 2017: 67). Knowledge is used (often selectively) to advocate (p.10) positions and argue a point of view. The former head of Australia’s best-known government think tank calls this process ‘a maelstrom of political energy, vested interests and lobbying’ (Banks, 2009: 9). Carol Weiss referred to this as the ‘percolation’ of evidence (Weiss, 1979). As we will argue in Chapter Three, policy influence is strengthened when scientific, professional and local knowledge work together, co-producing influence.

Policy making is inextricably linked to policy implementation. In a wide-ranging review of policy implementation literature, Najam (1995) makes the point that policies are made where power resides (which could be at national, provincial or local level). And these policies are often implemented at other levels, in differing contexts and conditions. So, policy implementation is about managing the tensions between legally mandated instruments and resources and the environments in which the people meant to benefit from the policy live. Policy formulation at the highest levels of decision making, and policy implementation at street level, are not always synchronous.

This already challenging situation is further complicated when policies are nothing more than isomorphic mimicry, a common operating style to maintain the status quo. Isomorphic mimicry is defined by Pritchett, Woolcock and Andrews (Pritchett et al, 2010; Andrews et al, 2012) as a process whereby policy reform is limited to form and does not touch function. That is, no actual change takes place in how things are done, even though new policies are put in place in response to external pressure. Policies, whether based on some form of knowledge or beliefs and values, are not implemented and ultimately waste the resources of the state (while protecting the interests of some) and play against effective social and economic development.

A good example of challenges with knowledge – and the dangers of imposing a dominant understanding of local experience – is the recent book, Papua versus Papua (Suryawan, 2017), published in Indonesia about Indonesia’s eastern-most province. The argument of the author is that there are two ‘Papuas’: one mainstream, as portrayed in academic literature (initially foreign but more recently also Indonesian), the other one as experienced, lived and defined by people in Papua. The (p.11) author argues that the academic image of Papua has for decades been flavoured by ethnocentrism, orientalism and, in the end, imperialism. The reason the ‘Papua question’ is still unresolved after more than 50 years is that the central government mainly refers to the mainstream and imperial image of Papua and does not understand what is going on in the field. It thus imposes a naïve view of modernising Papua that has no local currency or makes the wrong policy decisions.

This is part of a larger problem. In a powerful book about indigenous research, Tuhiwai Smith (1999) argues that ethnocentrism and romanticism are common in western studies of indigenous people, often leading to misrepresentation through orientalism (Said, 1978). Western culture becomes the norm through which other societies are interpreted. As we will discuss, this is one of the limitations of ‘scientific’ sources of knowledge, based as it is on (non-indigenous) positivism. What we argue here is that the beliefs and lived experiences of a community – local knowledge – need to complement and perhaps even be the starting point for research about local cultures and communities.

Types of knowledge in policy processes

Local knowledge is one of three major types of knowledge that influence public policy (Figure 1.3). As with many classifications in the social sciences, the borders between knowledge types are porous, and no one tends to hold exclusively one type of knowledge. The most well understood and most common is academic research and scientific knowledge. Although it is often implicit, academic research is ‘loaded with cultural, racialized, gendered, political and class assumptions’ (Holmes and Crossley, 2004: 208). Providing opportunities for other types of knowledge to inform policy is thus inherently democratising and implies the participation of a broader group of legitimate actors to generate information. Because they often use different means of communication than academic research, other forms of knowledge can capture different meanings (Holmes and Crossley, 2004; Bryant, 2002). While this is generally an advantage, it also presents challenges in terms (p.12) of communicating with policy makers. Officials may prefer modes of communication associated with academic research as legitimate for informing decisions. Further, groups providing local or professional knowledge may have different standing in policy makers’ eyes, given their political identities and positions in the local social context, to the perspective on ‘objective’ information provided by researchers (Bryant, 2002). It will therefore be important to understand how officials receive other sources of knowledge, and how they choose to use them. Chapter Two presents a closer investigation of the types of knowledge indicated in Figure 1.3, namely: scientific knowledge, professional knowledge and local knowledge.

Introduction: local knowledge matters!

Figure 1.3: Types of knowledge and the policy influence space

Throughout this book, the typology refers to the different sources and methods of knowledge generation while acknowledging some overlapping boundaries among them. This conception is distinguished from other categorisations of knowledge/evidence that are based on their utility, for example, evidence-based management, which is focused more on the different types of evidence used in decision (p.13) making processes (Briner et al, 2009: 22) or Parkhurst’s concept of the elements of the good governance of evidence (Parkhurst, 2017: 123).

The strength of understanding and using multiple forms of evidence is in how it can help navigate treacherous political economy terrain. As Najam argues, because there are multiple actors operating at different levels of the systems and in different contexts, ‘actors must be the unit of analysis’ (Najam, 1995: 32) for understanding policy making and its implementation. Our book explores the role of local knowledge in that process and makes the case that local knowledge is a powerful tool in improving policies and their implementation, as it brings more actors into policy-making processes. We fully recognise the point that Parkhurst (2017) makes: which evidence ultimately gets promoted is a political choice. We argue, though, that political choices are mutable and can be affected by actors within the system if they are aware of the political nature of a decision and can identify ways and means of bringing other forms of knowledge to the table. This book attempts to build an understanding of how that takes place through an analysis of cases from across the archipelago, highlighting the importance and potential of local knowledge, something that is often mentioned in the policy literature (for example, Jasanoff, 1990) but is seldom explored in depth. Much of the international literature reflects the view in Hernandez (2012: 153) that, ‘there is little to no evidence that indigenous knowledge systems have received meaningful inclusion in public policy development’. At the same time, there is growing recognition of the potential of local knowledge to contribute, and efforts are underway to figure out how (FAO, 2004; Nordic Council of Ministers, 2015; Thaman et al, 2013; ICRAF, 2014; Simpson et al, 2015).

As generated through iteration and adaptation in day-to-day practices, local knowledge is highly relevant for a community’s life. However, due to its locally specific context, it is inherently challenging for local knowledge to inform public policy, as public policy’s coverage addresses the general population, and seldom addresses a specific context. Local knowledge, like other forms of knowledge, is most effective when multiple forms of knowledge interact to influence (p.14) policy. Citizens seldom act based on one type of knowledge. Rather, their lived experience incorporates (to a greater or lesser degree) local, professional and scientific knowledge. While we as academics and scientists fully agree with the panel of eminent social scientists who put forward the case for the importance of science, and particularly social science, and for promoting its better use in public policy (National Research Council, 2012), we do not believe that this can be accomplished without a better understanding of other ways of knowing and other forms of knowledge that influence policy and policy makers.

Knowledge hierarchies

Knowledge evolves in a pervasive landscape of hierarchies that in different ways shape the journey to policy influence (Figure 1.4). First are the perceived unequal forms and domains of knowledge where scientific knowledge (often thought of as the natural sciences) traditionally occupies the leading position; the less ‘exact’ forms of knowledge (professional and local) are relegated to lower levels of prestige (Weiler, 2009).

The second hierarchy is in the realm of institutional arrangements for the production of knowledge. The credibility of knowledge is sometimes organised in terms of prestige, resources and influence of the institutions that generate the knowledge, and where they are located (in the global north or the global south), rather than by the quality of the knowledge itself. Under this same category falls the hierarchy within knowledge-related institutions, between professor and student, between institute directors and staff, between senior and junior faculty and, more subtly, between administrators and faculty.

The third hierarchy is in research methodology. Knowledge that is generated through a ‘gold standard’ methodology (randomised control trials, experimental research) is considered the top of the knowledge hierarchy. This view is strongly held in many quarters, but we dispute this type of classification of research methodologies and rather take the position that the best method is the one that is most suitable to the research question at hand. A report from the International (p.15) Development Research Centre (IDRC) argues that research quality cannot be divorced from its social relevance (Ofir et al, 2016: 4). Even scientific information is likely to be disregarded if it is seen as irrelevant to the needs of particular decision makers. In this process, taking socially relevant knowledge into account in social research will improve scientific relevance, legitimacy and stature.

The fourth is a hierarchy of knowledge based on the forms of its manifestation. In a world where science, civilisation, intelligence, wisdom and education are measured in terms of functional literacy and written documents, such as the number of books published and publication in peer-reviewed journals, local knowledge and oral wisdom would be permanently on the bottom of the knowledge hierarchy. This presents a challenge for an oral knowledge-based society like Indonesia. Ariel Heryanto (2015) argues that Indonesia would be a permanently sad story of the progress of civilisation or quality of education if the measurements were exclusively in terms of scholarly performance3 or number of academic publications (Nugroho et al, 2016).

While the production of local knowledge is unstoppable because it is how a community makes sense of life, all of these hierarchies and relationships have been a disincentive for using local knowledge to influence policy. These hierarchies shape the basis for status and authority of local knowledge in the knowledge-to-policy realm; they have put the credibility of local knowledge in influencing policy at the lowest level. In this situation, local knowledge has little ability and credibility to legitimate power, so public policy makers have little interest in supporting a rise in the influence of local knowledge in policy making. This also means lower interest in investing resources for local knowledge development and application by policy makers. This might be understandable, as knowledge and power are connected by a relationship of reciprocal legitimation – that is, knowledge legitimates (p.16)

Introduction: local knowledge matters!

Figure 1.4: Knowledge hierarchies and policy influence

(p.17) power and, conversely, knowledge is legitimated by power (Flyvbjerg, 1991). This symbiotic relationship between knowledge and power has implications for the role of the university as the political partner of the policy maker. Because the university and other research institutions legitimise knowledge in the eyes of policy makers, local knowledge suffers multiple inequalities, which thwart its development. These inequalities are sustained by unequal relations with (and within) groups that hold economic, social, political, environmental and cultural power, and which impose an exclusive way of constructing local knowledge. Inequalities in knowledge also happen within a community whereby gender, age and ethnic origin affect the value assigned to knowledge.

Local knowledge is at play in many different arenas, so these hierarchies will help explain how it is an important part of the knowledge sector and how we can build it in more effectively in future. As Jones et al (2012) observe, local knowledge is usually tacit. Our volume represents an effort to make some of that knowledge, and how it has influenced public policy, explicit. The question is: whose knowledge matters? Whose knowledge is used in policy processes, and whose knowledge is not used, either because it is not considered knowledge or because it is thought to be less important? What these cases demonstrate is the diversity of influences on public policy. While much has been made of the role of scientific evidence, there is much less understanding of the role of other forms of evidence and knowledge in the public policy process, and limited recognition of the importance of the co-production of knowledge.

Armitage et al (2011: 996) described the co-production of knowledge as, ‘the institutional trigger or mechanism that actually enables learning within co-management settings’. They are looking at the context of the Canadian Arctic, where science cannot address challenges without integrating local knowledge into their models. Simply put, co-production is the joint production of new knowledge by all those with some useful knowledge to contribute, be it science, technology, professional knowledge or local knowledge. Many other fields, for example a conference at the University of York on the implications in Web 2.0 (University of York, 2012); Sheila Jasanoff in (p.18) policy research (Jasanoff, 2004); and applied health research (Heaton et al, 2016) recognise that in dealing with systemic and wicked problems, many players need to engage. The new knowledge that is needed to manage in these settings needs broad input, not only the input of ‘experts’. There are many definitions of co-production but they all relate to the value of taking knowledge production out of the sole hands of scientists and integrating other knowledge that a society builds.

All forms of knowledge, including local knowledge, must be organised to be used in policy making. A diversity of knowledge sources is one hallmark of healthy policy making. Citizen-generated local knowledge is codified by community-based and civil society organisations, often through formal institutions of citizen participation, or through mass media (Jones et al, 2012). Citizen knowledge is generated in what is usually called civil society – the aggregate of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and associational life that manifests the interests and will of citizens; it is at once a protector against the abuse of public or private power, a practical vehicle for the transformation of social values, and a space where alternative solutions to social problems can be developed and debated (Hall, 2003). A healthy, functioning civil society – and knowledge sector – builds relationships, cooperation and communication across sectors, borders and communities. NGOs can contribute to local knowledge by using a diversity of evidence, improving the quality of discourse, challenging capacity constraints, opening data for scrutiny and sharing knowledge with others (Hayman and Bartlett, 2013: 2).

Many studies show that evidence-based policy is still a big challenge, even in developed countries (Carden, 2009; Banks, 2009; Parthasarathy, 2011; Grant, 2014). Evidence-based policy making started to gain political currency under the Blair administration in the United Kingdom in the late 1990s, in a government with a reforming and modernising mandate, committed to putting an end to ideologically driven politics and replacing it with rational decision making. However, Rose (2017) in his article on Brexit, Trump and post-truth politics, reported that ideology and sentiment still have significant influence on policy making. Given the inherently political nature of policy making, (p.19) strong evidence does not necessarily rank highest in the knowledge hierarchy. As we will see in Chapter Three, this has implications for how policy makers used different sources of knowledge, with a new form of ‘populist’ policy making emerging using more ‘realist’ (read, post-truth) evidence for policy proposals.

We started these local knowledge studies in 2014. Since that time, global changes have reinforced the importance of addressing local knowledge and ensuring the integration of local knowledge into decision-making processes. It is becoming more difficult to use evidence of any form in the face of these changes. Politics plays the leading role and political considerations are often more important than what evidence says. At its extreme, that has become ‘post-truth politics’ (Suiter, 2016). But this tendency has always existed: policy makers value political evidence more than other evidence. Appeals to emotion, ideology or dogma dominate, and factual rebuttal or fact checks are ignored on the basis that they are mere opinions. In 2016 there were two global instances where these types of citizens’ opinions (mixed with politics) contradicted dominant bodies of knowledge: Brexit and the United States election. Both of these cases articulate a counter-culture as a reaction to the domination of traditional elites. Both had outcomes that surprised experts and the ruling elite. It must be noted that they are very different from the cases of local knowledge portrayed in this book – they are based on disenchantment, distrust and fear co-opted by populist politicians – but they provide an argument for diversifying our sources of knowledge. Mainstream politicians and media, not listening to this citizen-generated local knowledge, misread the 2016 public mood and thus allowed populist leaders to claim grassroots support. Learning from this, policy makers and experts must become better at capturing alternative world views.

We do not argue that we should disregard scientific evidence or expertise, quite the contrary. As policy development is unpredictable, there needs to be more data-and evidence-driven knowledge to inform the process, to make sure that decisions are taken on the basis of strong knowledge foundations. Nevertheless, local knowledge helps (p.20) us with a framework to understand the different dimensions of the truth of the many.

In addition, previously closed planning and public policy making must be opened up and democratised. This is not about replacing scientific knowledge or experts (see Chapter Three). It is about enriching such knowledge by bringing in local sources and perspectives. Local knowledge has an important role to play in the creation of policy-relevant research and enriching the role of the expert. Policy making is not just about producing and using knowledge, it is also about promoting dialogue and building capacities. This has been described as a call for ‘a new, plural, political ecology of knowledge’ (Nandy, 1989: 267).

More than ever, we need to promote the use of evidence – all kinds of evidence – in anticipation of the failure of the post-truth approach to the world.

The knowledge sector in Indonesia

For a variety of reasons, Indonesia has not developed the kind of domestic knowledge infrastructure that is found in many developing countries (Guggenheim, 2012). Instead, the country has relied heavily on international technical assistance to help develop policy options that could be presented to high-level government decision makers – providing expert scientific knowledge. The main reason behind the lagging knowledge sector is the legacy of the authoritarian Suharto government (1966–1998) which ruled less by direct oppression than by using the machinery of the public administration to bring presumptively independent institutions (such as universities and think tanks) into its orbit and under the control of the bureaucratic state (Guggenheim, 2012: 48). This thwarted quality control and independent thinking and there was no incentive to base policy making on research and knowledge. It ‘undermine[d] the production of knowledge from within the very institutions that created and used it’ (Guggenheim, 2012: 142). A generation later, this legacy is still felt, with an entrenched public administration reluctant to give up (p.21) its power. Although large state universities were provided with some autonomy in 2012, researchers at state universities remain constrained by a stifling civil service structure4 and culture, and researchers at private universities and think tanks are constrained by inadequate funding. Although there have been improvements in the past few years, Indonesia’s knowledge sector performs well below other countries of comparable economic standing in terms of university rankings, number of international publications, or patents (Guggenheim, 2012; Rakhmani and Siregar, 2016; Nugroho et al, 2016).

Notwithstanding, there are encouraging signs. A new generation of policy makers is coming to power, policy makers who were not trained under Indonesia’s long authoritarian winter. Decentralisation is providing incentives for local leaders to be more sensitive to constituencies and local realities, and democracy has opened up for contestation and accountability (see Chapter Three). What is most important is that the complexity of being a middle-income country in an era of globalisation and in a sea of rapidly growing economies is finally catching up with top policy makers (including the popular President Joko Widodo elected in 2014) who are starting to see the importance of investing more in the knowledge economy and building a domestic and diverse knowledge sector. The Indonesian Academy of Sciences (Akademi Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (AIPI)) is made up of leading scientists who provide important independent science policy advice to the nation. Until recently, AIPI was quite weak but is now beginning to strengthen its role as science advisor to the nation. An

(p.22) ‘Indonesian Science Agenda towards a Century of Independence’ (AIPI, 2017) has been developed by AIPI’s Young Academy and includes issues related to local knowledge.

Local knowledge in policy making in Indonesia

This mixed picture of the knowledge sector in Indonesia is significant for the knowledge-to-policy process. A recent study on the acquisition of knowledge by national decision makers in Indonesia (Datta et al, 2016) found that both the production of and demand for knowledge is weak. When decision makers used evidence, the main types of knowledge they considered were statistics, expert opinion and citizen perceptions (Datta et al, 2016: 6). Due to complex procurement rules, policy makers will seldom commission independent research. Instead, they read statistical reports, organise expert meetings or hold stakeholder workshops. What we call ‘bureaucratic knowledge’ in Indonesia is often the amalgamation of these reports, expert meetings and workshops.

Datta’s study was of national policy makers and is an accurate reflection of policy making at the national level. However, as we will see in this book, experiments are happening and there are many innovations at the local level in which policies that are sensitive to local conditions are tested. Decentralisation of public policy-making processes has created opportunities for local knowledge to inform regional policy. The ‘Big Bang’ decentralisation, introduced in 2001, has given local governments more scope to interpret national policies, adapt them to the local context, and maximise their specific local needs and potential (Antlov and Hidayat, 2004). Competitive elections at national and sub-national levels, introduced in 2005, are seeing elected leaders being more accountable to citizens, while also providing opportunities for policy making based on better evidence and data from the field.

With decentralisation, greater decision-making authority and policy formulation rests with sub-national governments. Part of this decentralisation of policy making is the adoption of the Village Law (p.23) No. 6/2014. This law makes local communities part of development planning and budgeting processes. Under these circumstances, local knowledge can influence public policy-making processes in different ways. First, influence is generated through the ‘pull factor’, where demands from communities are presented for local context-specific policy; second, influence is generated through the ‘push factor’, the political process where local knowledge can be capitalised as electoral assets in the politics of representation. We discuss both later in this book.

Even though citizen perception was the third most common knowledge used by national policy makers, Datta’s study found that when it actually was used, it was mainly to better understand a problem, not necessarily to improve implementation. In the next chapter, we discuss in more detail some of the challenges for the production and use of local knowledge. One issue in Indonesia is the historical disconnect between state bureaucrats as policy makers and the community and civil society organisations that generate and mediate local knowledge.

Indonesia has a rich history of knowledge produced outside of universities, going back to the nationalist movement of the early twentieth century, led by public intellectuals and opinion leaders who based their authority on a solid understanding of lived experience. A rich texture of social groups and movements has existed: religious societies, private schools, credit associations, mutual assistance self-help groups, neighbourhood organisations, water-user associations and many others (Ibrahim et al, 2007). As we will see in Chapter Four, there is a high level of citizen activism today in Indonesia – people doing budget analysis, public service oversight, community empowerment, legal aid and human rights advocacy. In this engagement, they generate knowledge that is locally relevant. There is enthusiasm and energy around finding local solutions to local problems, and in this process challenging the mainstream top-down development paradigm of prescribed technical solutions. There are thousands of citizen-based social action groups around Indonesia in which concerned citizens collaborate to solve local problems, and who share a desire to affect (p.24) policy making and see public funds reallocated to benefit their constituencies (Antlov and Wetterberg, 2013: 200).

Local politics in Indonesia has been characterised as predatory interests nurtured under the Suharto regime’s formerly vast, centralised system of patronage that has largely remained intact, even though with a new class of rent-seekers (Hadiz, 2003). Civil society activists in Indonesia have been characterised as ‘floating democrats’ hovering above, and not connected to, Indonesian society, and thus unable to gain popular legitimacy and muster a broad base sufficient to mobilise political support or influence (Manning and van Diermen, 2000; Priyono et al, 2007). The compromised democracy that emerges as a result does not empower ordinary people, as the spaces opened up through this form of democratic decentralisation are captured by various forms of ‘predatory interests’ (Hadiz, 2003) or ‘bad guys’ (Törnquist, 2002).

The political and economic decentralisation introduced in the early 2000s has contributed to the marginalisation of local community interest (Aspinall and Mietzner, 2010; Nasution, 2016). However, it has also created new opportunities for adoption of local knowledge in the public policy process. Decentralisation, according to Pisani, Kok and Nugroho (2017), has increased local policy makers’ receptivity to local knowledge where local knowledge is presented as aspirasi lokal (local aspirations) and codified as an electoral asset. The present decentralisation process and the rise in political democracy in Indonesia also neglect local aspirations and knowledge. This is because the heads of the local governments and the members of local parliaments, who are supposed to be accountable to the community through regular elections, are mainly accountable to political parties and not the local community.

Outline of the book

This book will focus on the processes and mechanisms of how local knowledge:

  • (p.25) is produced;

  • is communicated;

  • interacts with other forms of knowledge;

  • is received by policy makers and may be used to influence policy.

Chapter Two is about the various forms of knowledge described in Figure 1.3: scientific, professional and local knowledge, and how they interact. We will show that both scientific and professional knowledge are often privileged, simplifying and possibly undermining policy processes. Policy processes include multiple actors, operating at different levels of the system, in diverse contexts. Influencing that process means understanding the multiple knowledge bases that are at play among these actors and using them to identify and define policy options that will resonate with those who ultimately have to put them in place. The options may resonate for political reasons (such as public pressure), value-based reasons, or economic and social reasons. There is no one best reason and no one best approach. The best opportunity for success in influencing policy processes rests in understanding the many forms of knowledge that are at play and in being able to work with them, ideally in some form of co-production, to improve policies and their implementation. The policy process is enriched when multiple forms of knowledge are used; for local knowledge this presents an opportunity to expand its reach and relevance.

Chapter Three sets the frame for thinking about the cases of local knowledge use in Indonesia. It goes into more depth on the importance of local knowledge in democratic policy making. Building on the argument that local knowledge is political, we look at how this knowledge plays a key role not just in policy formulation but also in implementation. Local knowledge is generated by citizens in everyday conversations and forums, often articulated in civil society and popular participation. We argue for local knowledge as a prerequisite for the democratisation of policy making and the improvement of public policies. The new role of ‘experts’ is to support communities to understand policy options, and to provide a level playing field and opportunities for deliberative democracy more generally. Experts also (p.26) help citizens understand and discuss the complex issues that affect their lives.

Chapter Four introduces the ten local case studies to give a sense of the richness of local experiences. The chapter focuses on approaches, achievements and challenges in supporting and understanding cases of local knowledge: how local knowledge is generated, managed and used in real time by local communities and NGOs.

The following two chapters will use these case studies to enrich the arguments presented in Chapters One to Three.

Chapter Five focuses on the generation and management of local knowledge. There are different positions and roles of organisations in producing local knowledge: to solve a problem, to recommend alternative ways to solve a problem, to anticipate potential problems and to preserve local wisdom. These different roles are defined by different capacities of organisations in understanding local issues and knowing the local political context, including its related stakeholders. All organisations believe that traditional wisdom and value located in the community must have a place and influence on local regulations, as they bring the voice of the people and communal strength to the table. Using data from the case studies, we demonstrate where local knowledge has been successfully presented to the local government resulting in policy recommendations; in some other cases, the work has only been able to function as awareness raising of local stakeholders. In a third category, some cases present local knowledge that is not yet linked to local policy but has been demonstrated as contributing to the quality of life of the community. Here, implementation precedes policy change, a fairly common occurrence when communities recognise the value of a change before the policy makers are ready to act.

Chapter Six focuses on the conditions under which local knowledge can influence policy. Some of our partners were successful in building communication with local policy makers and secured a position in the policy discourse. In general, we found that partners located where their projects were taking place were more able to advocate policy recommendations to local government. This appears to be because they have built relationships with local leaders and they have strong (p.27) organisational reputations in the community. Some have been able to attract the attention of local leaders to their research results, which have then been implemented at a local level. It is critical to understand whether policy makers are able to draw meaning from and make use of the types of information generated by civil society organisations. Some mechanisms are identified which will help secure meetings with policy makers to present recommendations to them.

The conclusion in Chapter Seven puts the case studies in the context of different sources of knowledge. We present a number of tensions at play between local, professional and scientific knowledge. These tensions are the tapestry of building knowledge and a way to describe the fact that the pursuit of multiple and competing values, ends and benefits inevitably give rise to challenges about how to achieve balance. We also look at the implications of the new framework both for the academic study of various forms of knowledge, and for development practitioners working to improve or influence public policies. (p.28)


(1) Which has usefully been defined as ‘the institutional landscape of government, private sector, and civil society organisations that provide research and analysis to the development of public policy’ (AUSAID, 2012, p iii).

(2) The Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI) www.ksi-indonesia.org/en/home is a joint programme between the governments of Indonesia and Australia and works to improve the lives of the Indonesian people through high-quality public policies grounded in rigorous research, analysis and evidence. The KSI approach is system-wide and builds the knowledge-to-policy process by strengthening the delivery of high quality, policy-relevant research, the demand for evidence by policy makers, the ability to communicate evidence effectively to the policy process, and highlighting the critical barriers to the effective use of evidence in an enabling environment. All three authors worked for KSI at the time the Local Knowledge Scheme was launched.

(3) In 2015, Indonesia ranked 62 out of 72 countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science and reading.

(4) For example, the Indonesian civil service only allows staff to enter at a base level with minimal work experience. It does not allow for the recruitment of people from outside the civil service to middle and senior positions. A top university can thus only promote lecturers or professors from among existing civil servants, not look for the best candidates from private or foreign universities (see Nugroho et al, 2016). This promotes parochialism and weakens competition. However, a new 2014 Law on Civil Service is introducing competitive merit-based recruitment that, under certain conditions, allows for recruitment outside of the civil service. This will take time to have an impact on the system.