The Thailand Policy Lab staged Thailand’s first Policy Innovation Exchange (PIX) on 24 November 2021, which brought together more than 10 thought leaders and innovators from across the globe. PIX was pleased to have Dwayne Carruthers, the Public Advocacy Manager, Pulse Lab, Jakarta who among the ranks of the speakers, proffered a discussion and introduction into “Systems Thinking & Innovation”.
About Pulse Lab Jakarta
Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ) is an organization which acts as a facilitator of data exchange and experimentation between the United Nations and their local governments. PLJ was founded in 2012 as a part of the UN’s global mission to establish data innovation labs to assist with introducing, promoting, and analysing cutting-edge tools and technology, such as big data and AI. Ultimately, organisations such as PLJ aim to maintain peace, human rights, and fairness in a number of countries across the region and world. Dwayne notes that each of the Pulse Labs established in several key countries, “use mapped data journeys, and with this, when a problem crops up, we are able to provide an appropriate response in each region for each problem.”
The Mixed Methods Approach
Comprising three core team units, the Partnerships & Advocacy Team, the Data & Innovation Team, and the Social Systems Team, each unit of PLJ collectively works towards solving novel problems with uniquely novel approaches and solutions under the mixed methods approach. According to Dwayne the mixed method approach adopted by PLJ involves deeply intensive investigation process in order to produce key elements to be used in providing a solution to complex problems. In addition, a bonus of systems thinking frameworks is that it allows for more agile and anticipatory approaches to be adopted. To date, Dwayne mentioned a number of key projects which have been implemented, including:
Using social media to understand citizens’ perceptions of new policies and infrastructure,
Analysing and suggesting human movement and evacuation plans in response to and in preparation of natural disasters
Resolving complex interactions and formulating appropriate plans for a number of concerns ranging from identifying political dynamics, food security issues, and agricultural systems in several countries.
According to Dwayne, the mixed methods approach adopted by PLJ can be conceived a system which creates workable prototypes or new tools to provide targeted and data-driven interventions to a problem faced by an investigated group of people. To do so successfully, the tool must be inspired by the genuine needs of stakeholders and reflect the usability of partners and advocates; no one wants to use a tool for a problem they do not experience, understand, or relate to. A common thread seen in all projects created by Dwayne and his team, is that prototypes and systems must necessarily engage stakeholders, and the technology adopted in mixed methods approach must necessarily empower users in a sustainable fashion. “It is important to remember that end users of interventions are people—people with real experiences to real problems—tools and technology should therefore aim to alleviate these problems and not overwhelm the users or force them to change.”
A Framework of Social Impact
The mixed method approach necessarily adopts a so-called framework of social impact, which in the view of the PLJ team comprises approaching issues and challenges by viewing them through the lens of the problem space, identity space, and solution space. Each of these three spaces stand to be the catalyst or driver factor which when used in tandem produces a unique logic and guidelines for social impact.
Case Studies & Projects
Of the many initiatives which have come to fruition under PLJ’s guidance, Dwayne provided several examples of projects which demonstrate how mixed methods approaches pull together unique skillsets from across several sectors and industries to produce maximally unique, customized, and targeted solutions.
This project melded human-centred problem-solving to identify hotspots of peatland fires and provide emergency responses based on real-time data analytics of satellite imagery, social media (listening), and news. As a major problem which affects air quality and quality of life of individuals across the region, peatland fires often emit unsafe fumes which result in thick smog forming and decreasing the quality of life. For this project, it would not be sufficient to simply make use of data obtained from air quality measurements, satellite imagery, and real-time analytics as Dwayne maintains that it is important to remember: “Don’t just innovate because you want to, make sure that your innovation meets user’s need.” To enable users to better act with such data, stakeholders from many sectors were engaged in order to identify the types of impact this issue has on their life, and to better understand their values, their needs, and concerns. Dwayne and his team, proceeded to form emergency plans with key areas of concern for the people affected and engaged key stakeholders at authority levels, which included key support from the Executive Office of the President of Indonesia. From this Dwayne and his team were able to create more holistic and human-centred responses and policies for children and schools.
In a similar attempt to HazeGazer, another initiative concerned with air quality and empowering responses to potential hazards, this project saw the integration of sensors throughout villages in Indonesia, which produced easily understood and digestible data for stakeholders. Here, from initial stages of data collection, to design and testing of human response prototypes in the form of village action plans, and finalized systems, this group required Dwayne and his team to act as facilitators of the system, while maximizing the sense of ownership of the affected communities.
As with other tracing and tacking apps which rose to the forefront of technological focus during the pandemic, this initiative produced solutions aimed at social impact. Here both traditional (big data), and non-traditional data sources were integrated to analyse user data made available online. Ultimately, this project made it possible to identify hotspots for COVID-19, while contextualising people’s experiences and mapping policies to beliefs, networks, and other social systems.
Bringing a close to his incredibly insightful oration and introduction to the systems thinking approach, Dwayne was sure to restate the importance of principles of this method. Through the many experiences which PLJ has garnered through their impactful approach to interventions, Dwayne feels that each initiative provided necessary opportunities to reflect and learn. Learning, as a common thread to all policymaking endeavours, should be integrated at every stage of frameworks and models as it is only through deep integration of such learning that truly impactful and reflective interventions can be formulated.