When a city’s infrastructure and services are ineffective, it may feel good for its citizens to rant on social media about it. Will it make the services better? Probably not.
That’s where technology comes in. A team of developers partnering with the government of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta developed an app so citizens can channel their social media savviness to monitor public services.
In a city filled with an estimated 10 million people, public infrastructure upkeep is already a challenge. When coupled with low trust in public officials due to ongoing corruption, it can be a recipe for stagnant development. The app called QLUE seeks to change that. TerraLogic, a company specializing in dashboard mapping and geo-spatial technologies, says it partnered with the municipal government to improve two things: government transparency and public participation.
“What we saw is that citizens are on their lowest point in terms of trust in the government, they are very skeptical,” Gerry Mangentang, the vice president of products for at QLUE, told Humanosphere. “There’s already a culture of complaint and a culture of social media, so we want to channel that.”
QLUE is part of Jakarta Smart City, a concept launched by the government in 2014, led by Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Thahaja Purnama, to automate and improve the city’s services for residents. Jakarta Smart City also involves CROP (Cepat Respon Opini Publik, or Public Opinion Rapid Response), a system designed to enable city officials to respond to public reports, and Waze, a 24-hour mobile traffic information and chat platform.
“Jakarta Smart City is pushing – through government transparency, through public participation – to improve public trust while also measuring the performance of government agencies,” Mangentang said.
With QLUE, the public can report in real-time by taking a photo, geo-tagging the location, submitting a short description of the situation and choosing a category, which ranges from traffic jams, litter, floods, fires, criminal activities to unauthorized street vendors. Following the January terrorist attacks in the city, QLUE also added a new category so citizens can report suspicious activities or devices. Citizens can even report public health-related issues, such as disclosing an outbreak of dengue fever during the wet season to request mosquito fogging treatments.
These citizen reports are then submitted to the command center, and each category is linked with a specific department responsible for responding. Once a report is in the system, other users can also the monitor the progress status or show support by using a specially designed button – therefore backing up the report.
The status of the report is color-coded to indicate whether the response is “waiting,” “in progress,” or “completed.” City officials are required to upload a photo of the reported location to show that the response is completed.
“The citizens become the governments’ eyes [on the streets],” Mangentang told Humanosphere.
Mangentang said for developed countries like the U.S., Singapore or European countries, the concept of a smart city is in the sensory devices such as CCTV or other forms of automated monitoring, with the data then submitted to and analyzed in the command center. But in a developing country like Indonesia, he said the city needs more time and money to implement a citywide CCTV or other monitoring systems. QLUE’s crowd-sourced information is also used by the government to map everything from low flood points to crime waves.
“[Automated monitoring] is not that easy to integrate, so QLUE becomes one form of content provider – whereas developed countries use machines, we are crowdsourcing – the citizens give input to the government,” Mangentang said.
But the direct input goes beyond just reports – citizens can even use the app to chat directly with local leaders. Considering that Indonesia is considered the social media capital of the world with more than 92.9 million users, and that 93 percent of Indonesians access the internet through their smartphones, the developers incorporated social media-like features such as timelines, avatars and usernames, only nixing the personal posts and selfies.
They also included what they call “gamification,” a point system so users can unlock new avatars, win awards and more to encourage further public participation.
On the government side, there are also incentives to keep local officials accountable. Neighborhood unit (RT) and community unit (RW) chiefs receive an extra Rp. 10,000 (75 cents) added to their salary every time they receive a QLUE report, and the central government provided these leaders with up to $800,000 ($60) per month to respond to the reports.
Ahok’s QLUE policy obliged RT and RW heads to submit reports via the application three times a day or else have their operational funds withheld, despite protests from those leaders saying the policy is burdensome.
“You have a responsibility to take care of your neighborhood. If you want to do that you must report to us,” Ahok said at the City Hall in May, according to Tempo Indonesia.
Despite its efficacy and popularity, with some 40,000 reports received per day, the Smart City program and QLUE is vulnerable to politics and bureaucracy. Some RT and RW chiefs in the city have threatened to resign from their positions and would not assist in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial elections if Ahok’s QLUE policy persisted. Ahok, a minority Chinese Christian governor who is currently in the midst of a blasphemy trial, has said those threats are politically motivated against his candidacy in the election, according to Jakarta Post.
QLUE is even a subject of political campaigns. Deputy governor candidate Sandiaga Uno, for example, has said he will make QLUE kinder to RT and RW heads and provide additional special training for them.
“We will continue to implement the QLUE application with some improvements. We don’t want to make QLUE a tool to penalize RT and RW heads but to provide them with incentives,” Sandiaga said during a campaign visit to West Jakarta in December, the Jakarta Post reported.