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Scientific Collaboration Indonesia – The Netherlands Towards a Resilient Society

The scientific collaboration between Indonesia and the Netherlands, that increasingly focuses on societal challenges, has a long tradition of partnerships which include, next to researchers, stakeholders from society, the public and the private sector. What the focus of such collaboration should be in the next years is the subject of this paper, which was based on consultation of Dutch and Indonesian researchers, who provided the thematic input for the various aspect of the general theme .

Many of the challenges that our countries face are global in nature and require flexibility and creativity to face them. Addressing the increasing complexity of providing sufficient food and nutrition, clean and safe water, sanitation, health care, logistics and clean energy, of maintaining biodiversity and natural resources, and of dealing with the tensions resulting from religion, migration or security, is vital for a healthy society. Societies are increasingly subject to sudden changes of a global nature and internal disagreements on how to handle these, and need to strengthen their resilience to be able to address these complexities. How do we manage them in a sustainable and inclusive manner? How can we make people, systems and societies more resilient to face these challenges? Which systems, institutions and measures do we need to support transformations and implement solutions? Given the urgency of the problems, the coming years will be crucial for addressing these societal challenges, in order to realize an equitable, safe and healthy future.

A society (people, communities, organizations, institutions) is resilient when it is capable to cope with, and absorb external as well as internal shocks and rapid transformations, preventing society from disintegrating and preparing it for the future. This requires collaboration between all of its components. While rapid changes can be difficult to handle and may appear threatening, changes also create dynamics, turn problems into challenges and create new opportunities.

Our central question is: How can science contribute to realizing and supporting resilient societies?

Joint fundamental and applied research programs by Indonesia and the Netherlands have been carried out for decades. During the past years, stock was taken in consultation with Dutch and Indonesian scientists and institutional stakeholders. This led to the identification of a coherent set of key themes for possible future cooperation to support the concept of resilient society which was presented during a meeting in Jakarta on 21 April 2016. Inter- and transdisciplinarity was deemed crucial and the formation of thematic consortia seen as the way forward. During this bottom up process we aligned with the national science agendas of Indonesia and the Netherlands, with the EU Grand Societal Challenges and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This resulted in the circle of themes below. Many of these themes are linked, synergies are possible and necessary. During discussions  critical reflections centred  on the following:

  • Are the main elements of the concept and supporting themes of the resilient society included?
  • What can bilateral cooperation contribute to resilient societies?
  • Which inter- and transdisciplinary methodologies/programmes are necessary to unleash linkages and synergies?
  • What could be a joint agenda and schedule for further development and lobbying toward implementation?



Quadrant: Governance, Politics, Law, and Belonging.

The demise of authoritarian governments and waves of decentralization and democratization combined with the impact of globalization and new neo-liberal economic policies, have changed structures and processes of governance fundamentally. Governance should not be understood as a one-sided and top-down process exclusively dominated by government institutions. Instead, it concerns a complex set of decision making processes and trajectories of implementation, often with unintended outcomes, in which a variety of (trans-)national government and non-government institutions and formal and informal actors  participate, while there is no overall and formal control mechanism in place. Our knowledge about these processes is partial and fragmented. A combined, interdisciplinary and comparative approach can offer a better understanding of this broad but highly relevant topic.

Closely connected are processes decentralization an democratization. While electoral democracy has proven successful and civil society has gained in strength, Indonesian politics still display high levels of corruption and marked inequalities in power.  Also the assumption that more democratic accountability would lead to more effective governance has proven to be questionable. In this new political environment a key challenge for research as well as policy making is the role of informal, personal exchanges in shaping governance outcomes. The systemic, entrenched nature of informal practices calls for fresh thinking on the workings and forms of informal governance. What informal institutions are at play, and how do they interact with formal institutions to shape governance outcomes? How does this interaction shape democratic accountability?

Likewise in the field of law, there has been a strong move towards rule of law, furthering access to justice for the poor and vulnerable, an increased emphasis on realising (human) rights, and growing attention for physical and social security of citizens. On the other we see clientelistic governance practices, serious problems in the functioning of the judiciary, power politics overriding legal rights, and continuing problems of access to justice. The resilience of Indonesia’s new ‘guardian institutions’ – such as the National Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman and the Anti-Corruption Commission – is an important test for the promise of such institutions generally. Which factors determine whether they succeed or fail? The same goes for judicial reform: what have been its effects so far?  Research on justice, human rights and security is required to provide answers to such questions. This research is necessarily contextual, but the results contribute to wider debates about the functioning of the rule of law. Better knowledge on the functioning of the rule of law is a precondition for effective intervention. Access to justice can never be promoted when we do not know why citizens do not seek justice or how they are frustrated in their attempts to do so. In short, such research is a requirement for improving justice, rights and security.

Governance, politics and law provide frameworks for societal processes. A key theme in rapidly changing societies concerns questions of belonging. Social and spatial mobility facilitated by economic change, new modes of transport and (digital) communication raise fundamental questions about one’s place and position in society and social connectedness with others. The changing role of the family, new religious affiliations, and the impact of digital media are important themes that need to be investigated in order to understand societal change.

The fields of investigation identified in the upper part of the circle are closely intertwined with other themes: issues of  health care, food security and changes in the economic infrastructure of Indonesia. Similarly governance relates to processes of climate change, which in its turn fundamentally affects all the other themes.

The key question then is: How can Indonesia cope with the major challenge of the 21st century: getting governance in place to face climate change and make a turn towards a circular economy in order to preserve a resilient society? Only an interdisciplinary approach, in which experts from different field join forces, is able to provide the much needed answers.

Quadrant: HEALTH

Health and Quality of Life are key enablers of a resilient society. The UN Sustainable Development Goals rightly place great emphasis on them as healthy and productive people are both crucial agents of change in society as well as objects of change through education and recipients of change through the endowment of enabling rights and contextual circumstances (sustainable clean environment, food, water and energy, human and legal rights, etc.)

The merits of scientific cooperation in the field of health does note merely lie in its desired and expected health outcomes. Scientifically, the specific nature and the expected development of patterns of disease in both countries present opportunities for study at the cutting edge of infectious and other diseases. Changing societal and political circumstances also provide a fruitful case study to create insight in realizing sustainable, affordable health care systems.

This theme is divided in ‘ health specific’; the organization of health (‘health systems’); and an essential outcome measure(‘quality of life’). The research of concepts, determinants and outcomes in different physical and social environments and the cross-cultural interaction between scientists, students and stakeholders will enrich both science and education.

Health specific. The Netherlands and Indonesia suffer both from the increase of patients with cancer, heart disease, influenza and diabetes. A young population demands for improving sexual and reproductive health, including HIV prevention and treatment. Tuberculosis and malaria should still be controlled. The burden of these diseases not only implies large losses in term of quality of life but also in terms of economic prosperity. This suggests to focus health research in Indonesia on vaccine development, better prevention and treatment (including traditional medicine) and better diagnostics for humans and animal infectious diseases. A cooperation of scientists, physicians and nurses in hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and local governments can produce large societal and economic benefits for both countries.

Health Systems

For an access to health care for everyone, Indonesia has embarked on the path to National Health Insurance (JKN) in 2014 and its objective is to reach universal coverage by 2019. An optimal package of services, clarity on how to finance this, and quality assurance are issues to be researched and addressed, in particular in the areas where a poor population has to find proper access to health care. The Indonesian and Dutch authorities as well as insurance companies will get benefit from the solutions that come out of the research, not the least for the medical care of the migrants.

Quality of Life

The utmost goal of governments, institutions and individuals is to increase Quality of life (QoL) , which can be defined as the general well-being of individuals and societies, and which encompasses the physical, psychological and social aspects of life. Studies on QoL in patients can evaluate the outcome of prevention programs and medical treatments, also in terms of its cost-effectiveness. (Health-related)QoL measures can be used by the Indonesian Food and Drug agency (BPOM-RI) for tests of medication and by the Social Security Administrative Body (BPJS) for making decisions about which treatments deserve priority in the payment system. Projects carried out by Indonesian and Dutch companies to improve the safety of water (both regarding the flood risk and sanitation) can be evaluated for their impact on QoL too.

While ‘health’ is related to each of the other themes, strong relations exist in particular present with the themes: Water, Food and Governance.

Possible stakeholders for health research are Ministeries responsible for Health, Education or Economics;  BPOM-RI; pharmaceutical companies; local governments; insurance organizations; contracting companies; academic and local hospitals, Puskesmas.

Quadrant: Climate Change, Biodiversity and Ecology

Societal interest and relevance. Indonesia is well recognized for its extreme rich nature, but foremost for its almost unique mega-biodiversity. The extremely rich and diverse animal and plant life are mostly housed by tropical rain forests and coral reefs, internationally recognized as important natural resources, and form a primary economic asset for the nation. The benefit of these resources however, is decreasing and at risk, as they are threatened by unsustainable exploitation and by man-induced climate change. Climate change acts as a global threat to nature. Impacts of climate change in terms of sea level rise, flooding, rising temperatures, changing wind patterns, increased rainfall or drought, over a longer time scale, also threaten the development of the coastal zone. Flooding by rising sealevel is a growing problem along coastal areas of the whole world. Elevated temperatures and drought in Indonesia, will trigger forest fires and cause coral mortality in a way that is beyond control and at a massive scale, thus increasing the extinction risk of reef corals, associated biota and ecosystems in Indonesia. This is most disastrous for eastern Indonesia, in the so-called Coral Triangle, the global center of maximum marine biodiversity. A major cause for concern is that a significant portion of species remains unknown. This unrecognized species diversity impedes our understanding of major features of ecosystem functioning and the resilience of communities to climate change.

On a shorter time scale, but with similar devastating effects on biodiversity and ecology, land use changes and deltaic development of and in the coastal zone, (such as increase of the deltaic urban and rural population, social disruption, intensification of traffic and introduction of industry) threaten the presence, distribution and health of coastal terrestrial and marine ecosystems (forests, mangroves and seagrass meadows, coral reefs), and reduce the biodiversity and the ecosystem services provided by these under pristine conditions. The associated loss in productivity and biodiversity will put coastal communities at risk, and jeopardize the socio-economic structure of coastal communities. It also will decrease the natural functioning of the coastal zone ecosystems for coastal protection and fisheries.

Scientific challenges. It is critical to enhance our documentation of the structuring of natural populations and species assemblages. A major challenge is to understand and predict how marine and terrestrial populations will respond to the environmental perturbations caused by anthropogenic activities and climate change, both in the terrestrial and marine realm. The responses of populations can be used to study how migration and gene flow correspond with environmental gradients, which may predict how species respond and adapt under different climate change scenarios. Hence, there is a need for research to further establish the yet partially unknown biodiversity of Indonesia,

High-intensity, rare events and calamities, such as cyclones and tsunamis, cause significant disturbances to (parts of) Indonesian coastal areas. Several distinct timescales of oceanic and atmospheric phenomena have to be taken into account (e.g., less than monthly, intra-seasonal, seasonal, inter-annual, decadal, and inter-decadal scales) to define man- and climate-induced changes of hydrodynamic and oceanographic conditions, morphodynamic developments and vulnerability of the coastal zone. Detailed fundamental studies and regional and local seabed data defining morphology, hydrological, hydrodynamic ecological and oceanographic parameters that can be used to assess coastal zone management strategies are needed to model and predict effects of present and future changes in relation to ecosystem restoration and preservation, and for coastal protection. A combined approach may yield new, sustainable opportunities.

Linkages. Climate change, inherent leading to rising temperatures and sea level, degrading biodiversity and loss of ecosystem processes will directly affect water quality, quantity and availability. This relates directly to development of resources for food security (agriculture and rural development, green economy) and their use, as well as to health issues (QoL). Coastal and delta development (land use change) associated with increase in population, transport and shipping (migration and mobility), and offshore mining and energy expansion, influences fisheries and tourism (blue economy). Governance is important since it deals with mitigation measures and their implementation.
Quadrant: Food, Water, Energy

Main drivers

The main drivers for water, food, and energy are climate change, urbanization and population growth. Climate change has an impact on water in the sense that more extreme events are due to occur and thus more and heavier floods as well as more droughts which has impact on sanitation. Renewable energy is the key to combating climate change while drought has a direct link with food security. Urbanization and population growth that go hand in hand which has an adverse effect on vulnerability.

At present, over 65 million people are leaving the countryside each year, moving to the cities. It is predicted that in 2035 nearly 70% of the population will live in urban areas. With increased population come resource challenges, issues of sustainability and frequent infrastructure changes to manage the rapid growth. This implies that more people are vulnerable to natural hazards of which flooding is the major one in urban areas.

The most frequent and severest hazard in urban areas is flooding, also because many mega cities have no precautions for the anticipation of floods. Drought is the second most frequent hazard, followed by cyclones and earthquakes. As a by-product according to UN Habitat urban populations are overall associated with unequal distribution of health threats. The impact on urban society of such hazards is increasing as vulnerability (“the characteristics of a person or group and their situation that influences their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist, and recover from the impact of a natural hazard.”) is increasing with more people occupying the cities. Sources of increased vulnerability are diverse, but the most important factors that affect vulnerability include population growth and distribution and social diversity. The social and economic characteristics of a group may limit its members’ abilities to protect themselves from harm, but the culture of social groups also plays an important role. In this respect poverty is an important factor and also an important fact of life with the exponential growth of cities.

  1. Food Theme: Agriculture and Rural Development; Food production and food security have become a key priority in Indonesian politics. Agriculture and agricultural development has reemerged as an important political theme and a major concern of the Indonesian government. Main themes are:
  2. Food production, innovation, mechanization and sustainability;
  3. Security, risk, conflict and resilience (in a context of global warming, climate change, and unstable global commodity chains);
  4. Agrarian transformations (the need for understanding historical, political and contemporary processes of social, economic, cultural, and demographic change).


Ad. 1. Food Theme: Nutrition and Food; While food security improves rapidly in many middle-income countries, half of all households in Indonesia remain vulnerable, and 70% of the poor live in rural areas. The vulnerability is aggravated by the effects of climate change. The pathways into and out of poverty have changed and problems of vulnerability and food insecurity are increasing. Novel and integrated forms of inquiry, focused on understanding the vulnerability of rural communities in transitional environments in Indonesia are needed to make policies more effective in fighting food insecurity.

Ad. 2. Water Under the theme water two areas have been identified: floods/droughts and sanitary engineering. In recent years, many flood related hazards occurred in Indonesia which have resulted in a lot of fatalities and economic and social damage. These flood events have been partly caused by large-scale land use changes (deforestation and urbanization) and aggravated by climate change. At the same time, droughts are increasingly a problem in many parts of Indonesia and affecting the water availability for agriculture and other purposes (drinking water, industry). Sanitary Engineering (drinking water treatment; waste water treatment and sewerage) is an important way to prevent the spread of human water borne diseases. In Indonesia there is a constant struggle to keep the infrastructure in line with the demand of the growing population in the cities.

Ad. 3. Energy Theme: (renewable) energy; Transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is one of the biggest challenges and game changers for the coming decades both in the Netherlands as well as in Indonesia. Until now, both countries succeeded in doing the easiest few percent, thus there is a long way to go to come to an energy mix which is favorable for CO2 emission and climate change. Main themes are:

  1. geothermal (earth generated heat) energy
  2. bioenergy
  3. offshore (maritime) energy.

Ad. 4. Cross-cutting Theme: Migration/Mobility; Migration can be brought under (but not limited to) a number of sub-themes:

  1. The political construction of borders and boundaries linked to nation-states, which shape the nature of human mobility.
  2. The economic dimension, since migration and mobility also brings into focus the question of labor markets, employment policies and the division of labor.
  3. The social and spatial expression of cultural cleavage may be reflected in the residential segregation and also public spaces of separate groups at regional, local and urban- rural levels.

 Synergies with other themes

  • Food and nutrition with: health, green economy, rural development, climate change, governance
  • Water with: Agriculture and Rural Development, Climate Change, Biodiversity, Ecology, Governance, Nutrition and Food, Urbanization Smart Cities, health, green economy.
  • Agriculture with: Climate change, governance, mobility and rural-urban connections, food security, economic development and green economy, sustainability and energy, health
  • Energy with: climate change, bio based economy, blue economy, biodiversity, health, coastal zone management.
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