3 emerging trends as Indonesian smart cities tackle COVID-19

June 3, 2020


Civil officers in Makassar, Indonesia, using GIS-based tool “ur-scape” to perform spatial analysis.

By the Future Cities Laboratory (Singapore-ETH Centre) - The COVID-19 pandemic is a defining moment in time for the entire world. How governments have reacted and responded to the crisis in its early days has directly affected the spread of the virus in each country.

Indonesia’s central government, in particular, has been facing many challenges in its response. Issues such as lack of reliable data and domain knowledge to inform decision-making; absence of legal measures to implement and monitor responses; and inefficient bureaucratic processes to mobilise relevant resources have impeded the country’s responsiveness.

As a result, many local governments (at province or city levels) have been demanding more authority in dealing with the pandemic in their respective areas, to ensure timely response. West Java Governor, Mr Ridwan Kamil, was notably vocal in this respect. This may be the reason why cities in Indonesia are increasingly turning to the existing plethora of technological solutions within their smart city landscape to help them design more targeted responses.

In fact, existing smart city governance and infrastructure have been observed to be a key factor in how Indonesia’s cities have been able to react quickly, communicate with their citizens, and build crucial tools fast. In our research project “Translating Smart City and Urban Governance”[1], the importance of governance arrangements in the success of smart cities was underlined. Governance arrangements support the implementation of smart city initiatives at large, and may include institutional supports, ad-hoc steering groups, knowledge partners, technological solutions (platforms, apps, ICT supports), and relevant policies or regulations.

Such arrangements are of great value, and beyond the current pandemic, can be potentially mobilised to address larger societal issues such as sustainability, social justice and climate change, beyond the mere context of smart cities. They equip cities with the necessary supports and tools that can be adapted and tweaked to respond to various future challenges.

We have seen how the existing smart city governance arrangements in Indonesia were mobilised to support COVID-19 responses in various sectors - most notably by:

1.     Adaptation of existing Smart City technological solutions for COVID-19 response

Some cities have been adapting their smart-city platforms for example by transforming their Command Centres into COVID-19 war rooms, such as in West Java, Jakarta, Bandung and Makassar. Previously used to monitor traffic, citizen reporting apps, and weather, these centres are currently used to visualise, monitor and analyse COVID-19 transmission locations. This is possible by leveraging their existing in-house data portal and platforms to consolidate the pandemic data.

At  the same time, the existing functionalities of citizen reporting apps, such as Lapor!, also have been tweaked to help them report, monitor, and manage COVID-19 cases. The existence of such technological infrastructures have enabled the cities to take the necessary responses quickly. 

2. Activation of alliances with existing Smart City knowledge partners

At the same time, we have also observed the emergence of more context specific responses from local government agencies in collaboration with the existing smart city partners, such as tech start-ups (Qlue, Grab, Gojek), NGOs and universities. Such initiatives might have been triggered by the lack of timely support from the central authority to deal with the crisis, as indicated in various online discourses. Those responses include the development of new apps or the tweaking of existing solutions to include new COVID-19 functionalities.

This situation reflects a potentially robust pandemic response network in Indonesian cities. In Makassar, for example, the Future Cities Laboratory, the city’s existing smart city knowledge partner, has been supporting the city to analyse their COVID-19 datasets to identify vulnerable areas along with its spatial characteristics that need special attentions. Such knowledge potentially helps them to design the necessary policies and response strategies.

It is also worth noting that the pandemic is likely to offer opportunities for many smart city actors not only to develop new solutions but also to reactivate national and international city networks, strengthen their reputations and share their expertise with their peers.



A user accesses the Pikobar application launched by the West Java administration on Friday. West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said the mobile app provided updates on COVID-19. (JP/Arya Dipa)

3.      Mobilisation of the smart city regional network

At a regional level, during the Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19 on 14th April 2020, Singapore’s Prime Minister has called for accelerated sharing of information and technology between ASEAN countries to fight COVID-19. He highlighted that the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, created to facilitate knowledge and technology transfer in the region, could become an instrument to share best practices and solutions and to support cities in their public health responses. The ASCN governance arrangement could become a central tool in the regional coordinated response to the pandemic.

Such developments suggest that the existing governance arrangements (devised for smart city initiatives) may provide support for cities to address the current pandemic, especially when they are agile enough to adapt, reinvent, create new alliances and timely respond to the given challenges. Moving forward, the sustainability of such arrangements may depend on their flexibility to adapt to the new challenges that the future will bring, such as economic instability, widening social inequalities and climate change acceleration. Needless to say, the success of such response should also be supported with an equally adaptive and flexible national institutional setup.

[1] This is a study conducted at the Future Cities Laboratory, Singapore, with the support of National Research Foundation’s Intra CREATE seed funding in 2019-2020. The case studies included Bandung, Makassar, Jakarta and Surabaya.



Author: Devisari Tunas

Devisari Tunas is an urban planner and researcher based in Singapore. She is the research leader of ‘Archipelago Cities’ at the Future Cities Laboratory (Singapore ETH Centre). She has led several Asian Development Bank and SECO funded research projects in several Indonesian cities, on the topic of smart planning and gender mainstreaming in urban planning. She was the Principal Investigator of the “Translating Smart Cities and Urban Governance in ASEAN” project. Connect with Devisari on LinkedIn HERE.



Author: Fabien Clavier

Fabien Clavier is an urban planner and researcher based in Singapore, focusing on the use of data and evidence in spatial planning. He was the project coordinator of the Big Data Informed Urban Design and Governance group at the Future Cities Laboratory (Singapore ETH Centre) where he led different research and education projects with Singapore’s government agencies.  He was the Co-Investigator of the “Translating Smart Cities and Urban Governance in ASEAN” project.  Connect with Fabien on LinkedIn HERE.