Public participation, deliberative democracy – online

What’s the best way to affirm people’s rights? At the local level while using technology.

Public participation, deliberative democracy – online AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo

In Indonesia’s post-reform era, development is no longer the monopoly of the state. Gradually, communities began to involve themselves in the development process. The public does not want to simply fulfill the decisions of a ruling elite. Indonesia has a dark memory of centrally designed development, where policy and programs were not based on the real needs of the people.

During the New Order regime of President Soeharto, a channel for community involvement was built, but it was contaminated by the bias of the regime’s interests and power. In contrast to the topdown approach to development during the New Order, planning is now regulated by Law Number 25 of 2004 concerning the National Development Planning System and its implementing regulations, which have introduced a combination of top-down and bottom-up planning that is more aspirational and participatory (Yunas, 2017).

One of the important steps in the planning stage is the development planning meeting (known as musrenbang), which is the beginning of all development processes. A local government will organize a musrenbang to discuss and organize the regional development plans for the next year. During the New Order, musrenbang was just a formality. Now the musrenbang can be a valuable opportunity for communities to learn to care for and maintain our democracy.

These development planning meetings are held at all levels of regional government, from the village/ subdistrict level to the district or city and provincial levels. Law Number 25 of 2004 mandates five approaches to development planning, namely, political, participatory, technocratic, bottom-up and top down.

The process of musrenbang has also undergone renewal. In the era of information technology, the musrenbang process in several regions in Indonesia is being strengthened by the e-musrenbang system. E-musrenbang is part of the e-government push and takes the form of a website that supports the planning synergies between the central government in the capital, Jakarta, and local governments in the preparation of government work plans. The Jakarta provincial government has been at the forefront of the e-musrenbang evolution. It began holding e-musrenbangs in 2015, with the goal of minimizing budget deviations and non-priority programs. This is worthwhile innovation and an important step by the government to emphasize Indonesia’s democratic process in planning and implementing development, so governance is more controlled, responsible and transparent.

E-musrenbang increasingly opens and expands aspirational space for communities. This greater participation space can encourage collective action, making the voices of communities more audible and able to influence the decisions of government institutions (Teguh, 2004). This collective action then
becomes a driving modality to strengthen participation. The e-musrenbang itself is applied to formulate regional development plans that are often referred to as Local Government Work Plans (RKPD).

Legally, musrenbang is a participatory planning mechanism guaranteed by legislation that mandates 30 percent of regional budget revenues and expenditures be used to accommodate musrenbang and recess proposals (Rafnialdi, 2017). In this case, aspirations originating from e-musrenbang are part of the manifestation of this mandate.

The community in Jakarta has responded positively to e-musrenbang. The e-musrenbang in Jakarta allows the community to submit proposals directly, so everyone can channel their aspirations and have the opportunity to get a portion of the budget in the RKPD. But, of course, the proposed numbers in the e-musrenbang portal need to be explored further in the paradigm of deliberative democracy.

Public aspirations must be in the framework of meeting the real needs of the community, not just the local government elite or external parties outside the local community. Therefore, the quality of

communication in these meetings needs to be viewed more critically. It would be helpful if the e-musrenbang platform transformed into a kind of open public space, to encourage the active participation of the community in carrying out more emancipatory development.

On this occasion, this author will conduct a critical study of the practice of e-musrenbang from the perspective of public participation and the empirical process of deliberative democracy in the implementation of e-musrenbang in general within the Jakarta provincial government. This is important to understand the reality of e-musrenbang practices in the field.

Traces of participation

The internet is able to connect local government communications with other agencies, and e-musrenbang can facilitate community communication and participation in development planning (Muldi, 2018).

E-musrenbang is a musrenbang activity documented through the Jakarta government’s website, creating a communication space for the wider community to propose ideas and aspirations regarding the preparation of the RKPD (Muldi, 2018). Jakarta was the first provincial government to initiate e-musrenbang, in 2015. This should be seen and appreciated as a commitment to open government. An important factor in the development and embrace of open government is the increased awareness of the people’s right to obtain information.

Therefore, the government must manage and publish data and information to meet the needs of the community (Retnowati, Manongga and Sunarto, 2018). Open government has the goal of exploring new ways and models to manage government and solve problems (Andhika, 2017). Open government is expected to improve the quality of democracy and meet the real needs of society.

Stiglitz (2002) explains that participation is important in influencing changes related to development transformation. Optimistically, Stiglitz sees that if individuals express aspirations that lead to change, perhaps opinions will be more easily accepted, making the process of participation more effective toward the transformation of broad community development. E-musrenbang opens space for citizens to express their opinions. From the results of field observations, increased community participation in e-musrenbang in Jakarta is due to the ease found by the community in preparing proposals and the convenience for local government administrators to verify proposals.

E-musrenbang is a development communication network system that can be accessed by the public quickly, cheaply and effectively. Its presence is able to encourage the community to be more active in the musrenbang forum. This can be seen from the traffic on the e-musrenbang website. In addition to displaying the results and the musrenbang process at the village, subdistrict, city, district and provincial levels, musrenbang.jakarta.go.id gives people who may not otherwise be involved in the musrenbang process the opportunity to contribute to development proposals. The proposal delivery step was designed to be easy and friendly for visitors. In addition, proposal makers can monitor the processing of their proposals by the system. This is one of the advantages of e-musrenbang, which is designed to reduce the bureaucracy of traditional development programs.

Open, deliberative democracy

The e-musrenbang innovation has succeeded in increasing public participation. This is an important achievement in the process of community development. This means that public trust has also increased in the system organized by the government. Public trust is an important and fundamental element to legitimate public administration, and without public trust, many policies will face serious problems (Hamudy, 2010; Mardiyanta, 2013). There is hope that the musrenbang does not become a formality arena. Therefore, it is necessary to look deeper into the communication process that is interwoven in musrenbang and e-musrenbang in a deliberative democratic way.

Deliberative democracy prioritizes decision-making procedures that emphasize deliberation and th exploration of problems through equal dialogue and the exchange of experience between stakeholders and the community. The goal is to reach consensus through deliberations based on the results of discussions that have taken into account various predetermined criteria (Aprilia and Kismartini, 2016). Citizen engagement is the core of deliberative democracy. It is important to measure the implementation of e-musrenbang using three fundamentalcriteria of the deliberative democratic process: inclusion, deliberation and influence (Carson, 2009; Ganuza and Frances, 2012; Karpowitz and Raphael, 2016; Aprilia and Kismartini, 2016).

Inclusion is met if the implementation of the musrenbang involves participants who represent all community needs. The practice of musrenbang and e-musrenbang in Jakarta has basically sought to encourage various community groups. This has been successful, as judged by the increase in participation rates. However, the implementation of musrenbang and e-musrenbang is still biased toward the urban middle class. Carson (2009) explains that the decision-making process is said to be representative if the process involves a variety of groups that are brought together through random selection so that they are able to reflect various perspectives of the community. From this diversity of perspectives, it is possible to produce the best decisions.

The musrenbang forum has not seriously involved disempowered and vulnerable groups such as the poor, persons with disabilities or displaced victims. This is largely because of the belief that the parties already present in the musrenbang process will indirectly represent these groups. Of course, this reflects that the musrenbang is not truly inclusive (Karpowitz and Raphael, 2016).

E-musrenbang provides an opportunity to increase accessibility. As mentioned earlier, citizens can submit development proposals online. This means that people who feel that their voices are not represented can contribute to proposals. But we cannot be naïve; the ideal process is not easy. E-musrenbang still has limitations because the communication feedback that occurs online is delayed feedback. The Jakarta government’s e-musrenbang has not provided a channel or forum specifically for real-time online discussions with all stakeholders. There is still work to do to improve inclusion in the consultation process.

Next is the deliberation aspect. There are two important keys to fulfilling this, namely access to information and providing open dialogue (Carson, 2009). Basically, through the realization of open government, the Jakarta provincial government has conveyed access to accurate and reliable information through various media. However, technical problems sometimes arise such as the delivery of meeting invitations in a tight timeline, so the forum has not been able to do away with all problems.

There is still work to do in order to optimize inclusion and fully implement open dialogue. Discussion in the forum is still biased toward the issues of the urban middle class, thus denying the narratives of marginal groups. The e-musrenbang communication infrastructure has been successful in encouraging bottom-up communication in development planning, but the e-musrenbang portal has not yet been transformed into a public sphere.

There is also the aspect of influence, meaning that the aspirations and voices of the community in the musrenbang process should be able to influence the policies that will be produced. A process is said to be influential if it is able to make all participants influence one another, and the rational arguments of the participants can influence policymakers (Carson, 2009). The e-musrenbang process in Jakarta provides

an opportunity for the community to oversee agreed proposals by directly monitoring them online. However, this opportunity is still limited, because the e-musrenbang channel has not provided a specific realtime discussion forum capable of involving numerous stakeholders. If such a forum were available, the community could actively ask questions directly through the channel, so there would be no need to go to village or district government offices. If there are proposals that are not processed, then the dialogue remains open until a new consensus is created.

Facing the 4.0 industrial revolution, the government needs to be adaptive and accommodate the spirit of the times. The public gradually must be ready to face the digital era. Therefore, designing a development planning process with online communication is a policy necessity.

E-musrenbang in Jakarta still has shortcomings, but its success in increasing community participation is its own achievement. The next job (and will be a long process) is increasing the participation of vulnerable and marginal groups and making sure their voices also are heard.

E-musrenbang is an important innovation that is worth continuing. Basically, e-musrenbang is a public sphere in the form of dialogue and deliberation, involving all stakeholders in the online platform. E-musrenbang strengthens and even fills the gaps in the face-to-face democracy process.

In the everyday language of Indonesian society, deliberative democracy is known as consensus agreement (Faedlulloh, 2015). The practice of e-musrenbang also needs to be the anchor of the consensus agreement Through the consensus agreement, public spirit is maintained – with a note that the processes for implementing e-musrenbang always prioritize initiatives and the direct role of the community.

The response of the community to the implementation of e-musrenbang in Jakarta has been very positive. This is indicated by increased community participation. The Jakarta provincial government has also facilitated the e-musrenbang process with a supporting role for all community units in Jakarta. Philosophically, e-musrenbang is able to maintain people’s democratic rights.

But this increased participation has not been accompanied by a strong deliberative democratic process. The aspect of inclusion in strengthening deliberative democracy needs to be expanded by attracting more voices from disempowered and vulnerable groups. This is important so that planned development is not the result of the tyranny of the majority votes. In addition, the practice of musrenbang and e-musrenbang must begin to consider development from the perspective of gender equality, proecology and sustainability. Of course, this will be a long process. However, these steps need to be taken as soon as possible. Do not let the communication that takes place during the musrenbang and e-musrenbang process be a manifestation of strategic and instrumental communication actions that bias personal interests or of local elites who manipulate public spaces.

E-musrenbang has the potential to transform the public sphere. This can be done by strengthening the space for open dialogue provided by the e-musrenbang platform, so it can fill the void of limited face-to face deliberation. Then the whole community can participate directly in proposing and discussing ideas with all stakeholders. Even though it is electronicbased, the practice of e-musrenbang must still use the consensus approach. Through consensus, public spirit is maintained, so the development that is carried out is not uprooted from the real needs of the community.



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Fetty Wiyani is a master's student at the School of Government and Public Policy Indonesia and an expert staff member with the regional planning and development board of the Jakarta provincial government.

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