04 July 2014

Opinion: Systems analysis in Indonesia

Options Magazine, Summer 2014: The world’s largest archipelago and fourth most populous country, Indonesia became a member of IIASA in 2012. Professor Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto explains here the benefits to Indonesia of applying advanced systems analysis, as practiced at IIASA, to help solve the country’s challenges.



Every day, I face complex problems as head of the President’s Delivery Unit, which monitors and facilitates government progress on achieving Indonesia’s national priorities. These problems are diverse, ranging from economic competitiveness to food security. They are also immensely complex, interconnected, and international in nature. In my fast‑paced role in the Indonesian government’s cabinet, I have found systems science to be a key approach to identifying the best policies for my country. Forests, for example, being the main provider of resources for the economy, are crucial to Indonesia. To protect these resources we need to better tackle deforestation. As our oil and gas production declines, we are increasing our focus on bioenergy as a key energy resource. This leads us back to forests and to a key policy question: how to deal with the competing uses of forests?

The answer can only be found through integrated analysis of multiple sectors and objectives—social, economic, and environmental. However, such expertise in Indonesia is still weak. We have yet to witness scientifically robust policy formulation even at the highest level, namely, in terms of policy recommendations to the President. Indonesia’s membership of IIASA aims to help fill this gap through direct scientific support, as we deal with the pressing issues the country faces. For example, Indonesia is working with IIASA and its member countries, particularly Brazil, on the new IIASA Tropical Flagship Initiative, which will advance research into tropical deforestation and the development of sustainable land use options.

Equally important is improving the capacity of Indonesian researchers to conduct systems analysis by taking advantage of the academic training opportunities provided by IIASA. I’d also like to encourage global researchers to come to Indonesia; our country provides a fascinating and sophisticated laboratory for systems analysts. Social diversity, tropical rain forest biodiversity, archipelagic geography, and economic development challenges provide an abundance of issues that call out for analysis at a systems level. For instance, Indonesia is implementing many new strategies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), and we welcome experts from institutions like IIASA to help us evaluate and improve these strategies.

We also need to take systems analysis to the next level by bridging the gap between academic research and government/business decision making. For Indonesia, or indeed any country, to realize the full benefits of applying systems analysis to real world problems, this is vital. I have worked on all sides of this divide during my career. Having started as a campus decision scientist, I was tasked from 1989 to 1993 to turn around Timah, an ailing tin mining corporation in Indonesia. This led to my appointment as Minister of Mining and Energy in 1998. From 2005 to 2009 I led the US$8 billion reconstruction effort in Aceh‑Nias following the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Conflicting objectives are the key feature of the gap between academic research and policymaking. Academic research strives for the optimum solution regardless of the time it takes. Governments, however, need to deliver results in often very short timeframes. I believe that we can bridge this gap by embedding systems thinking in every scientific branch that supports government policymaking. But because of time pressures, we must realize that we will not find perfect solutions. Instead, scientists and policymakers can identify good solutions that will require refinement over time. The key is then for the government to establish flexible mechanisms to regularly refine policies using input from academic researchers and from evidence that arises from implementation of current policies. It is only in this way that we can make sure our actions are efficient, effective, and sustainable for the long term.

Text by Professor Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto

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Last edited: 21 July 2014


Indonesian National Committee for IIASA

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto

Head, Bandung Institute of Technology, School of Business and Management

Indonesian National Committee for IIASA

Yos Sunitiyoso

Director of Jakarta Campus, School of Business and Management, Bandung Institute of Technology

Options Summer 2014


International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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