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A billion Rupiah to spend: RCA explores village leadership in Indonesia

Reality Check Approach (RCA) is an internationally recognised qualitative research approach. Staying in the homes of study participants for several days and nights, RCA researchers use this opportunity to ‘hang out’ and interact informally. By triangulating the rich perspectives and realities of multiple stakeholders, RCA can help improve policies and the targeting and design of services for the poor and marginalised. Since 2010, Palladium has promoted the use of RCA in Indonesia and conducted a number of studies including for DFAT, the World Bank, BAPPENAS, and Indonesia’s National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (TNP2K).

Indonesian Village Law: leadership and accountability
The enactment of Indonesia’s Village Law No.6/2014 has become a widely discussed topic amongst key governance and development actors at both the national and local level. The new Law aims to make village leadership more accountable to the community they serve, authorising direct election of a village head by the villagers, and better enabling community participation in village level development planning and decision making. In realising these outcomes, each village will soon be granted up to 1.4 billion rupiah dana desa/village fund (slightly more than 100,000 US dollar) to be directly transferred into the village’s bank account and autonomously managed by village leadership.

The first year of the Law’s implementation came to an end in 2015. At this time, an RCA study was commissioned to unpack insights of village officials and villagers on their experiences and perceptions towards village leadership and decision making, as well as daily village life over the past year. The study took place in eight locations across five provinces in Indonesia. Study location criteria included gender balance in village leadership and the Village Development Index. The Index classifies villages into categories of ‘backward’, ‘developing’ and ‘self-supporting’ based on an assessment of five key areas: basic services, infrastructure condition, accessibility and transport, other public services, and governance.

Indonesia’s new Village Law No.6/2014 aims to make village leadership more accountable to the community they serve

RCA findings on the ground
RCA findings across the study locations reflect general community discontent with new Village Law changes. Participating in the study within six months of the first dana desa disbursement period, village officials and their family members described the increased responsibility and burdens attached to the new Law as highly stressful for family life.

We just do not understand how the departments in central government work. We have been requested to update data every month and every year but none of the programmes seem to be based on the data that we sent.” - Indonesian Village Head.

Although villagers expect the Village Head to remain approachable, they confided that this does not always happen, especially since Law implementation has required village leadership to spend more time away from the community. As a result, community engagement is then devolved to the sub-village heads, who in turn find themselves burdened with solving local problems and mediating local complaints.

While the new Law has presented challenges for villagers and their leaders, there is also potential for positive impact. RCA insights indicate the Law’s progressive influence on equitable village decision making, given its potential to enable the current preferences of two distinct community groups. The first group, youth aged 16-25 years, shared their preference for village leadership attributes of openness, honesty and impartiality. This represents a shift away from elections based on family ties. In the case of the second generational group, the traditional elite, they have become less inclined to take on leadership positions due to the increased pressure on upward accountability, particularly over the use of funds. As uncovered by RCA, this situation presents potential for harnessing the aspiration of younger villagers, welcoming their participation in village decision making.

A final key finding uncovered across study locations was the uncertainty and confusion over funding sources and purchase processes. Village leaders felt additional pressure from being held accountable over the spending of dana desa. As a result, physical infrastructure was perceived to be the least controversial purchase option due to two key reasons: it can always be justified as a public good and is verifiable as well as visible. This spending pattern creates a mismatch between what is being prioritised and what is actually needed in many villages.

Law implementation has required village leadership to spend more time away from the community

Responding to challenges
RCA findings on the ground present key suggestions for stakeholders and policy makers. Given the high level of stress village officials have experienced in dealing with the demands of the new Law, further support is required to:

  • Clarify the big picture of the Law’s intentions by application of change management principles, so that village officials can visualise the future.
  • Rationalise requirements from different government agencies for village information so that village officials can maintain an up-to-date single dataset, rather than responding to ad hoc individual requests which are time consuming.
  • Improve the formal and informal networks of support so that there is ready access to simple clear information, e.g. online FAQ list, mobile app messaging.

Following the presentation of RCA findings to relevant government departments and study commissioners, identified challenges for village officials are now being responded to. A plan is currently under development to address concerns and challenges through new Village Law training materials provided for the Village Head, Village Secretary and Village Treasurer. The training materials will be presented with a more ‘humanistic’ touch, recognising the personal and family challenges village officials face due to the new administrative requirements.

RCA will hold a ‘Meet the RCA’ event on 9 May 2016, followed by RCA International Practitioners Conference on 10 – 13 May. To read more about RCA past and present studies, RCA Community of Practice, and contributions to evidence based policy, click here.