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Co-creation with researchers in Indonesia: ‘We welcome misunderstandings’

How do you co-create with researchers in other parts of the world? LDE wants to gather and share knowledge on the grand challenges and to do so across national borders. A delegation of 27 researchers will therefore travel to Indonesia at the end of October to take part in the LDE-BRIN Academy.

For five days, the team and their Indonesian colleagues will delve into the often complex urban problems facing our global society. LDE project coordinator Bart Barendregt is excited: ‘I’m enormously interested in the idea of co-creating across national borders. But I’m also very keen to see the concrete results of bringing together researchers of all stripes.’

‘Obviously, an anthropologist has a different understanding of concepts like sustainability and development from someone with a background in management studies. I expect there to be a lot of misunderstandings, which we as an organisation will welcome wholeheartedly. As researchers, we have much to gain from productive friction.’

The five-day academy in Jakarta is being organised by Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN: Badan Riset Dan Inovasi Nasional) and the LDE alliance (Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities). The programme includes lectures, discussions, field visits and a workshop on academic writing. Another aim of the academy is to explore potential research collaboration between the Netherlands and Indonesia.

Barendregt: During the two days of the writing workshop, we will be looking at things like how to apply the international standards for writing academic publications. This includes the basics like how to come up with a good research question and how to write your research methodology. We hope this will facilitate more cooperation with our Indonesian colleagues in the long run.’

Ethnically diverse neighbourhoods

The theme of the LDE-BRIN Academy is ‘The Smart, Sustainable and Healthy City in Post COVID-19 Indonesia’ and this has been divided into four sub-themes: the digital transition, health in the city, sustainable cities and urban diversity. All four affect the world’s megacities, Barendregt explains, so researchers of different nationalities and backgrounds will be able to learn a lot from one another.

‘In Jakarta, for example, you see a lot of ethnically diverse neighbourhoods,’ he says. ‘These have not been turned upside down by urban planners, creating ghettos, as is often the case in Europe. In Jakarta, people have learned to live together, regardless of the language they speak or the religion they adhere to. Europeans can learn a lot from these neighbourhoods.’


Thinking aloud, Barendregt considers the various opportunities for cooperation. ‘What I personally would like to do is look into how digital technology could be used to keep the government on its toes,’ he says. ‘For example, you could have community projects that use computer kits to measure air quality in different parts of the city. Then you could monitor the effects of air pollution on different social groups. Problems like these affect all the world’s megacities. How people respond depends on where they grew up. What we want is to stop talking about others and to start developing new ideas together.’

Living lab

The Jakarta metropolitan region is ideally suited as a testing ground for global urban problems. With a population of over 30 million, the Indonesian capital is Asia’s fourth largest city, after the Chinese conurbations of Guangzhou and Shanghai and Japan’s capital Tokyo. ‘Jakarta is the perfect living lab,’ says the Dean of LDE, Wim van den Doel. ‘It is one of those typical Asian metropolises that sometimes develop for the better, and sometimes for the worse.

The challenges in that growing city are enormous: sometimes there is too little water, sometimes too much, there are waste-disposal problems and millions of people from diverse backgrounds all have to live together. The government has now decided to build a completely new capital in the middle of the jungle. I fear that this new city will never become more than an artificial home for the country’s civil service. The real heart of metropolitan life will remain in Jakarta, and that’s what makes a city interesting.’

Van den Doel has been Dean of the LDE Alliance since February 2020. He is a historian and has published several books on the Dutch history of interference in Indonesia. During the LDE Indonesia trip, he will also take the opportunity to engage with partners on behalf of another collaborative LDE programme:Space for Science and Society’.

‘That programme isn’t part of the Academy programme in Jakarta,’ he explains. ‘But the idea is the same. Many people are working in the field of aerospace in Zuid-Holland, from engineers in Delft to lawyers and astronomers in Leiden and at the School of Management in Rotterdam. We want to seek international cooperation here too, for example to monitor rising sea levels or changes in vegetation cover more effectively from space. These are all issues that concern Indonesia too.’


The LDE-BRIN Academy is part of LDE Global, a programme that is still in its infancy to foster academic cooperation with the Global South. ‘We can’t solve global challenges solely from within the Netherlands,’ Van den Doel says.

‘Nor do we want to think we can figure everything out here in the Netherlands and then tell the rest of the world what they need to do.  We have to learn from one another. By organising this trip we hope to create the conditions needed to increase the chances of successful cross-border academic collaboration. We plan to repeat the Academy next year in Africa and Latin America. But for that, we first need to find the right partners.’

First step

Bart Barendregt also sees academia in Jakarta as a first step towards more international cooperation. Ideally, the project will not only lead to more interaction between universities in different countries but also force the participating researchers to look for connections with society.

‘It is easy for researchers to seek the company of their academic peers,’ Barendregt concludes. ‘Then you can hide behind the jargon. But getting together with non-specialists motivates you to learn how to translate your own academic work into practice. The friction we’re hoping for will force researchers to think about what exactly they are doing.’

Text: Hans Wetzels / LDE 
Image: Pexels

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