The inaugural Australia Indonesia Science Symposium (AISS) was held over four days in Canberra late last year at the Shine Dome, home of the Australian Academy of Science (AAS). The symposium was a collaboration between the AAS, the Indonesian Academy of Science (AIPI), the Australian Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum, and the Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences (ALMI). It was supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Knowledge Sector Initiative. Members of AIYA ACT attended this exciting new event.

The first and final days of the symposium were open to the public, while the remaining two were private events held specifically for Australian and Indonesian scientists to discuss and collaborate on joint projects and funding opportunities. They comprised three parallel but connected workshops centred around the three specific scientific areas important to both Indonesia and Australia: marine science and climate change, health, and agriculture.

AISS aims

There are already a number of joint science projects between Australia and Indonesia which the symposium aimed to build upon. For example, CSIRO and its Indonesian counterparts have collaborated on research on agriculture, fisheries and forestry for over 40 years. Further, there are currently over 250 partnerships between Indonesian and Australian universities, some of which have been running for over 20 years.

The symposium was developed to enhance scientific cooperation and exchange, and strengthen people-to-people links between the two countries. While research collaboration is one aspect of the relationship, ultimately the research needs to be translated into policy in both countries. One of the aims of AISS was to influence government policy and the public of both countries.

Another aim was to enhance scientific collaboration between the countries through people-to-people links. Dr Nikola Bowden, Chair of the Australian Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum, noted she had learnt more about Indonesian culture and society in the past two days than she had ever before. Through these connections, one of the most unexpected things she discovered was that Australian medical research could benefit greatly from Indonesia. As research conducted in Australia is limited to its small population, conducting research in – and in collaboration with – Indonesia would be enhanced as a result of its significant population, while also benefitting communities on a much larger scale.

AISS outcomes  

On the final day, Diastika Rahwidiati, Chief Technical Adviser of Pulse Lab Jakarta, moderated a session on ‘Big data and disruptive technologies’. Through the lens of big data, outcomes of the previous two days were discussed. Most of the ideas involved adopting Australian ideas or technology to improve Indonesian systems.

  • Agriculture and Big Data

The sessions on agriculture looked at combining crowd-sourced ground data (such as data from Indonesian farmers) and data from satellites and drones to monitor disease and trade dynamics. Technology is already used for the monitoring and prediction of rice crop outcomes, so this could be extended to other Indonesian crops. One idea was to use automated image processing for image recognition and classification of hybrid varieties of rice.

Another proposed tool was to use community volunteers, with monetary incentives, to take pictures of commodity prices in local Indonesian markets. By using picture recognition technology, suppliers, farmers and consumers would be better informed about commodity prices which would encourage price stability.

  • Health and Big Data

Big data technologies can also be used for health. For example, social networking analysis of infectious diseases could be used to monitor Indonesian households with tuberculosis and who they’re in contact with.

Another proposal was to redesign the registration process to monitor infectious diseases. In Indonesia, the current registration process is unnecessarily complex and discourages people from completing the required forms. However, by embracing big data technologies, the Indonesian government could benefit from an increase in information which would translate into better policies.

Finally, technology could be used to track diseases with the use of mobility data. By notifying Indonesian provinces and other countries of relevant infectious disease risk factors, this would enable areas to better prepare for such outbreaks.

  • Marine Science, Climate Change and Big Data

Marine science and climate change research would also benefit from big data. For example, to record the health of marine ecosystems in Indonesia, a crowdsourcing idea was proposed where fishermen could take selfies with fish they’ve caught. This would record the species, size and quantity of the fish and measure the impact of fishing in that area. A Tasmanian scientist in the AISS audience noted that Redmap, or Range Extension Database and Mapping Project, is already being harnessed in Tasmania. It uses pictures from members of the public to log changes in marine habitat, which is especially useful for gauging the impacts of climate change. It is possible Indonesia could use similar strategies to monitor small-scale fishing.

Ecosystem tagging was also proposed. Instead of tagging a single species to monitor its geographical location, ecosystem tagging will measure all species within one specific marine area. This would be a more holistic and systematic approach to monitoring the effects of climate change on the entire marine environment.

One of the biggest problems voiced by the scientists at the symposium was the translation of evidence into policy. Rahwidiati noted that big data can be a useful tool in advocating for this translation as it can complement ‘ground truth data’ (for example socio-economic surveys), and is good for identifying the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ of certain community issues. However, for the use of big data to be effective, it must be used in conjunction with a deeper analytical approach to perform the ‘why’ analysis.

What’s next?

Allaster Cox, the First Assistant Secretary of the South-East Asia Maritime Division, DFAT, commented that the AISS is a valuable mechanism to identify the priorities between the two countries, establish more connections between Australia and Indonesia and the implementation of these new ideas at the next stage.

Dr Leonardo Adypurnama Alias Teguh Sambodo, Director of Industry, Tourism and Creative Economy, in the Ministry of National Development and Planning, noted the significant amount of collaboration between Australia and Indonesia, without government intervention. Thus, while both governments should continue to pursue joint projects, non-government collaboration should also be allowed to flourish.

Panellists in the Conversation Wrap-up Session. From left, Dr Nikola Bowden, Professor Jamaluddin Jompa, Dr Leonardo Adypurnama Alias Teguh Sambado, Allaster Cox, Professor Andrew Holmes and Professor Sangot Marzuki with Prodita Sabarni as moderator. Photo: Sophie Hewitt

The AISS was a fantastic and high-quality symposium, and especially impressive considering it was the first of its kind. There is interest not just to continue these symposiums in the future, but to increase their size. Of course, the most important aspect of the conference is to be able to translate scientific evidence into bilateral policy. While both Indonesian and Australian institutions are aware of these challenges, the fact that the senior ministers of both countries, including Indonesia’s Ambassador to Australia, were present at the event is a good indication both governments will be proactive in implementing and encouraging the AISS outcomes in the future.

For more information about AISS, head over to the website.