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Ahmad Erani Yustika became the youngest Director General in the Joko Widodo administration through his position as the Director General of the Development and Empowerment of Village People of the Ministry of Village, Development of Disadvantaged Regions, and Transmigration of the Republic of Indonesia.
Knowledge Sector Interview29-11-2016

KSI Interview Series: Ahmad Erani Yustika: Village People as Development Subjects

Ahmad Erani Yustika became the youngest Director General in the Joko Widodo administration through his position as the Director General of the Development and Empowerment of Village People of the Ministry of Village, Development of Disadvantaged Regions, and Transmigration of the Republic of Indonesia. Born in Ponorogo in 1973, he received the title of professor at the age of 37 and has published more than 500 articles in various mass media and national and international journals. Erani hopes that by being a bureaucrat, he will be able to realise his ideas about villages.

You became a professor at a very young age. What was your reason for leaving the academic world and entering the bureaucracy?

I did not leave the academic world. I am still conducting research with a different intensity: reviewing research, writing books and conveying ideas in seminars. As for the reason for entering bureaucracy, I felt that executing ideas required a more authoritative instrument. Therefore, fully aware of my choice, I temporarily entered this world without straying too far from the academic world that I have always been involved in. It is true that while being an academic, I could influence policy. However, there are myriad variables in influencing policy. Academics with multiple colours, entrepreneurs and strategic groups all have their own interests. Thus, not all of what is being said by academics can be accommodated. It is different with the position as Director General, where I have the authority to design regulations. 

What is the influence of the epistemic community on you?

Significantly large. In the campus world, I work with non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations, in addition to interacting with policy makers at the legislative and executive level, as it relates to my position as an economic expert. This is a huge foundation for supporting activities in this Directorate General, first in drafting regulations, second in designing and executing programs, and third in overseeing and evaluating programs. We consider the epistemic community a part of all the resources we have. 

What is the position of epistemic communities within the bureaucratic structure?

Some are integrated within the internal structure, some are outside. We maintain intensive communication with external epistemic communities, for example in the shape of forums and memoranda of understanding with non-governmental organisations or universities. We also use research to select village mentors, conduct training for village mentors and oversee programs. By doing these, we can oversee these significantly large and strategic programs together.

How do you translate evidence-based policy into making regulations?

I tend to take an open lane to making concepts and regulations. The process is through dissemination. We invite all parties relevant to the object of the regulation to provide inputs. The technocratic basis must be given a deserving portion in policy formulation. That is our way to ensure that regulations are really tailored to the needs on the ground, making them executable. Thankfully, of all the regulations we have made to date, there are almost no problems in the field and people can accept them. However, we feel that revision or improvement of regulations must be done on an ongoing basis, because changes in the field and aspirations for progress occur all the time.

What is knowledge management like in your place of work?

We conduct knowledge management in two ways. First, internally, we hold routine discussions by inviting experts who can provide knowledge related to our duties. We have always wanted to build an academic atmosphere in bureaucracy, not only for the administrative routine, but also for the ideas. This needs to be the main part. Making regulations does not only concern aspects related to technocratic and political issues, but also substantive aspects. The latter can only be achieved when our friends at the bureaucratic level have that academic substance. This is why we always try to develop an academic atmosphere in bureaucracy. Second, we try to involve external organisations and institutions with good reputations by asking them to review our studies. We are also involved in activities with groups serving as sources of knowledge, for example with groups working in food sovereignty, mainstreaming gender, fiscal strengthening for poor village people, and so on. We embrace these experts through various activities.

How does your experience on campus influence your leadership style?

One of the things that I want to demonstrate is that we at the bureaucratic level have public responsibility. I still write, although not as intensively as before, as my main job is no longer conveying ideas in the public space. However, I still write to make the public understand. I think it is part of the bureaucratic responsibility to disseminate regulations, though not many echelons do this. From this public communication we can absorb many critical ideas to improve regulations. I think my academic background is very influential because it can allow other people to see things in an objective way. 

From my own view, evidence-based policy is a part of our main task, for example through the development of the village data centre. One of the first things we did was to make the Village Development Index to objectively and technocratically map the quality of development in every village in Indonesia – which consists of more than 74,000 villages. We used an academic approach. Our goal is not only that the policy be accepted by most parties, but that it is also academically supplied with sufficient supporting knowledge and data. We keep encouraging this to become a tradition when making regulations, developing programs and conducting advocacy for all of our activities implemented in the field.

How do you place the village people in the context of development?

We are strongly committed to the Village Law making its way to the field. Village people are not just constituents who are given information on choices they must take, but they are living subjects free to design and decide their own future. We have repeatedly mentioned to village people that discussions in various forms and intensity must become the basis for decision making in the village, and village people must have full sovereignty to make decisions. We hope they participate in village movements and development initiatives in a broader sense, that they do not just stop at designing and making decisions for development program options, but they are active participants from the beginning to the end. This is what we keep encouraging. We regard them as individuals or citizens with many excellent qualities. All this time we have viewed village people as communities lacking in many dimensions, but we want to ensure that they are communities with many positive sides. These positive aspects must be promoted; this potential must be mobilised and revitalised in the village so that we can achieve dreams in the field. 

We do not want to dictate because we want village people to live their lives based on their own aspirations and thought frameworks. We do not feel that we are more knowledgeable than them, thus every regulation must be supported by adequate forums so that they can provide inputs for aspects that should guide their lives. This is so that we do not repeat past ‘mistakes’ that considered bureaucrats, academics, or anyone outside of the village more knowledgeable on what should be done in the field. Village people understand more. They can speak up and convey their aspirations. We have to position ourselves as the listener. 

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