Maps, Land, Technology and Decisions – Lessons from ICTforAg

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How do you approach challenges such as those found in Indonesia, a country composed of 17,000 islands made up of wetlands, rugged terrain, rural villages, and dense cities, and has a contentious and costly boundary dispute problem?
Overlapping land claims and confusion about administrative boundaries and jurisdiction frequently lead to conflict. Land features and oral history preserved theoretical boundary information for hundreds of years, but both have proved inefficient and increasingly unworkable in the modern era.
What happens when two villages both claim the same resource? To which village does a hamlet on a vague border belong? How can a country of 83,000 villages – only 5 percent of which are formally mapped – unlock, manage, and preserve the full value of its land and natural resources?
The answers to these questions are not simply about a single country or technology however, as panelists from MCC, Abt Associates, Trimble Navigation, and IFPRI recently discussed at ICTforAg.
Not just the Technology, but the Decision and the Application
Taking a unique look at these issues that went beyond the technology, these experts examined how one applies the technology, what are the key decisions to be made, how the type of stakeholder impacts use, and other practical elements of how ICT can be used to resolve land tenure, planning, and utilization.
Key questions any practitioner must consider were identified and outlined by Jill Pike of MCC, including:

  • What is the land tenure security problem we are trying to solve?
  • Are we securing rights for the first time, or focused on rights protection and management for the long term? Are we collecting info or integrating and managing?
    • One time rights operation? High capacity core users, equipment disposed/disposable.
    • Long term administration and management? Need resources to maintain.
    • Both?
  • How much time and money do we have?
  • What are the technology-related risks? How to mitigate? How much or what kind of risk is tolerable?
  • What is the legal enabling environment for technology? Is reform needed? Feasible? How can buy-in to reform be generated, incentivized?
    • Digital signatures, survey accuracy requirements, permit UAVs for mapping

Furthermore, not all technologies are appropriate for all scenarios and requirements, so a second layer of decision-making is sometimes necessary, as was explained by William Perez of Trimble Navigation Systems and Jawoo Koo of IFPRI, with the latter taking a deeper look at LIDAR Technologies in particular.
Indonesia: Case Study for an Integrated Approach
Under the Millennium Challenge Account-Indonesia’s Participatory Mapping and Planning Projects (PMaP) 1 and 6, Abt Associates worked with more than 10,000 village representatives to map boundaries across hundreds of villages using community-based methodologies, high-tech mapping techniques, and an in-depth understanding of Indonesia’s rapidly changing legal and institutional framework.
During the design and validation phase of this work, a variety of decisions were made around technology, the participatory environment in Indonesia, the decentralized focus of the overall Compact, and the rapidly changing legal environment.
Ultimately the use of technology as a bridge which connected participatory decision making, village boundary setting and transparent, sustainable legal outcomes was critical to the success of this effort. This is true both in terms of the goals of the Projects themselves, but also longer term as local governments are now utilizing this approach themselves to resolve land use and spatial planning challenges.
Bringing Diverse Voices to the Table
PMaP’s 21-step boundary-setting process—designed by Abt in close collaboration with MCA-Indonesia and MCC—broke new ground by recognizing participation as a necessary component to solving local border conflicts.
The resolution process prioritized inclusiveness, bringing young people, marginalized groups, and women to the same table as village leaders to make decisions on village boundaries and investigate the geographic and cultural histories of their villages.
In diverse Village Participation Teams (VPTs), members negotiated village boundary segments, mediated discussions, researched village history, and used GPS and drone technology to map natural resources and determine village boundary coordinates.
PMaP trained VPT members in mapping technology, stakeholder engagement, data collection, and conflict mediation, laying the foundation for future economic and social change initiatives. In total, more than 1,100 people across Jambi, West Sulawesi, Sumatera Barat, and Nusa Tengarra Barat provinces were trained.
Looking ahead, village participation meetings will present an opportunity for village leaders—who are typically tasked with resolving boundary disputes between village members—to consult with a broad group of villagers and build relationships and forge agreements that will reduce the likelihood of future conflict. These meetings and project outcomes will ultimately help determine investment priorities for villages and the distribution of government funding.
Blending New Technology and Village Tradition
While stakeholders on the ground worked together, drones took to the sky, allowing villages to identify nearby roads and cultural and natural resources. Natural landmarks – like waterways, swamps, or forests – evolve over time, making them unreliable markers for permanent boundaries.
GPS coordinates, satellite imagery, maps, and physical boundary pillars enable leaders to establish a concrete record of their land for legal confirmation, which will lead to consistency for future generations.
As communities move from subjective, mutable record-keeping to permanent agreements, the community-based nature of the project will help ensure that cultural variables and tradition aren’t swept aside. Younger VPT members collaborated with village elders, researching village history to reach decisions mapped cultural resources and natural landmarks.
Abt’s PMaP work set a foundation for spatial certainty and sound land-related planning and investment in Indonesia. It also received buy-in from district governments, which committed to expanding village boundary-setting practices to other sub-districts.
Increased spatial certainty is enabling increased green investment—supported by MCA-Indonesia—as investors face fewer logistical challenges to working in the region. With new inter-village partnerships and mediation skills, villages across PMaP districts are equipped to negotiate and position themselves for new opportunities and growth.
Lessons and conclusions

  • A simple system is often the most appropriate solution, so don’t over-design.
  • Where simplicity is required, focus on investments that will put rights, institutions on path to better technology in the future
  • Demand matters for whatever technology enables and without a true need to use the tool, there are few incentives that can sustain a system over the long term
  • Demand needs to be matched by resources to maintain the solution.
  • Behavioral change is critical, difficult and often generational.
  • Find the right balance – use tech to drive reform in a way that will stick, don’t use ICT for its own sake.

By Peter Levine, Principal Associate, Agriculture and Food Security Practice Lead, Abt Associates
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