Genuine cross-country collaboration underpins research projects at the Australia-Indonesia Centre
Researcher Andi Masyitha Irwan is seeking to bring about both hope and change through her work with the Australia-Indonesia Centre (AIC).
She and her team want to show that there is no shame for women in Makassar who experience family violence and there are places where they can seek support.
Dr Irwan is an assistant professor from Hasanuddin University in the city of Makassar, the same university visited by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on his first visit to Indonesia in 2022.
The team’s work is part of the Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR) which is a unique partnership model managed by the AIC with funding from universities and government.
The AIC was established by the Indonesian and Australian governments in 2013 and it brings together resources and co-investments from eleven universities and governments to examine on-the-ground challenges and find policy solutions.
More than 25 research projects, big and small, are supervised by the AIC and executive director Eugene Sebastian says this is possible due to the underlying strength of the PAIR model.
“This kind of project represents genuine partnership from the academic sector and government,” he said.
“It means there is co-investment of both funds and resources across the two countries to help solve problems facing economies and societies.”
Dr Irwan’s four-person team is working under a PAIR project that is looking at domestic violence in a region of Indonesia during the pandemic.
She envisages that the work of the four-person team will contribute to campaigns and education and help find ways to deliver the message that victims can speak up.
According to Dr Irwan a strength of the AIC model is how it brings together researchers from different disciplines.
While Dr Irwan’s background is in nursing, the others in her research group (two men and two women) include those with expertise in international relations, social sciences and public health.
“I feel that when we write our report, it will be strengthened by having people from different backgrounds and perspectives, something I find exciting,” she said.
These reports are provided to policymakers in both Indonesia and Australia, with the goal of making meaningful recommendations that can be implemented into policy.
Dr Risti Permani is a senior lecturer in agribusiness at the University of Queensland and is co-authoring a report on supply chain governance in the Indonesian seaweed industry.
The six-month project involves extensive analysis and focus group discussions. It aims to gauge the attitudes of stakeholders at the national, provincial and local levels of government, as well as industry associations and those who invest in the seaweed industry.
“We organised eight focus group discussions which is quite comprehensive for a short project like this,” Dr Permani explained.
“Not until we map all these different outcomes do we realise that there needs to be coordination between these different stakeholders.”
PAIR’s seaweed work has required junior researchers to spend extended time in South Sulawesi coastal communities, contributing to new friendships and greater understanding between communities.
Dr Permani’s research background is in agriculture, specifically in dairy and beef, which makes the study of seaweed new and stimulating.
“I find it rewarding that I can apply knowledge gained from my projects in other sectors into helping address issues in the seaweed industry,” she said.
“This is in terms of policy coordination and how we should identify policy and supply chain issues. I enjoy the learning experience and meeting new people in the industry.”
Chu Minh Hoi of the University of Western Australia is an associate fellow with PAIR, researching in the area of wellbeing and public health for young people and people with disability.
Dr Chu said the AIC’s PAIR program was “an excellent example” of a partnership between governments of different countries in conducting “evidence-based research that can be used to form new policies where the goal is to raise the living standards of the general public”.
Work with PAIR reinforced the value of patience in research.
“Insightful policy that can be used for policy recommendations cannot be done overnight,” he said.
“The most challenging task that I have implemented is to work with big data sets associated with Indonesian questionnaires.
“It is time consuming and requires perseverance.”
Dr Chu said his team’s research had provided “information and input” that could be used by village or local leaders “as a guide” to help address key issues.
AIC executive director Eugene Sebastian said recent PAIR projects were both impactful and timely.
“Indonesia has a young demographic so it is appropriate that we are facilitating research into the needs of a new generation that is eager to learn and participate in the modern economy,” said Dr Sebastian.
“There will be many new opportunities in the post-pandemic era, which is why new infrastructure such as the South Sulawesi railway and new industries such as seaweed exports will be so important in shaping the Indonesia of tomorrow.”
Dr Sebastian said 2022 had been a busy year for the Australia-Indonesia Centre and the year 2023 was shaping up as important.
“With a significant number of projects to manage, we have had our hands full, but it has been stimulating to bring together outstanding researchers from both nations and contribute to sustainable development within Indonesia, as well as closer ties between both countries.”
The research projects are now being completed and discussed with policymakers to better understand how the findings can fit with their goals.
PAIR’s major projects have run for four years, building a body of knowledge about seaweed, building a new rail line, rural health and young people skills and development. Other, smaller projects complement and elaborate on the work of the major projects.
The four major projects are:
- Sustainable upgrading of the South Sulawesi seaweed industry; this project notes the significance of carrageenan seaweed production, its contribution to rural development, its potential for sustainable trade particularly with China and the challenges of plastic pollution.
- Maximising the effectiveness of the South Sulawesi rail line; this project observes some of the challenges facing the railway including hazards and a single line track, as well as identifies areas for investment including intermodal terminals, data analysis and railway stations.
- What young people want: skills, education and livelihood aspirations in South Sulawesi’s changing economy; This study examines young people’s involvement in farm and off-farm livelihoods, and how their aspirations, skills, education, and labour opportunities meet the social and economic conditions of rural, coastal, and peri-urban areas of Maros District.
- Improving young people’s health and wellbeing; This project investigates factors influencing the health and socio-economic wellbeing of people from farming communities, in three districts of South Sulawesi (Barru, Maros and Pangkep) via a series of four distinct but integrated sub-projects that rigorous empirical evidence on evidence-based policy solutions.
Feature image from Mia Salim/AusAID and Wikimedia