Published: Jul 30, 2007


Dedy A Prasetyo

Four scenarios for Indonesia in 2010 were launched on 1 August 2000 at the Proclamation Statue in Jakarta. A quarter of a million copies were slipped into newspapers around the country. They contained four pictures of what Indonesia might look like, in the form of stories entitled 'On the edge', 'Into the crocodile pit', 'Paddling a leaky boat', and 'Slow but steady'.

These were not predictions of the future, nor were they strategic plans. They did not describe some utopian future or even one we would quite like, but simply possibilities that might occur because of what we do today.

One of several approaches to picturing the future is known as scenario planning. Scenarios are a tool to help us perceive different futures, each of which is influenced by decisions we make today. Put simply, they are a combination of stories - written or oral - that make up a bigger plot. A scenario gives a multi-perspectival picture of a complex future. Precisely because the future is unpredictable, scenarios are good planning tools.

Creating a scenario is a dialogical process that brings together different visions and interests. The aim is to bridge the gap between key analyses of present day problems and various possibilities in the future.

Our view of 'the future' usually contains three elements: what is likely to happen, what I would like to see happen, and what might happen. The first leads to prediction, the second to subjectivity (wishful thinking). But scenario planning emphasises the third - what might happen.

Scenario building has been much used in international business, but it has also been used at the national level. Perhaps the most famous example of the latter is the South African Mont Fleur process. In 1991/92 South Africans came up with four scenarios of what might happen there in ten years time (2002). In 1997/98 Columbians produced Destino Columbia, with four possible futures for the year 2013. Most recently, Guatemalans built three scenarios that they named Vision Guatemala. The small island state of Singapore has been using scenario planning since 1993. Japan has three scenarios for the year 2020.

The steering committee for Future Indonesia 2010 consisted of about thirty individuals - academics, human rights workers, politicians, economists, businesspersons, religious figures, military, and others. They were supported by the Future Indonesia Working Group, including Asmara Nababan, Marzuki Darusman, Binny Buchori, Emil Salim, HS Dillon, Felia Salim, Emmy Hafild, as well as some facilitators - Daniel Sparringa, MM Billah, Edy Suhardono, and Rudolf Budi Matindas. These groups wrote the preparatory studies and then spread the word to many different groups all over Indonesia.

It all began with a meeting in Bogor early in 1999, where activities were set in train to eventually come up with the Future Indonesia scenarios (Indonesia Masa Depan). The idea was to stimulate discussion, fresh thinking, and debate among Indonesians about the future of their country. We hoped that some collective consciousness would be born within society that tomorrow is the result of our actions and decisions today. We also hoped people would not stay trapped in mutual recriminations over the problems of today or yesterday, but would set out on a constructive journey in search of the alternatives stretched out before us in the future. This way, we hoped, the Indonesian public would take part in thinking about Indonesia's tomorrow, and become involved in creating that future.

Various groups within society, each as varied as the other, then began taking initiatives. They engaged in dialogue, while avoiding dogmatism. It began in East Java in July 1999, where about thirty quite different individuals from all over the province came together. For three days, they tried to build future scenarios for Indonesia in 2010, from an East Java social perspective.

Similar dialogues followed in other cities and regions, among them Medan, Mataram, Riau, Makasar, Samarinda, Pontianak, Palangkaraya, Bali, Yogyakarta, West Java, Kupang, Jayapura, Central Java, and Jakarta. Fourteen dialogues were held in all.

The results of all of these dialogues were then compiled and synthesised in a national dialogue meeting attended by representatives from each region.

A great number of fresh ideas came out of this dialogical process, as did much anxiety and sharp criticism about what kind of future Indonesia was heading for. Among the matters most often raised in the discussions were these: centralisation and decentralisation, injustice, religious conflict, the growth of democracy after Suharto (including cynicism about it), law enforcement, gender issues, constitutional amendments, national leadership, environmental and cultural exploitation, state involvement in the economy, relations between Javanese and non-Javanese, and the role of the police and military.

All these issues could be divided into two groups - those that mainly concerned people in Java and outside Java. Participants within Java focused more often on the rule of law, whereas those outside Java focused on (de)centralisation. However, civil society issues concerned everyone, whether within or outside Java.

New ideas are not always readily accepted, and so it was with this dialogical project. Depending on their region of origin or their personality, people responded in many and varied ways. People outside Java often felt suspicious there was some hidden agenda at work in the project. Inside Java, on the contrary, suspicion was far less. It generally revolved around the question of who would benefit from this dialogue, where the money came from, and whether there was a 'conspiracy' behind it. It was an exhausting process that now and then broke out into frustration when confronted by these various 'bad' thoughts.

Very clear explanation was especially required when speaking about the concept of the scenario. Unless misconceptions were cleared up here at the very beginning, they were likely to reinforce already existing prejudices. However, as the dialogue proceeded, suspicion, pessimism and cynicism tended to recede. Sometimes the dialogue closed in quite a touching atmosphere, as people said with tears in their eyes that their suspicions had been unfounded. Whichever wise person said that democracy is expensive and exhausting, said a true thing.

Scenario planning is a clever instrument to explore the views that live within society. Straight from the heart, these views can then become the basic capital for a strong civil society in Indonesia. Ironically, the Future Indonesia dialogues often threw up some strange contradictions. At a moment when so many participants had the opportunity to represent the strength of civil society, they often spoke like government spokespersons. As a result, it was hardly surprising if at times the vision put forward was no real alternative to the dominant vision produced and reproduced by the state. Even more saddening was the discovery that many participants seemed to retain the New Order perspective that there is only one truth. This made it very difficult to make the necessary linkages leading to a new future.

However, scenario planning is a vital tool in learning democracy. In several regions, the dialogue forum became a medium for reconciliation between various elements of society that had hitherto been at odds with one another over the spoils of office. Even if they did not become a collective movement, the forums bore witness to a new possibility and created a space that brought people together without regard for the attributes of power, politics, ethnicity, religion or social standing. Let us hope that this kind of dialogical process can continue, drawing on the lessons that have already been learned. The choice is ours - we, the people of Indonesia. And Indonesia's future is made today.

Dedy A Prasetyo (deape@hotmail.com) was a program officer with the Working Group for Indonesia Masa Depan. He is a law student at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta.

Inside Indonesia 65: Jan - Mar 2001