Indonesia Inquiry

Conducting Fieldwork in Indonesia – Part III

July 25, 2011 Data Professional Networking Research Resources 0


This post adds to the advice provided in two previous blog posts:

Conducting Fieldwork in Indonesia – Part I

Conducting Fieldwork in Indonesia – Part II



== Business Cards / Name Cards ==

Business cards/name cards can be purchased in Indonesia.  Quality and cost vary.  Double-sided cards are recommended (front side with foreign contact information and back side with Indonesian contact information).  It is advisable to omit your personal handphone number and write your number instead by hand for those individuals who really need it.


== Data Collection ==

Archival Research:

  • Ask colleagues for referrals to save you time, energy, and money.
  • Some researchers use digital cameras to take pictures of documents; others make photocopies and then get the copies scanned onto a cd.
  • You may need to show your travel or research permits and/or provide a request letter to the archive institution in order to use their facilities.

Focus Groups:

  • If possible, hire an assistant to help you make arrangements and/or be the moderator of the focus groups.
  • Holding a focus group discussion Monday-Friday may encounter attendance problems as many people work during those days. While Saturdays and Sundays are often better, attendance may vary due to family obligations or other responsibilities over the weekend.
  • Focus groups of between 4 and 10 participants are good, but 7 participants seems to be the “magic number.”
  • Focus groups are generally held in Bahasa Indonesia and/or a local language.
  • It is useful to have two taperecorders during the session. At least one of the recorders should be a cassette taperecorder since many transcribers are unfamiliar with digital recorders and probably will not have the appropriate technology for such recorders. (This depends on what city or town you are in.)
  • You should provide coffee, tea, water, and food during the focus group session. Lunch boxes (kotak nasi) are typical.
  • It is up to you whether or not you provide financial compensation for participants. If you do, it is usually called “transportation money” (uang transpor) or “honor” (short for honorarium). Talk with colleagues in your area to find out what amount is somewhere between “too low” and “too high” and in accordance with your budget.
  • Focus group discussions can be between 1 and 2 hours. You will notice when participants are getting tired or bored, and you’ll have to adjust accordingly or finish the session.
  • You can expect to ask around 5 main questions in a session. Probing and clarification will probably be necessary.
  • Be aware that participants may have procedural or content questions and/or might be confused about certain concepts or critical-thinking questions (e.g., “why” questions) depending on how the items are phrased.
  • Be clear about the focus group procedures before you begin the discussion.


  • You may need to contact someone several times before you actually confirm and obtain an interview.
  • If possible, contact the person via his/her handphone number. This is often the most efficient and direct way of getting in touch with people in Indonesia.
  • Some people may request that you email or fax them a copy of your c.v./resume and/or a list of interview questions prior to the interview.
  • Some people may be uncomfortable if you tape-record the interview session.
  • Most people are unfamiliar with “informed consent”/human subjects permission forms. People may be uncomfortable signing the forms as well.
  • Do not be surprised if you show up for an interview and it is cancelled at the last minute or you have to wait a long time past the original appointment.
  • Bring business cards to exchange with an interviewee.
  • If you are a woman, sometimes it is useful to have a male assistant arrange the meeting and/or accompany you during the interview depending on the status or background of the interviewee.
  • Allot enough time for you to get from Point A to Point B since traffic, flooding, getting lost, etc. can slow you down.
  • If possible, prepare your questions in advance and know something about the background of the person you will be interviewing. Sometimes this is difficult to do, though (e.g., you get shuttled from one person to the next in the same day or there is little information online or available from others).
  • It is usually helpful to have a prior contact refer you to a government official. For example, “Mr. X recommended that I meet and interview you…” This may be a verbal or written reference.
  • For non-profit organizations and NGOs, it is advisable to have a prior contact refer you (verbally or on paper).  Sometimes volunteering with an organization can provide you with further contacts.  Be careful, however, about the “lines” between volunteering and research.
  • For interviews needed related to the specific subject of “peacebuilding,” locate contacts via the Indonesian Peacebuilding Directory: .  This is a guide to organizations that work to promote social change and create the conditions and relationships required for peace and justice in Indonesia.

Statistical Data:

Note – Statistical data is difficult to come by. Beware that data may be missing, incomplete, and/or inaccurate.

Qualitative Data:


== Research Assistants ==

Contracts & Payment:

  • Contracts are usually a good idea. Include information such as communication, meetings, salary and payment schedule, what is not covered under a salary, contact information, privacy/confidentiality explanation or request, and information about possible changes for schedules, payments, tasks, etc.
  • Provide hard and electronic copies of your contracts to your assistants, as well as keep some copies for your own records.
  • Assistants can be paid monthly. Rates vary, but usually start at Rp. 1 million per month (as of 2005/2006). In Jakarta, rates can be higher (e.g., Rp. 2 million per month). Ask colleagues for more up-to-date salary information.  You can expect (and should explain to your assistants) that they work a few to several hours a day for this pay rate. The exact number of hours and the accompanying payrate should be discussed in advance.

Hiring & Firing:

  • Think carefully about what your research needs are before you search for or hire assistants. Spread the word to local universities and research centers that you are looking for an assistant, and be specific about your preferences (e.g., education, age, gender, research or work experience, language abilities, etc.).
  • Trial periods are suggested in case the assistant does not work out within the first couple of weeks or months. If the assistant knows that there is a trial period first, letting him/her go early will not be as confusing or stressful for all parties involved.
  • If your assistant is not working out, fire him/her as soon as possible so as to avoid protracted tension, conflict, and costs. Be polite and clear about the situation.
  • There may be personal and social consequences (of the negative kind) when an assistant is fired.  Ask colleagues for advice about how to navigate that context.


  • Assistants generally require extensive training. This may take a few hours, days, or weeks depending on the type of tasks and research.
  • Show and explain to assistants about plagiarism, citations, and related topics as early as possible to avoid having to retrace steps and sources.
  • Provide praise and constructive criticism during training and the working relationship.
  • Know that many Indonesians avoid conflict as much as possible, and this may mean that assistants are reluctant to say they don’t know how to do something or that there is a problem of some kind. Your best bet is to anticipate and prepare for as many different possible issues in advance, as well as try to establish an open channel of communication.