Alternative narratives about development and growth
A concept note on the research to map dominant narratives about development and economic growth in Indonesia and to test the alternatives that promote sustainability and social justice.
Our pitch elevator
Our studies in 2021–2022 suggest that most Indonesians care, or are swayable to care about sustainability. But they also show that the public intuitively sees that sustainability sometimes conflicts with development and growth. In one context, the conflict seems to lead them into helplessness. In another, the majority justifies deforestation if it aims to lift people out of poverty or build public infrastructure.

We suspect many Indonesians are primed to see this conflict because prevailing narratives about development or growth make it difficult for them to imagine a more equitable and sustainable scenario. We also observe that there are narratives about development that are used to rebut sustainability and social justice agenda. Meanwhile, new concepts activists or experts propose (low emission development) may still be hard for the public to digest.

We believe the alternative narratives can lead to a wider acceptance of proposals championing sustainability and social justice. But we can’t craft them without fully understanding the power and dynamics of the prevailing narratives. Therefore, we submit a concept note for full-suite research to map the dominant narratives and test the alternatives.

It is easy to sway Indonesians to forfeit sustainability and social justice for development and growth
In 2021, we (Communication for Change), in collaboration with Development Dialogue Asia, conducted a nationally representative survey (N=3,940) to measure public opinions about climate change and environmental protection. We found that 79% of Indonesians were concerned or very concerned about deforestation. However, 60% answered that deforestation was justifiable if it could create jobs, lift people out of poverty, and build public infrastructure.

We followed up the survey in 2022 with a qualitative study to test messages that can make climate-uninformed Indonesians better understand climate change and feel the urgency to take action to mitigate its impact. One key finding was that when respondents were made aware that coal burning was the main source of electricity and emissions, they became helpless. On the one hand, they saw this as a dilemma only the government could resolve. But on the other, they believed they could do nothing to influence the government.

Both studies reveal that it does not take much to make Indonesians see that development or (economic) growth can conflict with sustainability. At best, this perceived conflict can paralyze them; at worst, it can make them deprioritize sustainability. But where does this perceived conflict come from?
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