The Covid-Pandemic stopped all planned field work in Jakarta right before departure – a quite drastic impact for a PhD study that was built on diving deep into the local context. In the face of lacking alternatives and thinking that it could present a good approach for a first round of data collection, the sudden shift to remote online interviews was not ideal but still felt quite intuitive.

In a city like Jakarta, where internet penetration is high, the fear of failing with online expert interviews was limited. Thanks to initial access to some informants through our local project partner, the snowballing process worked quite well. Many informants working for CSOs, NGOs as well as international organizations but also local activists were responsive – even though it sometimes required some patience to really get to an interview. Only government officials were difficult to approach.

The online interviews via zoom were of good quality, recording was easy and thanks to the video, which worked in most cases, it was possible to even create some level of personal connection. I interviewed informants in their kitchens, in the gym, in offices, in their gardens, at conferences, in shops, on taxi rides… Almost never technical problems arose. On the downside, contextualization of collected knowledge was quite difficult as access and own perception of the area was completely missing.

Multiple Covid-waves on, certainty about the inability to ever personally collect data in situ in time became daunting. To still contextualize local stakeholder knowledge from the interviews, I decided to contact international researchers who had worked or are working on Jakarta. Again, response rates were quite high and discussing with these very different experts about my findings and hypothesis helped significantly “ground-truthing” my impressions from earlier interviews.

All in all, shifting to online interviews for the context of Jakarta was a valuable alternative but only thanks to the expert elicitations with international researchers, collected knowledge could be put into context and validated to a certain extent.