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The Influence of Collective Culture on
Co-design Practice in Indonesian Cities:
Case Studies from Jakarta, Solo, and Malang
Lancaster University, UK
Nick Dunn, Lancaster University, UK
Leon Cruickshank, Lancaster University, UK
Abstract: Co-design seeks to encourage ordinary people who are not trained in design to get involved
in making design decisions. It is important to understand how the participant’s culture affects the
design process, to ensure they can maximize their creative potential. Moreover, when experimenting
with the application of co-design practice outside of a Western context, it is imperative to establish
how and why different culture may shape it. This article is a part of ongoing research on co-design
methods conducted in Indonesia and the UK. In this article, we specifically describe the result finding
of field study in an Indonesian context. The findings provide insights on how the collective culture of
Indonesian kampung society influences the co-design process. We conclude that it is necessary to
revive the collective values of community when applying co-design methods. The conclusion of this
field study is an important point for comparison with the findings garnered from UK contexts.
Keyword: Co-design, Collective Culture, Context, Kampung
The co-design approach is rooted in the participatory design tradition in Scandinavia (Cruickshank,
Coupe, and Hennessy 2013) and has been widely applied outside the Western context. Researchers
and academics have reported variable experiences on the application of co-design outside the
Western context (Puri et al. 2004; Kujala 2003; Elovaraa, Igira, and Mörtberg 2006; Husaain, Sanders,
and Steinert 2012). These reports confirm the need for adjustments to co-design methods that
operate outside the Western context. But few have yet to focus in depth on the influence of a
society’s culture on the practice of co-design (Husaain, Sanders, and Steinert 2012; Winschiers-
Theophilus, Bidwell, and Blake 2012). Therefore, this article will attempt to investigate the
challenges faced by the designer in applying co-design methods, especially in the context of Eastern
culture. This research will take the contexts of Indonesia and the UK as a comparison of the
experience of applying co-design practices in two different cultural contexts. In particular, there are
three cities selected as the case studies in Indonesia: Jakarta, Solo, and Malang.
Indonesia experienced a fairly rapid economic development during the 1980s and 1990s. With a
typical technocratic development model of authoritarian government, the government played a
major role in determining the direction of development (Shiraishi 2006). This condition has changed
after Indonesia experienced the impact of the global economic crisis in the late 1990s. As Indonesia
attempted to build its economic recovery, the democratic atmosphere that developed after the fall
of the Suharto regime brought an opportunity for non-centralistic development approaches (Sindre
2012). The participatory approach through co-design is one of the methodological approaches that is
starting to be implemented in some development projects.
This study aims to examine cultural influences on co-design practices within the two different
contexts. This article will focus on attempts to discover the influence of Eastern culture on co-design
processes especially, to find out how the adjustments of co-design, which is generally rooted within
Western societies, influence its practice when working within the context of Eastern culture,
specifically Indonesia. In this article, first we will discuss the study literature on co-design as well as
Corresponding Author: Andi Setiawan, Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK. email:
the experience of co-design practice outside a Western country. Secondly, we will then explain the
research method, including collecting of data and reports from the field research. Thirdly is an
exploration of the findings from the field research, following the discussion. Finally, we present our
conclusions taken from the interpretation of these findings and the implication for ongoing research
Participatory Design (PD) started with the democratization of the workplace (Ehn 1993). This may be
why political tones appear in every effort to implement PD. There is a kind of agenda to advocate for
the rights of users in dealing with producers (Asaro 2000).
To compare with PD, Cruickshank (2014) stated that co-design is a form of open design that is
less dogmatic than participatory design. Co-design provides a very flexible approach to the creative
process. Co-design is able to provide the right atmosphere for the development of the creative
potential of all those involved in the design process, even for people who have never taught design.
Although the political level is reduced, the co-design still carries a political dimension, especially in
the micro political level, that every person has the right to intervene in deciding issues that affect
them (Hagen 2013).
Meanwhile, Sanoff (2011) gives another view of co-design, especially in the creation of an
environment. He defined co-design as an attitude about a force for change in the creation and
management of environments for people. Its strength lies in being a movement that cuts across
traditional professional boundaries and cultures. He emphasized the active involvement of the
community in creating a better environment, rather than just treating the community as passive
consumers. Co-design involves users as co-designer in all phases of the design process, while in user-
centered design, they are seen as research subjects and only involved in some phases of the process,
for instance, being interviewed in the ideation phase, or testing the prototype in the evaluation
phase (Bratteteig and Wagner 2014).
Co-design emphasizes openness, in the sense that the process must be able to accommodate
the various types of participants, not just by visual methods but in all forms of media. It will provide
flexibility in generating the final design solution. Furthermore, designers act as a facilitator and not a
leader; so, the designer must provide an opportunity for participants to extract all kinds of their
expertise to realize their creative potential (Cruickshank, Coupe, and Hennessy 2013).
Experience of Co-design outside of Western Culture
The application of co-design outside the Scandinavian context has a different experience. After being
established around the 1970s, subsequently, the idea of co-design was widely adopted by some
empowerment projects undertaken outside of the Scandinavian countries (Husaain, Sanders, and
Steinert 2012; Takeyama 2014; Ssozi-Mugarura, Blake, and Rivett 2016). This practice is certainly
problematic since the implementation of co-design requires democratization of the workplace, high
literacy rates, and a reasonable infrastructure (Puri et al. 2004).
Several studies have been conducted to observe the implementation of co-design outside of
Western countries. Comparison of the implementation of co-design in two different settings (usually
developed and developing countries) resulted in some suggestions that the application of
participatory processes have to negotiate and adapt to the local settings and at the same time
bestow attention to local knowledge (Elovaraa, Igira, and Mörtberg 2006; Byrne and Sahay 2007; Lee
2008; Yasuoka and Sakurai 2012; Hakken and Mate 2014).
Husaain, Sanders, and Steinert’s (2012) experiences in Cambodia gave a clear picture of the
influence of Cambodian culture while participating in the co-design process. In Cambodian society,
the culture of compliance with the leader results in the consequence of difficulty implementing
direct participatory processes. Furthermore, Cambodian culture increasingly makes children
reluctant to speak out. Additionally, the designer also faced others constraints from the lack of
understanding of co-design by the participant. Thus, often the intervention of designers becomes
Husaain, Sanders, and Steinert (2012) gave the idea of the solution by modifying the traditional
method of co-design “lead by user” (Sanders) to “lead by the designer,” meaning that the design
process is guided and directed by the designer, who explores the desire and will of the user. This
solution, on one hand, is very pragmatic, breaking the deadlock of the co-design process. But if we
see the principle of co-design that puts the user as an active user, then this idea becomes a
The principal aim of this research is to examine the challenges faced by co-design when dealing with
different urban contexts of Western and Eastern cultures. As a method that involves a wide variety
of stakeholders, co-design is strongly influenced by the culture of the society in which the process
takes place. As co-design is rooted in Western tradition, it will raise problems when applied outside
the West. Therefore, this research is intended to answer the key research question on how co-
design is and should be applied in the different context of cultures, between the West and East.
In order to answer the key research question, a number of sub-questions are required to clarify
in more detail the various issues of the research problem. The additional sub-questions are as
▪ What kind of specific culture affects the practice of co-design in each context?
▪ What are the influences of the culture on the practice of co-design in each context?
▪ What are the challenges facing designers in enabling co-design processes in each
▪ What feature adjustment should be developed to build a methodological framework for
the implementation of co-design in the Eastern cultural context?
This research is exploratory research, conducted within the framework of in-depth case studies and
using qualitative techniques as methods. Furthermore, this research framework will be developed to
produce research strategies. First, the different viewpoints of various stakeholders involved in co-
design should be investigated to explore the cultural influence on the co-design process. Second, the
practice of co-design should be investigated in different contexts in both countries in relation to the
effect of its cultural contexts. Third, the practical contexts of co-design practice and community
engagement should be investigated in relation to the challenge faced by the designer. Fourth, the
comparison of case studies and the analysis of differences and similarities in different contexts may
be beneficial to integrate contextual investigation into the discussion of co-design practice. Fifth,
there is a need to gather qualitative evidence within the context of co-design practice. In short,
following Yin (2009), the research strategies for this research are as follows: conceptualizing “specific
issues” on the research question, selection of cases, conducting the empirical investigation,
analyzing cross-case study evidence in both contexts, and bringing cross‐case conclusions to develop
the new theory.
The selection of cases in case study research is important as it determines the quality of the
conclusions of the study. In conducting multiple case study research, we have to consider the
conformity and adequacy aspect. Conformity is defined as the ability to meet the objectives of
research and the phenomenon of inquiry. The adequacy is related to the number of cases which
have to be investigated in the entire project (Shakir 2002). From these considerations, for the
context in Indonesia, we selected three cases in three different cities.
The first is the Jakarta case study. This case study is a building project of a prototype house in
the Ciliwung riverbank, in the Kampung Tongkol area of North Jakarta. This prototype is being
developed as an example of how to create a communal house for some families, with the
involvement of its occupants in the process. This house seeks to provide a solution by working with
the community for the improvement of their environment. This prototype house project was carried
out in response to the threat of eviction in this area, which was carried out by the City Government
of Jakarta. The residents want to show that they are able to clean up and improve their environment
so that there is no need for evictions. This prototype house project is part of the environmental
improvement effort. The project was undertaken in 2016. The project initiation came from the
Urban Poor Consortium (UPC), an NGO that has worked for a long time to assist residents. The UPC
later asked Architecture San Frontieres (ASF) Indonesia to assist residents in design and build the
prototype house with a participatory approach.
The second case study is based in Malang. The case study in Malang is a church building project
conducted in 2016 with a participatory approach. This project came from the Church initiative, after
obtaining a grant for the renovation of their old church building. The donor then appointed ASF
Indonesia to be involved in assisting The Church. In the beginning, there was a difference of opinion
between parishioners and The Church regarding the concept of church renovation. Eventually, with
facilitation by ASF, an agreement was realized. They agreed to renovate the old church with a
traditional design method approach (design produced by an architect). In addition, they will build a
new church using a participatory approach, involving all parishioners, with ASF as the facilitator.
The last case study is in Solo. This case study is quite different from the other two cities. In Solo,
there is no single definitive project but rather a collection of several participatory projects
undertaken by the Urban and Rural Development Centre (URDC), a laboratory in the Architecture
Department of Universitas Sebelas Maret, Solo. Some of the projects are “Designing Child-Friendly
Neighborhood” and “Public Toilet Design” in two kampungs (villages). The other project conducted
by Department of Sociology tried to reproduce the knowledge of collective culture among the
kampung residents. These projects are actually part of the student practice in one course. Students
who take the course will practice the theory by undertaking these projects with a real participatory
approach in some neighborhoods of Solo.
The advantage of case study research is the ability to collect different types of data resources. The
various resources of data increase the credibility of the data (Baxter and Jack 2008). Considering
strategies in qualitative research, the researcher tries to establish the meaning of a phenomenon
from the perspective of participants. This means identifying a culture-sharing group and studying
how it develops shared patterns of behaviour over time. One of the key elements of collecting data
in this way is to observe participants’ behaviours during their engagement in activities (Creswell
2014). The data resources of this study are documentation, archival records, interviews, physical
artefacts, and direct observations.
The authors conducted a field study for three months to collect data in Indonesia. We conducted
a series of interviews with the various actors involved in the co-design project in the three cities.
Interviews were conducted with designers who were actively involved in the design and
development process of design. In addition, interviews were also conducted on the people as
participants in the project. The people involved are also the users of the design products. They are
actively involved in the design phase as well as the building phase of the product.
The other two sources are community assistants, who usually come from NGOs—they have been
working for a long time to organize the community, empowering them to be more independent—
and academics, who have a concern and a sufficiently deep understanding of the issues of citizen
participation movements in urban contexts.
The analysis in this multiple case study was conducted in two stages. The first was within-case
analysis, followed by a cross-case analysis to obtain an in-depth analysis of the entire contexts
Within-case analysis applied the thematic analysis model by comparing the code tabulation that
resulted from the coding phase of each set of data. The analysis was conducted to provide an overall
description of the findings of each case. The themes are the similarities, differences, and the
dominant aspects that arise from the findings in each case. Cross-case analysis applied the
comparative method, by comparing the conclusions of each case study. Comparisons are conducted
through points, which were specifically generated from the research questions.
Table 1: Cross-case Analysis
Ignore to the
Open to outsiders
who do not harm their
hiding the problem
Respect to the
Lack of enthusiasm to
Endurance of the
Local Govt. politics
Concern: the urgency
and rapidity in making
Adjustment : to build
a method which has a
possibility for the
team to work on
in defining the needs
and wishes of the
Adjustment: to build
a method that can
break the partition,
all actors involved.
in defining the
needs and wishes of
build a method that
can break the
between all actors
Source: Setiawan 2017
From the analysis of the three cases in Indonesia, there are several important findings related to the
cultural influence on the co-design practice. These findings, in the next phase of research, could be a
key point for comparison with the results of field studies in the UK.
In all cases, as shown in Table 1 above, there are challenges on how to establish citizen involvement
in the undertaken projects. The reluctance of citizens to be actively involved is caused by many
factors, ranging from the lack of socializing time, internal conflict, to the problem of cultural barriers.
Therefore, the design team in all cases agreed that at the beginning of the process, it is necessary to
establish a relationship-building phase. This is a phase to gain trust. In addition, this phase is
important to emphasize that the design team does not come as a helper who gives a final solution to
the problems, but as a partner who will work together with the people. It is important to realize and
maintain an equal relationship between the people and designers since that is one of the principles
of equality in co-design (Bratteteig and Wagner 2014).
Understanding Local Culture
The field studies of the three cases above have inventoried some local cultures that influence the co-
design process. There are several norms that play a positive role such as guyup (familiarity), gotong
royong (mutual assistance), and sayang and sambatan (collective action). But there is also a norm
that inhibits the co-design process, such as mbendhol mburi, a culture to keep or maintain an
unsolved problem situation. All those norms are characteristic of Indonesian society as a type of
collective society, which can be distinguished from the West that is characteristic of an individualistic
society (Basu-Zharku 2011). This collectivistic culture can be beneficial as long as it is supported by
the high social connectivity in society (Hu, Lin, and Cui 2014).
One thing that very interesting is these cultures still survive because of the role of kampung
institutions. Kampung is usually defined as the term for the smallest autonomous territorial unit on
the rural land or on the fringes of Indonesian cities (Djajadiningrat 1994). The findings show that
strong collectivist culture is found in the cases of Solo and Malang, where the kampung in both cities
are still well preserved. Therefore, in this case, we should not only define kampung as a territory
entity, but it has a further meaning as a cultural entity, in which the collective cultures are
Traditional participatory design methods focus more on design time and less attention to the use-
time process. (Giaccardi and Fischer 2008). However, findings from the field study show different
things. The distinction between design time and use time is blurred. In practice, the design process,
the build process, testing the product, and even the evaluation is carried out simultaneously at the
same time. This may be what we called a real-time co-design method. Designers and design users (in
these cases villagers) are actively involved in the whole process in the very dynamic relationship.
Such a condition turns out to be a long-standing phenomenon and has become a habit of building
public facilities in the kampung, especially in the practice of sayang and sambatan.
Although Indonesia's authoritarian era under the Suharto regime has ended, the role of the state in
the development is still dominant (Sindre 2012). This tendency is also encountered in the practices
of urban development policy. The findings of the three cases, especially in Jakarta, show that the
political interests of the rulers strongly influence the urban development policy. The impact is there
is limited space for citizen participation. The decision is more determined by the city government,
tailored to their political interests.
The second finding confirms the importance of local culture. Field studies show that the culture has
been established and become the main pillar of collectivist life in Indonesia. These values are formed
and exist because of the existence of kampung. So, a kampung is not just a territorial entity. But it
should be understood as a unity of values, norms, and identity of a group in a particular region.
Formerly, kampung produced self-mechanisms and social norms that could sustain the existence
of their physical environment. How they manage spatiality, for instance, determines the public
space, private zone, and the holy space for worship (Setiawan 2010). The value and culture of the
kampung over the years has shaped the urban faces of the cities in Indonesia (Sutandyo 2013).
Therefore, the existence of the city as a cultural artefact is strongly supported by the existence of
In all three contexts, researchers found that collective values are still traceable, although in the
case of Jakarta it has not been applied adequately. The Malang case is the context in which the
collectivities of the kampung (the culture of sayang) are most visible and still applied as a supporter
of the co-design process. There is strong evidence that the culture of “sayang” is used as an
instrument to mobilize the participant involvement. Through this culture, the discussions about
concepts and ideas between participants and the design teams can be easily done.
In the form of an action, these collective values also arose in the fourth finding, which we called
a real-time co-design practice. This practice appears in all three cases. The design team has applied it
as a method for their intervention on the site. They worked together with the people in that method
since the people said that they used to do such method in their tradition. In other words, this model
has its roots in the culture that grows in an urban kampung in Indonesia. In addition, this model is
also beneficial to overcoming the tension between designers and users (citizens). Therefore, it could
be possible to use this model as a provision for the development of a framework of a co-design
method in Indonesia.
Therefore, it is important to revive these values. In this respect, we must re-focus on the
importance of kampung as a cultural entity. At this point the first finding becomes relevant—that to
revive the community’s memory of their collectivist values that once existed required the effort of
building a relationship with the people as participants or users. Initially, this process is often missed
by the design team, even though it is beneficial to remove the barrier between participants and
designers, build mutual trust, as well as revive the potential of collective values that were once
owned by the community. Eventually, through disclosure stories, asking about history and
memories, the design team [can be?] successful in strengthening the social collective spirit.
There is an expectation that by reinforcing the collective values of the community, the
participatory approach model through co-design would be well applied. Co-design tends to focus
more on the relationships between individuals involved in the process, without being too subject to
an emancipatory agenda as participatory pesign (Cruickshank 2014). Such a model would be most
appropriate in the context of Indonesia, where the government is still very dominant in determining
development agendas. As mentioned in the fourth finding, it shows that in many cases of the
construction of public facilities, political interests are quite robust. Therefore, the projects are often
ridden by the political agenda of the authorities. Consequently, often in projects claimed to be
participatory, citizen participation is incapable of achieving the Arnstein degree of citizen power,
because the final decisions must be subject to the political interests of the authorities. Therefore,
although it is still premature, it is feasible to propose the idea of self-regulating the urban area based
on kampung community with a co-design approach. Such models will be able to relinquish the
community’s dependence on the government’s role in their environmental arrangement.
The literature review shows that the application of participatory approaches in design has been
attempted beyond the Western cultural context. Since its spread, the influence of local community
culture on the application of participatory design has been a concern (Hakken and Mate 2014). Many
studies also confirm the need for adjustment of participatory approach models when applied
outside the Western context.
Findings from field studies in Indonesia also confirm the influence of local cultures on the
implementation of the co-design process. The most powerful cultural influence is the collective value
of the urban kampung, but its appearance can still be tracked. The potential of collective culture, for
example, exists in the ethos of sayang (mutual cooperation), which allows people to voluntarily
participate in communal activities. Co-design practices presented in the case study show the role of
those culture in determining the direction of the project, although the presence of these values is no
longer dominant, as it is repressed by the top-down approach development of the government.
Kampung as cultural entities should be traced back to revive the collectivist spirit of the
community. The co-design approach based on the collectivity value of kampung can be used as a
foundation for the development of a co-design method in the Indonesian context. This point will be
investigated more deeply in later stages of research, especially after comparing with co-design
practices in the UK context.
This research received funding from the Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP), The
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