This article examines the influence of the social sciences on policymaking during the first wave (2020 to 2021) of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia. It explains two broad orientations of the social sciences: technocratic, which was incorporated into elite-driven institutionalized responses that, at times, did not fully address urgent healthcare needs; and critical, which provided timely digital health information for the wider public. On a practical level, though, the two orientations can be intertwined. The article argues that further understanding of social scientists’ relationship to power is needed in efforts to make the social sciences more beneficial to the people rather than to the elite.