The future of Future Makers

Now that we had some time to reflect on the wrapup meeting in Cairo, I believe the time has come to put Future Makers to rest, and reflect on what comes next. This is, of course, a matter that can only be settled by a deep discussion, and the most important voices in that discussion are going to be UNDP’s. My contribution in this post is to risk an interpretation of my own, to shake up some thoughts in my own head and, hopefully, in yours. Happy to discuss further if you want.

The Future Makers model leans on three partners, like a tripod on three legs:

  1. UNDP. The FM model requires for UNDP to involve local government into common projects. Of course, to do this UNDP must have something that local politicians and civil servants want: prestige, funding or a combination of the two.

  2. Local government. FM has a rather sophisticated understanding of local government (the Boss, the Guardian, the Heavy Lifter). It boils down to having “intrapreneurial” elements in local administrations, that can be empowered by interacting with local communities on one side and UNDP on the other.

  3. Communities of smart, capable, independent people.

It seems to me that in all three of our prototypes at least one of the legs was missing or weak.

  1. UNDP did not really forge any new partnership. the Georgia CO already head a healthy collaboration with Rustavi, on the backdrop of an important decentralization reform. Armenia’s struggles on to involve the Yerevan municipality, with the deputy mayor not always returning the calls of the UN Deputy Representative. Egypt had to fall back on Terous and its pre-existing protocol with the Sohag governorate, after failing to get a grip on Hurghada.

  2. Local goverrnments have been a weak link in every prototype. Nowhere, that I could see, we had the full team of Boss, Guardian and Heavy Lifter. The Guardian was missing in Georgia (I was hoping in the PSDA Innovation Lab, but no: Rustavi was asking Maia for help with the legal framework. The Heavy Lifter was missing both from Armenia and from Egypt.

  3. Communities were elusive, but we were expecting that. In Georgia, we know Tbilisi is very active, but the project was not in Tbilisi. In Egypt, we knew Cairo was very active, and “good stuff” was found in Hurghada too, but we could not do the project in those cities. Communities did form in Georgia and Armenia (somewhat) and Egypt (much more), but they tend to be less skilled and confident than those in Tbilisi or Cairo.

All in all, I would not recommend that Future Makers be scaled up on the basis of what I heard at that meeting. At least, not without some more due diligence, or some narrower focus. This is because it is so difficult to put together a winning alliance, and especially the local governments seem incredibly weak. I would still commend it as a strategy (someone sees an opportunity in a certain city and runs with it): it is a great tool when and where the time comes for it but I am skeptical that it can become the tool.

What I see – as we discussed extensively with @elami5 and @mao – is a dramatic weakness of local government. They need more people who can break through the veil of bureaucracy and act as a contact surface with civil society. They need more people who have the drive and the administrative skills to “make it happen”, bringing government to act as the enabler of civil society, not just as its regulator.

Building capacity in this direction could be the legacy of Future Makers.


I was not directly involved in the original conception of Futuremakers, nor in the steps leading to its agreement as a pilot project supported by UNDP-UNV. However, I was part of the Edgerygers team on the missions to Armenia, Georgia and Egypt, and so my comments on Alberto’s views are based on my experience of Futuremakers in those three countries, reflections on the evaluation workshop held in Cairo, and my own experience with communities of activists, with the development and re-use of public space, and working closely with (and even inside) centralised and decentralised bureaucracies of municipal and regional governments.

My observations are significantly different to Alberto’s. The so called ‘missing legs’ that Alberto correctly identifies were not, in my view, a result of a flawed idea, but due in part to, inter alia:
a) the slow start to getting projects off the ground (for different reasons), and an ‘unrealistic’ timetable of delivery
b) a dilution of the original proposal into a too simplistic typology of identifying boss, guardian, heavy lifter, etc inside complex administrations where such roles may overlap. The fact that such functions/people cannot be easily identified does not necessary imply that ‘they do not exist’
c) an unrealistic perception of how administrations get ‘fired up’ by new ideas, sometimes only after witnessing the impact and delivery of a project which only indirectly involves them, and after gaining confidence in those who are outside their closed systems
d) a misunderstanding of how ‘learning’ takes place inside bureaucracies, which cannot be ‘fast-tracked’ without risks of fallout
e) a recognition that it is sometimes necessary to go down ‘blind alleys’ before the correct path can be identified
f) the faulty logic of somehow rejecting the tactical involvement of any usual suspects, NGOs, etc as potential viable routes to identifying other informal structures and marginalised individuals, or as a means to gaining the initial interest of and access to government

In all three countries, my belief is that foundations were created for certain new ways of working, the processes of mobilising communities were initiated (even with some false starts and delays), and the a processes of ‘rethinking’ the use of public space were at the very least introduced. In an early concept note for Futuremakers, the primary impact of the project was defined as “opening up of a collaboration channel between institutions and networked youth”. From the stories I heard of the experiences in Armenia, Georgia and Egypt, there appears to be strong evidence of some degree of ‘opening up’ a new process of engagement by UNDP as the ‘beginning’ of a channel of discussion with the authorities (even in the most difficult context of Egypt) about new styles of partnership.

The weak links defined by Alberto are not, at least in my view, fatal flaws in the projects, but may be the consequences of a project that had an unrealistically short life-span. I see the Futuremakers pilot, more as a ‘pre-pilot,’ where the methodology can now be refined and further developed, based on collective learning. The workshop in Cairo had not sufficient time to do this.

I contend that all three projects given more time will achieve the alternative ‘ecosystem’ development that the concept of Futuremakers proposes, including the involvement of ad-hoc initiatives and creative individuals who have had no place in those countries to develop end realise ideas. Abandoning the project because of the current ‘dramatic weakness of local government’ is a total cop out, dismissing all potential for reform (even in small steps, and within certain units of government). It may indeed take the very tiny wins, such as gaining the support Scientific Adviser to the Governor in Sohad and building trust with the growing platform of young activists; or the Vice-Mayor of Yerevan getting turned on to ideas presented to him in June regarding the underpass; or the minuscule initiative of a social cafe in Rustavi Park gaining recognition by the public, and the administration using the legal framework (who cares who discovered the possibility) to support other innovative projects, etc.

UNDP Egypt firmly declared how instrumental Futuremakers has been in identifying new ways of working, and will find ways of continuing to support the pilot in Sohad; UNDP Armenia remains firmly committed to delivering the underpass project, Futuremakers or not; UNDP Georgia has already made commitments to continuing work on the social cafe (roof or no roof), and may even try to identify new Futuremakers opportunities in Tbilsi.

So, I dispute Alberto’s conclusion that Futuremakers should not be continued. The term ‘scaling up’ may be inappropriate to use. With the learning and insights gathered, a further re-definition and elaboration of the original concept should take place, and the methodology reviewed in the light of experience. At the very least I would recommend enabling the three existing pilots to continue for another year, and launching a few new pilots. Then, and only then, would a realistic evaluation of impacts and outputs be possible.

Yes, there indeed is a ‘dramatic weakness of local government’. Yes, they need ‘more people who can break through the veil of bureaucracy and contact surface with civil society.’ Yes, government should act more as an enabler of civil society’. Changes may only be possible one tiny step at a time, creating a few models that begin to offer evidence of success, of turning a few people working in public administrations to new possibilities, one at a time.

Futuremakers has a future. It is tiny in terms of required financial and human resources, but it needs some to keep going. Abandoning the experiment of developing new forms of collaboration tested through projects seems to be a retrograde step for UNDP, and for Edgeryders. Building on and re-working the originally conceived Futuremakers model is the immediate next step, including the extension and launching of newly conceived pilot project to test again the developing model.



This is great, Bob. And I do not actually disagree with you here. I was rather trying to imagine how a scaled-up version of FM would look like, not focusing so much on the potential of these prototypes.

What does everyone else think? @mao, @gazbia_sorour, @noemi, @Maia, @inge @lilitmidoyan, @abdelhamid.ezzat, @ahmed.anwr?

Bob and Alberto many thanks for this. I fully agree on enabling the three existing pilots to continue for another year.
We have done the ground work an in my opinion it should continue based on the lessons learned and best practices.


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The reports from the evaluation in Cairo were very useful for me to get an overview, as well as Gazbia and the Georgian team filling out the Practitioners’ guide.

What is novel and unexpected from me is that all teams recognise the value of a new methodology and processes. Some of that energy got lost here during coordination, so I find it very reassuring.

In between Alberto’s and Bob’s reporting, my reaction is to ask myself whether you can grow, if not scale up, FM in a country office without due projectification and goal setting. I see all the nuances Bob makes and of course there is a learning of bureaucracies which is not as steep and as linear as we would have hoped for. The concept document was to draw the contours inside which the coloring happens. I felt it took us, everyone working in this, about half the time to understand how the contours work, and too little time to make it happen. What it seems has been achieved is a shared understanding among key people of the basic principles and a dare to dream bigger.

It would be very interesting to see it continue, BUT with a specific, bounded commitment and a team at the core. The COs saying this will continue it doesn’t mean we can still test the FM concept in its current form - and here I agree with Alberto that this phase should be over. A continuous investment in what can be learned from it and bettering the work of those 3 legs, together or independently, should probably be what Bob says - a newly conceived project with adjusted parametres.

Well done everyone, I really enjoyed this and looking forward to the next!

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I’d like to also page @living_streets who were part of the first mission in Georgia and might have some feedback here, especially since you have seen your own local government in Ghent taking on board a citizen initiative. What Bob says might speak to you or not?

PS: For overviews and insights from each of the 3 countries, see this report?

It may not be so much on the “scaling-up”, but I would be curious to see what the “favourable ingredients” of the FutureMakers approach would be. While we did not come to a consensus in Cairo, I tend to think there are some elements we should consider for successful triggers to create/manage the FutureMaker-like ecosystem with relatively light investments. We talked about urban/rural characteristics, demography, maturity of the community (existence of networked youth), capacity of the government, trust among the stakeholders etc…

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Thank you, @alberto, for initiating this discussion, and @Bob, @Maia, @noemi, for bringing in your views.

From the pre-FM work between UNDP and EdgeRyders, we had the evidence of these “networked youth” exists, and that we had a fair assumption that there is a strong support in the governments. Based on these, what we wanted to experiment is if and under which conditions a positive, new form of collaboration between the municipality and the networked youth (note: those who are doing things elsewhere anyway) could happen in addressing development challenges, and what the roles of UNDP (or UNDP-like entities) would be like.

The Cairo meeting was very inspiring as we could learn the journey each country team has made thus far, and take stock, vis-à-vis what we wanted to experiment, on what worked, what did not – including how teams tactically adapted the concept to make it work in the respective local contexts. What we learnt in Cairo are three unique sets of collaboration modalities between the municipality and the youth. We collectively walked through what we have done, captured lessons, and incorporated these in the guide for creative bureaucracy. We are thinking of sharing this learning widely in the format of a blog post (with a possible pointer to the guide for creative bureaucracy). It is great that all three countries are committed to move the initiatives forward. Let us stay in touch on this platform, and have the final coordination call in Q2 2018 to exchange what we have further achieved. I am excited to hear from the teams on where these three pilots would lead us to. While the UNV-UNDP joint FutureMakers project is over, we will keep our eyes on the funding opportunities, and share it with you if there is any falling under our radar.

As Alberto mentioned, we will start the work to promote the innovators in the public institutions, most likely through “Bureaucrat Hackers fellowship” programme – the FutrueMakers project and other of our work streams (e.g., Public Innovation Labs) pointed us to the importance of the “bureaucrat hackers” in the public institutions who can make innovations in the public sector and in their constituencies work. True, this is only one of the many elements for a FutureMaker-like creative bureaucracy to happen, and there actually may have been heavy lifters in the public institutions we worked with. But the issue is that they are not empowered enough to come and work with us.

Dear Noemi, just wanted to say, that we also have fulfiled the practitioners’ guide.

Dear @Bob, @alberto and @noemi thanks for the reflections. This format of the project at least helped us to understand the local features of bureaucracies in each country. As Bob mentioned, UNDP Armenia remains firmly committed to delivering the underpass project. We probably will start to work in other cities of Armenia too. This will help us to understand the dynamics of local governments in Armenia.

As for the city council in Armenia:)

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This is not a small result. I have been fascinated by real bureaucracies since I started working with government in 2007. Most people have three tools to think about them. One is a story of a neutral machine that efficiently implements the will of the ruler (Weber), and that we can expect to “just work”. You ask for a certificate, you get a certificate. Another is one of rules, impartiality but also blindness to anything that does not fit any of the boxes drawn by the rules’ designers (Kafka-style). You can not expect it to work, even though no one in it necessarily means harm. The third is a story of arbitrariness, nepotism and corruption. All are caricatures, but they are so strong that not many people I know have an informed idea of what is actually going on in their specific case.

Yes, it is accessible thru the link above :slight_smile: