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.