The challenge

To bring together a diverse group of citizens in six cities – Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Manila, and Nairobi – to create an ongoing dialogue about the informal city and use futures scenarios to develop innovations to make their city more inclusive and resilient in the future.


What we did

The project encompassed four main phases over a period of one year from 2012-2013: Reference Group, Scenarios, Innovations, and the Bellagio Conference. Through dozens of interviews and desk research, we wrote a Briefing Paper, which is a conceptual overview of informality in cities (rather than a detailed technical review) to serve as stimulus for discussion. Early on in the project, we convened a Reference Group of international experts to ensure the project had a sound conceptual foundation, provide guidance on and validate content, and identify important stakeholders in each city.

We partnered with local organisations in each city – the African Center for Economic Transformation in Accra, Chulalongkorn University Department of Urban and Rural Planning in Bangkok, Transparent Chennai in Chennai, FORO Nacional Internacional in Lima, Ateneo de Manila University School of Government in Manila, and the Institute of Economic Affairs in Nairobi – to engage the right stakeholders in the process.

Together with our partners, we facilitated two separate workshops in each of the six cities. The first set of workshops developed four future scenarios for each city (summarised and analysed in our report, Reimagining the Future of Informality: Scenarios from the Global South). The second set of workshops used the scenarios to design innovations for making the city more inclusive and resilient in the future under those future scenarios. One innovation from each city was chosen and put forward for seed-funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Innovations in all six cities have been awarded funding.

The project concluded with a conference at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center which brought together project partners and other global experts to reflect on the project and the wider global dialogue on informal cities, and to identify pathways and actions that will help more cities appreciate the role of the informal in creating more inclusive and resilient communities, thereby continuing the legacy of the Informal City Dialogues.



The project had several significant impacts, including:

Starting a local and global conversation on the role of informality in building inclusive and resilient cities. We estimate that more than 600 people were involved in the project including streetvendors, wastepickers, local government officials, community leaders, bankers, planners, academics, writers, artists, and many others.

Providing an open platform and process to bring together typically disparate people and organizations within cities, allowing a new mutual understanding and respect to emerge, as well as innovations and actions to share and spread new thinking.

Understanding of the forces driving change in each of the six cities (and in cities in general), with a focus on how these forces will interact with formality and informality to shape the future of the city.

Using imaginary, but plausible, alternative futures to stimulate more creative and systemic strategic thinking today. The scenarios provided a means to model the viability of innovation ideas, given the multiple critical uncertainties facing each city. In addition, the scenario creation process itself served to catalyze new sorts of conversations among diverse stakeholders in each city.

Inspiring positive change in communities and institutions, in policies and practice using scenario narratives. For the majority of the workshop participants in each city, this was their first exposure to the field of futures and using scenario planning. There was both positive feedback and interest in other applications of the scenarios.

Developing and supporting innovations that will help cities build on the strengths of the informal city to achieve a more inclusive and resilient future. Using the possible futures scenarios developed earlier, produce real innovations to put forward for funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. All six cities’ innovations have been awarded their full grant, many of which are underway already.

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