Help us continue to grow the field of social and collective imagination

“The lack of plural, functional, compelling and active vision(s) in the United Kingdom (actually England, where I currently live) is palpable” wrote Anab Jain in her most recent essay. Even though we’ve been quiet on the ‘imagination’ front, behind the scenes we’ve been plotting a programme of work for exactly the reasons that Anab describes. We still believe that our collective imaginations have real power in making and remaking the world.

So this blog post is both an announcement of a tender we’re putting out and a broader update about that work. At the start of this year we set out why JRF was committed to resource work that grows Imagination Infrastructures and the capacity of communities and others to collectively imagine and shape alternative futures. We also wrote about what this work builds on.

Since then we’ve published a range of blog posts — Amahra Spence wrote about how social imagination goes hand in hand with personal responsibility, Geoff Mulgan about Four ways we can use our collective imagination to improve how society works, Rob Hopkins shared why now is the moment for collective imagination, the RSA about now being a time to replenish our imaginations, and Matt Golding about how content can help unlock our imaginations.

An image from New Constellations work with Barrow in 2020 — a brilliant example of imagination infrastructure — inviting the town to call a dreams hotline.

We supported New Constellations to build on the brilliant work they did with Barrow-In-Furness, to do more place-based imagination work in Sheffield“Sheffield’s New Constellation journey was an adventure into the future for a diverse group of Sheffielders: a process to connect, explore, imagine and begin shaping a future for Sheffield that fully reflects the potential of its incredible people and places” in partnership with Sheffield Council. And Social Canopy shared their reflections on the social imagination work they did over several years in Shirebrook.

We resourced the MAIA group to host monthly sessions for ‘collective imagination’ practitioners, over a 12-month period — which are soon coming to an end with an insights blog on its way to share what was learnt. There is a growing Directory of Practitioners here.

In the Spring we ran another session at New Local’s annual conference — Stronger Things — for the second year in a row, introducing the practices and ideas of collective imagination to local government. Over 70 people attended to listen to brilliant Sam Plum, who really pioneered some of this work in Barrow. Next week we’ll be publishing a blog by Catherine Howe sharing some of the ways Adur + Worthing are thinking about the role of collective imagination and off the back of that we’ll be co-convening a group of different local councils we’ve been in conversation with.

“So, so much of the work, for me, of radical imagination is like, what does it look like to imagine beyond the constructs? What does it look like to imagine a future where we all get to be there, not causing harm to each other, and experiencing abundance? “- adrienne maree brown

I’ve given talks for the City of Melbourne in Australia, for Creatures EU and later this month I will be in Arizona talking about ‘imagination infrastructures’ at the Anticipation conference. Sophia was invited to deliver the Eleanor Rathbone Social Justice Public Lecture, which she focussed on ‘ Imagination: the beating heart of social justice; and was also a judge at the RSA’s Student Design Awards for the ‘collective imagination’ design brief — a brief I’d written whilst at TNLCF — “How might we build the capacity and capability of local communities to collectively imagine the future they desire?” And we hosted Geoff Mulgan to talk about his new book — Another World Is possible — how to reignite social and political imagination. As we’ve been developing our work we’ve been chatting to lots of great people — one of whom is Samir, who wrote this great article on ‘Decolonizing Our Dreams.’.

“The late Grace Lee Boggs said, “The time has come for a new dream, that’s what being a revolutionary is. I don’t know what the next American revolution is going to be like, but you might be able to imagine it, if your imagination were rich enough.” How do we liberate ourselves from all supremacy culture to dream the new dream that Boggs speaks of? Dreams are an essential part of our human cognition, identity, and being. They allow us to bring our whole selves and our communities into imagining new worlds and realities. They conjure the unseen and unknown, while redesigning our notions of what is possible.”

Most recently we’ve taken part in an Embodied Imagination seminar — with Staci Haines and Iman Boundaoui, who beautifully describe how to connect with a felt sense of imagination — a longing for something that wants to emerge. We’ve been participants on courses with people like Bayo Akomolafe, Sophie Strand, Martin Shaw and others through Advaya, the Institute for Postnatural Studies, Emergence Magazine and For The Wild. We’ve been learning about the work UNDP has been doing to catalyse forward-looking policy making through civic imagination, and connected with some of the researchers at Creatures EU who are exploring really interesting ways to measure collective imagination. Even the FT has been writing about imagination -

“We can imagine the end of the world much more easily than we can imagine saving it. Trying to confront climate change, which is not only slow, but diffuse, and happening within multiple ecosystems and weather systems at different rates, is profoundly difficult. To do so we must engage in an act of imagination that is huge, multi-faceted and non-linear.”

That’s the update, shared as a way of signalling our ongoing commitment to growing this field of practice and investing in imagination infrastructures — and now to share some of what’s coming next.

What’s coming up

“To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.” — bell hooks

We know from workshops we ran with ‘collective imagination’ practitioners earlier in the year, that they want to connect with and learn from each other, as well as widen the field of who’s doing this work. Building on the work MAIA has been doing this year, we are looking for an individual or organisation to host a Community of Practice for the next 12 months. Alongside the hosting role, there is also a small fund attached that practitioners can draw on for events, content creation, field trips and so forth. You can read more here and applications close at 5pm on 30th November.

There are a few more things to look forward to in the coming months:

We’ve supported the wonderful team at UnEarthed to publish the story of the tour they conducted earlier this year of rural communities across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Using deep listening, conversation and play, they set out to imagine hopeful and grounded futures together. We can’t wait to share this publication later this year.

In January 2023 we will be hosting a session on ‘municipal imagination’, bringing together some of the people who are thinking hard about how to grow the field of possibilities in places up and down the country. We want to understand more about what it takes to foster this work deeply and for action to spring from ideas.

And in February 2023 we will be doing a follow up event to the 2020 Imagination Infrastructres event, that saw 900 people attend online from across the globe. This event will be co-curated by Keri Facer and Gabriella Gomez Mont — one of the first people to set up a Ministry of Imagination in a City Government. The curation will bring together the developments in imagination infrastructure, collective imagination practices and the world of possibility science.

We really believe in adrienne maree brown’s wisdom of ‘what you pay attention to, grows’ and so over the next few months and throughout 2023 we’ll be investing in narrative and storytelling work that emphasises things don’t need to be this way, and that other worlds are possible. We love the work Rubber Republic is doing in this space and know that creating and distributing mainstream content will be a key part of activating the wider public to participate in and practice social and collective imagination.

Lastly, in the next few weeks we’ll be posting another job — Imagination Infrastructure Lead — a new and permanent role in the Emerging Futures team. This role will help set up a funding programme for place-based and thematic collective imagination experiments, as well as help support growing the field as a whole.

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Working with Joseph Rowntree Foundation, EarthPercent, P4NE, Policy Fellow IIPP, Co-founder Point People, Founder Stewarding Loss, International Futures Forum.

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Cassie Robinson.

Working with Joseph Rowntree Foundation, EarthPercent, P4NE, Policy Fellow IIPP, Co-founder Point People, Founder Stewarding Loss, International Futures Forum.