Opening up the window of our imagination

Between the “there is no alternative” and “another world is possible” what narrative will win and dominate over the next months?

If the Overton Window has expanded, in which direction? Is the window even still relevant? You could argue that whoever wins the narrative gets to change the direction of the window, so uncertain is our future.

Geoff Mulgan points out potential trends hindering social imagination:

“Echo chamber effects in social media tend to dampen curiosity and openness. Since social creativity, like other kinds of creativity, depends on new combinations, it is problematic that the rise of assortative mating means that there is less social mixing. The interaction of the relatively rich and poor in previous eras often drove social radicalism. Now the rich and poor seem to be leading ever more separate lives.”

Mulgan breaks down social imagination into distinct areas:

What new utopias will we see post Covid 19? What will be the equivalents of William Morris or John Maynard Keynes?

What new fictions will help us imagine the future? What will be the equivalents of novels like Ursula LeGuin’s Anares (in The Dispossessed), or Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. Will it be Years and Years?

What new principles? What will be equivalents of universal human rights, free healthcare or the welfare state? A Green New Deal?

What prefigurative places? What will be the equivalents of Robert Owen’s New Lanark in Scotland or Sri Aurobindo’s Auroville? Will it be Transition Towns? Will it be New Zealand and Finland?

What prefigurative institutions? What will be the equivalents of Finland’s Committee of the Future or Wales’ Future Generations Act? Is it Dubai’s Museum of the Future of Bologna’s Civic Imagination Office or Camden’s very own Think & Do?

What prefigurative movements? What will be the equivalents of the Chartists, the Diggers or the Suffragettes? Will it be Extinction Rebellion?

What speculative social science ? What will be the equivalents of the mapping of cholera by Jon Snow? Will it be in speculative design like Anab Jain is showing with Superflux?

What new visions for cities? What will be the equivalents of the Garden Cities or Kibbutz? Is it Amsterdam’s “doughnut model”? What will be the equivalent of the Grand Exhibitions to showcase these?

Covid 19 shows the fragility of our society, but does it show weakness or strengths? Of our economy (weakness of high streets versus ability to scale up distribution), of our state (weakness of preparedness versus ability to support residents most in need and connect to communities) or of our communities (fragility of people to the virus versus ability to provide mutual aid to each other). Either way we need to find ways to imagine and rethink ideas

A Rubik’s cube in a reverse: how to rethink ideas

Sometimes it can be difficult to come up with ideas, particularly if you’ve identified an issue that people have tried to tackle before or if you don’t have much money to make your idea happen. Likewise, it is easy to think of the technology we use the most to think of how technology could help tackle your issue. How many times have you seen an article talking about the “Facebook for x (older people, kids, err..cats)” or the “Tinder for y” (call centre workers, social impact lovers, err…secret service agents), without realising that these services didn’t exist before in the way they are designed. People will ask if your app is like Facebook, TripAdvisor or Google Maps, then why not use these existing applications?

As Mulgan warns, the inherent problem with imagining the future, is that we don’t imagine it, instead we use how we view the world currently to extrapolate it into the future, and scenario planning can be guilty of that. What I need to do more of is to use more fiction. I went to creative writing classes and to 100 design project courses where both used a technique of just getting you to write fiction or design & craft.

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noelito

Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese