Watching Years and Years made me uncomfortable and confused. Every dystopia you could imagine was being thrown at the kitchen sink, from a nuclear bomb exploding in the South China Sea at the same time as a riot in a refugee camp and a couple tearing themselves up. There was no room for hope, but also no room to make sense of what the future might hold.
Then when I read Radical Visions of Government by Nesta, it made me think that the best stories offer a mix of dystopia to bring to life in a very sharp way the issues that should keep us up at night, the utopias that help us dream better tomorrows and want to find ways through issues that feel too complex and deep-rooted, and practical ways forward that provide us with the tools we can start using now to “practice” making the future happen.
It reminded me of the model we’ve developed in European Alternatives — “Imagine, Enact, Demand”. That, you can’t develop future policies or practices if you don’t create the space for imagination. But you can’t just imagine those futures, you need to start enacting them so people can see what they might look like and then adjust & challenge them. And there are futures where you need systemic change that you can’t create just by practising it, you need to mobilise people to demand better futures.
As The Others state in their manifesto, “what could happen if a large enough number of us began to question the agreed upon fiction we inhabit? What if we could find each other and imagine a new way to organise life?”
Radical visions of government brings together different stories of the future, focusing on future roles, mindsets, from the dystopian Government We Couldn’t Forget by Greg Falconer to the practical utopia by One Team Gov. From the district-based Creative Facilitators by Ann Light Deborah Mason to the transnational infrastructure of the Sacrosanctuary by Vik Sasi.
For me, what makes it important is more the diverse use of methods to tell these stories, from the graphic novel of Beneath the Stones by Simon Parker to the board game by Centre for Public Impact. They open up our imagination to think outside of the usual options & models that exist in policymakers’ toolkits. They don’t start from a rational attempt to try and predict the future, but spice up scenarios to remind us of the messy anarchic way that events and trends emerge. Rather than build on structures & process that we take for granted, they imagine new infrastructure that is influenced from trends that are surfacing.
How can we use creative methods to imagine new ways of working? If working with community organisers, entrepreneurs or data scientists is changing the way we work, how might government change if we worked more closely with cartoonists, games designers, dancers…or pirates? None of these forms of art have waited to bring the political into their work, whether it’s Molly Crabapple visualising the future with a Green New Deal, World without Oil, or Capoeira.
What if we started developing new governance from scratch? As Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux shows, the governance that has been created over the centuries evolved from the cultures of organising and making decisions of the time. Often those cultures have been national and those of the dominant. Which is why we have governance structures that aren’t only full of those who are the most privileged, but also reflect their ways of thinking and doing, whether we’re talking about white able bodied cisgendered men or imperalist countries. What if we developed governance that reflected both more local cultures and created the space to be able to reflect non-comformist cultures? What if we opened the space for more inclusive participatory futures?