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Imagination infrastructures

The work we're doing to deepen collective imagination practice (where a network of individuals and communities come together to imagine pathways to a better world, rehearsing and participating in the futures they want to see).

Collective imagination gives us the freedom to dream and rewild, breaking out of cycles of despair to move towards a more hope-filled future.

Our mission

Imagination forms part of the Emerging Futures programme and is a vital part of our mission to speed up the transition to a more equitable future for people and the planet.

In this work we aim to:

  • deepen collective imagination practices
  • build hope (highlighting new possibilities for the future​)
  • use impactful storytelling to tackle the fatalistic narratives that dominate the public and media
  • run experiments in collective imagination with young people and in communities
  • explore approaches to bridging work between the 3 horizons​ (now, the near future and the far future.)

To achieve these aims we’re embarking on a series of experiments in:

  • placed-based imagination (supporting local communities to future-build together)
  • imagination infrastructures (physical and digital spaces designed for people to share imagination practice)
  • growing the field of practice (supporting an ecosystem of practitioners who are using imagination as a necessary tool for social change.)

Building new systems together

One of the greatest challenges we face is the way we’ve come to see our current economic and social models as fixed, even as they are failing us and the planet. We’re living through times of hardship and anguish, with many feeling a sense of hopelessness when thinking about the future. 

If we want to speed up the transition to a more just and equitable society, then we’ll need to grow our collective capacity to imagine that future. We want to spread the message that it doesn’t have to be this way. That we’re all active agents of social change, and together can build new systems and ways of being that help us to heal and restore hope for a better tomorrow.  

Our ambition is that over time, with continued investment and learning, more communities and organisations will feel equipped to use collective imagination practice and unleash its power.

Collective imagination

Collective imagination intersects with all JRF’s work. It’s closely aligned with the 3 other strands of our Emerging Futures programme. 

  1. Reimagining Wealth and Philanthropy (exploring collective wealth and new economic means for change).  
  1. Pathfinders (backing organisations doing crucial work to redesign and reimagine the world they want to live in). 
  1. Visionaries (an ecosystem of radical and revolutionary public scholars unlocking new ways for us to see the world). For example, Bayo Akomolafe and his encouragement to look beyond what we know as truth, Shayda Kafai and her work on Crip Kinship where she talks of “moving us toward generating our collective liberation”, and Vanessa Andreotti and her work on Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures

Imagination is also a useful tool in our policy and influencing work, supporting organisations to find new and innovative ways to address deep structural and societal challenges. Collective imagination offers an alternative approach to fighting these challenges, helping organisations navigate alternative routes to change.

Collective Imagination Practice Community

There’s a growing, diverse network of individuals and communities who are experimenting with alternative futures, illuminating pathways to a better world – a world in which our systems and structures are fit for purpose, and the way we live centres around joy and hope, offering us the freedom to dream.  

Across our networks we’ve seen the future imagination in a number of creative and immersive ways. Through our growing Collective Imagination Practice Community this is done through the hosting of huddles (peer-led learning journeys where individuals come together to explore a shared imagination practice, topic or question in depth). Some of the themes of recent huddles have included:  

  • reimagining local democracy 
  • finding realistic optimism in climate uncertainty  
  • exploring the transformative potential of loss 

Each huddle is an invitation to explore these topics using collective imagination as a tool to think creatively about how we might shift our perspectives and reapproach challenges with a new lens. Supporting this field of practice helps us redefine what a good future looks like and allows us to experiment with building it together.

The Collective Imagination Community Fund and Practice

In recognition of the growing demand for this work JRF launched a £100,000 practitioners fund bolstered with an additional £50,000 of funding from Arising Quo. This funding has been made available through a new Collective Imagination Community of Practice, initiated by JRF and delivered in partnership with Canopy, Huddlecraft and the Centre for Public Impact.

This community infrastructure has enabled the interchanging and developing of ideas and practice, growing people’s capacity to imagine. The network has grown exponentially since inception and now boasts 500 members.

Learn about collective imagination

In addition to the community of practice we’ve also developed where you can read more about those working in partnership to develop the field of collective imagination. We recommend exploring the Collective Imagination Playbook found on the website. It’s a rich open resource document capturing and consolidating the breadth of imagination practice and intelligence that is being developed.  

Event series

Earlier this year Cassie Robinson (Emerging Futures Associate Director) and Farah Elahi (Joseph Rowntree Foundation Trustee) hosted the second instalment of our annual Imagination Infrastructure event, bringing practitioners together from across the globe to share wisdom and discuss how we can better build and enable the development of imagination infrastructures. You can watch a recording of the event.  

We’re looking forward to hosting the third instalment of this event series in early 2024 and will soon post updates.