UNBOXED: The importance of unlocking collective imagination

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In late 2021, we launched a partnership with UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, allowing us to kick off a global exploration project called ‘Collective Futures’ looking at the potential collective imagination and creative collaboration has to shape better futures for people and planet.

Throughout, we will be working in the open, sharing notes from the field on what we are doing, what we are learning, and how you can get involved. Field notes will be penned by the UNBOXED RSA team, Fellows and those involved.

To kick us off, we’d like to share a little about why we’ve partnered with UNBOXED, why the mission of this work is so important right now, and what you can expect to see.

What is UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK?

UNBOXED is a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of creativity taking place across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and online in 2022. The UNBOXED team has commissioned ten extraordinary, diverse, and unique collaborations from across the UK, which look at how creative ideas can change our world. These ideas will be delivered as experiences open to everyone - in-person, online, on TV and radio - between March and October 2022. You can find out more about the commissions on the UNBOXED website. UNBOXED is funded and supported by the four governments of the UK and co-commissioned with Belfast City Council, EventScotland and Creative Wales.

Why are we partnering with UNBOXED?

We aim to complement the exciting work UNBOXED is leading on, and explore from a global and inclusive perspective, the value of taking a creative, collective, collaborative, and imaginative approach to shaping our future trajectory. More precisely, the exploration will be answering the following question:

How might collective imagination and creative collaboration help shape better futures for people and planet?

We will be exploring, learning from and sharing work from individuals, communities and organisations worldwide. The below definitions show how our global exploration will sit at the intersection of these three elements:

  • COLLECTIVE: where marginalised groups collaborate and participate across diverse backgrounds, experiences (lived or learned), expertise, and mindsets to change something that affects their own lives and places.
  • FUTURES: where the grounds for collaboration and participation is to creatively plan, design, imagine or envision desired long-term futures.
  • FOR PEOPLE AND PLANET: where the purpose of the work recognises that social and ecological challenges are interconnected, and where it strives to create better futures for all life on earth.

We know this kind of work shows up in lots of different contexts, so we will be specifically looking at work happening:

  • IN COMMUNITIES: those who live in and care for/about a place, and who are collaborating and participating to create better futures for both people and nature in that place.
  • THROUGH LEARNING: those collaborating and participating in an educational context (formal or informal), to learn about or to shape how learning happens, to create a better future for both people and planet.
  • AT WORK: those collaborating and participating within or beyond an organisation, to shape the jobs, services, and industries needed to create a better future for both people and planet.

Why is this work important?

Our exploration is grounded in three core principles: openness, originality and optimism.

  1. OPENNESS: We believe a single area of expertise or a group of like-minded people working in isolation will not be enough to respond to the complexity of the challenges we face today. Diverse voices and experiences should have a voice when shaping their futures. We know marginalised communities around the world are the first to be hit by climate crises and social inequalities. However, the work responding to these challenges often sits with experts, strategists and policymakers. Meaning the voices and say of those most affected are least heard. We believe people must be at the heart of this work shaping their futures.
  2. ORIGINALITY: We cannot respond to today’s challenges using the same ways of thinking that created them. Creativity and imagination are vital to moving us from where we are now, to where we want to be. We need radically different ways of collaborating and revitalising our ability to create and imagine, to transition towards futures that meet our collective needs.
  3. OPTIMISM: We cannot continue to think in short-term cycles that lead to long-term negative consequences. We need to shift towards the longer term and act in ways that will benefit future generations. We also cannot continue to dwell on an inevitable dystopian future. We need to shift to imagining a hopeful future and start to act now. Finally, we need to work towards better futures for both people and planet - not one or the other, because we can only thrive if our planet is thriving too.

What will the work look like?

We will be using the RSA’s Living Change approach throughout the exploration and working in three phases.

Phase one: open calls

In the first phase, we will be launching a global call for entries from individuals, communities or organisations whose work aligns with the scope of this exploration outlined above. We will shortlist the most diverse, emergent and demonstrable examples for further in-depth interviews and ‘show and tells’ to find out what we can learn from this work. We will seek to understand the methods, tools, practices used and look closely at environments that foster barriers to Collective Futures work. We will identify the values and positive outcomes as a result of working in this way, and where opportunities lie for the future.

We will regularly share our work and engage with our Fellowship community of 30,000 changemakers.

Phase two: collaboration

During phase two, we will bring together a group of research participants to co-design workshops, to share and validate insights and learnings, and to co-create ways of documenting and sharing the case stories identified. It’s our current plan to pull these examples into a helpful field guide, which we hope will continue to inspire and support communities, organisations and practitioners now and for many years to come. The guide would also include recommendations for systems leaders, policymakers and funders to resource and support enabling conditions for this way of working to flourish.

By sharing our work in this way, we aim to help embed creative collaboration and collective imagination approaches to help people, communities and organisations to deliver better futures for people and planet.

Phase three: sharing and testing

At the final phase, we will share and test the guide. We will stimulate discussion through a series of hybrid creative conversations taking place over the summer in different locations across the UK. These will be open to our Fellowship and beyond - local and global, we will welcome anyone with an interest and curiosity to bring Collective Futures approaches into their work, communities or organisations.

How to get involved

There will be many opportunities for you to engage with UNBOXED: Collective Futures. We will be launching open calls and announcing various event dates which will include the launch event in Paisley, Scotland in March. If your work closely aligns with this exploration, or you have recommendations, please email us at [email protected].

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