Four ways we can use our collective imagination to improve how society works

Article by Geoff Mulgan: “In the first months of the pandemic there was evidence of a strong desire for transformational change in many countries. People wanted to use the crisis to deal with the big unresolved problems of climate change inequality and much more, encouraged, for example, by the very obvious truth that the most essential jobs were often amongst the lowest paid and lowest status. That everyone was affected by the pandemic seemed likely to fuel a more collective spirit, a recognition of how much our lives are intertwined with those of millions of strangers.

Now much of that energy has gone. People are exhausted, expectations have fallen and a return to normality looks acceptable, however inadequate that normality might have been. War in Ukraine has reminded us just how easily the world can go into retreat and that basic values remain under threat. My hope, though, is that as the pandemic fades from view we will return to our shared need for radical imagination about the future, and the transformations ahead.

I have long believed that we have a major problem with imagination: that we can more easily imagine ecological apocalypse or technological advances than improvements in how our society works: better options for health, welfare or neighbourhoods a generation or two from now.

Some of the reasons for this problem are objective. The majority of people no longer expect their children to be better off than them. They have good reasons for their pessimism: stagnant incomes for much of the population, particularly since the financial crisis. But the causes of this pessimism also lie with institutions – our universities have become better at commenting on or analysing the present than designing the future. Our political parties have largely given up on long-term thinking, while our social movements are generally better at arguing against things than proposing. Amazingly, there are now no media outlets that promote new ideas: magazines and newspapers focus instead on commentary.

One symptom of this is how much public debate, even in its progressive forms, is dominated by quite old ideas. Take, for example, the circular economy. The main ideas were first proposed in the 1980s. They guided many projects (including ones I worked on) in the 1990s, got the backing of the Chinese Communist party nearly twenty years ago, and were then ably evangelized by people like Ellen McArthur. Yet they’re still not wholly mainstream…(More)”.