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Practicing Futures

A Civic Imagination Action Handbook

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Gabriel Peters-Lazaro and Sangita Shresthova

The real world is full of challenges and the sheer weight of problems facing us can stifle the genius of our collective human creativity at exactly the time when we desperately need imaginative and innovative solutions. Responding to this, Practicing Futures: A Civic Imagination Action Handbook harnesses our connections to popular culture and taps the boundless potential of human imagination to break free of assumptions that might otherwise trap us in repetitive cycles of alienation. Utopias and dystopias have long been used to pose questions, provoke discussions, and inspire next steps and are helpful because they encourage long view perspectives. Building on the work of the Civic Imagination Project at the University of Southern California, the Handbook is a practical guide for community leaders, educators, creative professionals, and change-makers who want to encourage creative, participatory, and playful approaches to thinking about the future. This book shares examples and models from the authors’ work in diverse communities. It also provides a step-by-step guide to their workshops with the objective of making their approach accessible to all interested practitioners. The tools are adaptable to a variety of local contexts and can serve multiple purposes from community and network building to idea generation and media campaign design by harnessing the expansive capacity for imagination within all of us.

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Chapter One About Practicing Futures

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About Practicing Futures

“This is a story about the Vietnam War and Peter Rabbit.” So began a story told by a third grader named Sarah.1 Sarah, an Asian American girl in Los Angeles, had composed the story with a group of her peers as part of a workshop with the Penny Harvest Leadership Academy at the University of Southern California in October of 2018. In their story Peter Rabbit—a well-known character of children’s fiction created by Beatrix Potter and featured in a recent animated film adaptation—travels back in time from the present day to find himself in Vietnam in the 1960s. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Peter gets trapped in Northern Vietnam and ends up in jail. He is desolate and filled with despair. Eventually, he is released and permitted to leave. Full of anticipation, he boards a plane that takes him to Los Angeles, where he settles down and begins a happier life. As she finished telling this story, Sarah exhaled with relief and her group mates smiled in encouragement, clearly content with how she had conveyed their work.

Over 60 elementary aged children from nearby schools, including Sarah, participated in our civic imagination workshops as part of Penny Harvest that day. The workshops invited the children to surface and document stories that they felt were ←3 | 4→inspiring. They then worked in small groups to identify characters, themes and plot twists from each of their stories that they could then incorporate into a...

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