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Practicing Futures

A Civic Imagination Action Handbook


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 Twelve Workshop: Origin Stories—Imagining Ourselves as Civic Agents


Workshop: Origin Stories—Imagining Ourselves as Civic Agents

We connect the imagination to personal and social identities and the ways people think about their own capacities for social action.

This activity can be run as a workshop or completed as an individual process of reflection and creative writing. Much of the civic imagination is about looking forward and shaping a vision of the future. An important starting place for this work is often in our own pasts.

In this activity, participants are guided to identify a Memory Object; something tangible and personally evocative from another time and place in their lives. It might be something that was transient or permanent, something they still have with them or that was lost. The key is that it becomes a totem of memory, opening up a connection between the world of yesterday and of today. After an object has been identified and described, participants work individually or in groups to begin an analysis of these rich and evocative objects, identifying how they connect to themes such as sentimentality, nostalgia, family, community, labor, loss and so forth. This work helps people connect with parts of themselves that they do not ←105 | 106→always conjure or bring forth in the daily flows of their lives and public identities. It gives people a chance to get to know each other in new ways, and sets them up to enter a reflective, receptive and creative mode that is conducive to the...

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