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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 Thirteen Workshop: Infinite Hope—Imagining a Better World

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Workshop: Infinite Hope—Imagining a Better World

We recognize the value of utopian and dystopian narratives for helping people to think about what they are fighting for as well as what they are fighting against.

The “Infinite Hope—Imagining a Better World” workshop1 is a future-focused workshop highlighting the power of stories as tools for fostering civic imagination and inspiring real world change. As this title suggests, the focus is on worldbuilding, that is, thinking about what alternative worlds might look like, reading them in relation to our own, and deploying them as a means of expressing and debating visions for what alternatives might be to current conditions. We find that alternative worlds free participants from the constraints on the imagination which are posed by a relentless focus on existing constraints which limit the possibilities for change.

The workshop leads participants through an exercise of building a future world in which both real and fantastical solutions to cultural, social and political challenges are possible, ultimately leading them to strategize how we may be able to get to this imagined future. The workshop begins with a big picture brainstorm. Working backwards, the participants then break into smaller groups to share insights and build on these imagined worlds to brainstorm character-based narratives of social change set in the shared future world. After working out their stories, the groups are then given a short amount of time to prepare a presentation of their narrative. Encouraging spontaneity, the...

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