Central to all of Imagine Chicago's initiatives is a common approach to learning which moves from idea to action:
- Understand what is (focusing on the best of what is)
- Imagine what could be (working in partnerships with others)
- Create what will be (translating what we value into what we do)
All projects begin with and are grounded in asking and teaching others to ask open-ended, asset and value-oriented questions about what
is life-giving, what is working, what is generative, what is important. The focus is on asking positive questions that encourage sharing of best practices, articulation of fundamental values, and which reveal the positive foundation on which greater possibilities can be built. For example, in working with parents, “What is something your child has accomplished that you are especially proud of? What about your family, this school, is effective in encouraging children to learn? What questions are you curious about right now?”
New possibilities are inspired by answering questions and hearing stories that cause us to wonder and stretch our understanding beyond what we already know. When we are invited to articulate or hear from others what's important and is working, we readily imagine how even greater transformation and innovation can happen. In a learning community, our collective imaginations continually envisage more. Grass roots leaders discussing what they have helped change on their block inspires others to try and make a difference. Young parents sharing stories of how they are caring for their children leads others to consider new, good parenting practices.
This stretching of the human imagination happens naturally. Envisioning is the realm of the future, of freedom, where new possibilities can break in. Each and every human being possesses the enormous gift of imagination; imagination is utterly democratic: The greater the diversity of the people involved, the stronger the collective imaginative capacity. Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested long ago that “a mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions.”
For imagination to help create community change, it needs to be embodied in something concrete and practical, a visible outcome that inspires more people to invest themselves in making a difference. E.g. when parents graduate from a parent training program and invite their family and friends to graduation, the word spreads that successful learning is possible and leads to great rewards. The parents become ambassadors for developing the next generation of parent educators. When students create exhibits that enable other students to learn about a topic, they are transformed into teachers of their peers. Their personal self-esteem and understanding of the topic is enhanced but so is the educational interest and knowledge base of the whole school. When grass roots leaders articulate their visions for community change and create imaginative community development projects they design, their confidence and skill level grow. The visible outcomes and expanded volunteer effort attract the commitment of other individuals who see it's possible to make a difference.
To see the future as viable, we need an active sense that our lives and contribution count, that our choices make a difference to the outcome. When our ideas are listened to, when we are invited to share what we see and care about, something new happens. Latent ideas come into clear consciousness. The sharing of ideas and lives inspires deeper thinking and questions and innovation. Communities of interest become identified to one another. Democracy gets re-discovered as a creative activity. Government and citizens become more innovative and accountable partners.
Creating builds confidence in our power to transform. As Thomas Merton once noted, “Living is more than submission; it is creation. Once we begin to change this street and this city, we begin to discover our power to transform the world.”