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Principles of the Community of Imagination

The Community of Imagination is founded on a set of principles:

1. ‘Innovation’ not ‘incremental improvement’

All of the most successful organisations have a ‘split screen’ in their attention. One side focuses on ‘incremental improvement’: the relentless drive to improve what we have now. This is vital, but is not the focus of the Community of Imagination.

Instead, the Community of Imagination focuses on the other side of the split screen: Innovation. This means stepping back from the day-to-day, looking 5, 10 or 20 years into the future and starting to build alternatives that unlock new kinds of resources, serve new users, create new roles and are based on new insights and perspectives.

Unless we protect innovation, it can be quickly engulfed by pressing issues in the day-to-day and the way issues are currently framed. Innovation and incremental improvement must therefore be kept separate if we are to genuinely create powerful new alternatives.

2. Start with people, not services

If we begin with the question, ‘how can we improve this hospice?’ we might come up with a better hospice. But this is not obviously what our society needs right now. Instead, we need to start by meeting people where they are at, without an institutional agenda, and build alternative solutions with them that start with the strengths and the needs that we find.

3. Owning death as a resource

Death is currently a disowned resource in our society. By owning it we can create richer and more balanced society. This means recognising that the finitude of life is what gives our actions meaning and purpose. This means recognising that love and loss are two sides of the same coin. In a world that is increasingly divided and where people go to extreme lengths to find their purpose (or create great destruction not knowing what it is), we are dealing with a resource in death that has great power for connection and impetus for grappling with meaning. 

4. Create the beacons

Any terms of reference that the whole end of life care sector would sign up for would never produce any meaningful innovation. Instead, we have to start with a small group of people with fires in their bellies for something new. As we make these fires visible in beacons of new practice, other people and resources will be drawn towards them. So initial, the Community of Imagination will not worry about whether everyone is on board, but instead concern itself with the question, ‘which are the beacons that will burn most brightly and show us the way forward?’

5. Grown up about risk

There are many vested interests in not changing how we do things. One naive strategy that is often used to prevent needed innovation is to raise ‘the risk of the new’. Therefore, the Community of Imagination must have a grown up approach to risk. This has three main components: 1. Recognising the asymmetry that exists in the perception of risk. It is easier to see the risks of what we might do than the risks in what we are already doing? What about the risk of hundreds of thousands of people not receiving end of life care they need that we know exists now, for example? 2. Using approaches to risk management that allow for development and learning, e.g. prototyping. 3. Involving experts in advising on risk in specialist issues where necessary.

6. Collaborate on behalf of society

The Community of Imagination is a collaborative community whose aim is positive change in society. As such all participants will fully share their learning, their mistakes and at times their resources in order to further the aim. For the purpose of fairness, teams who develop an innovation will have the first say on how it is taken forwards, but there will be a presumption that decisions will be made based on what is best for wider society, not narrow organisational interests. Despite this, it is undoubted that participating teams will gain a competitive advantage in their area due to the depth of user insight, fresh ideas and innovative culture that participation will generate.

7. Start today

We must start today, even if that is in a small and simple way. Planning will be necessary, but it must not be allowed to become a deferment tactic. It will never be the perfect time to start. Instead we must develop the conditions on the job as we learn more about what is needed.