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We have a kind of crisis of an ability to imagine a potentially better future, which may in turn then energise us to act better in the present, says Sir Geoff Mulgan, Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London and former chief executive of Nesta.

This event was held on Thursday 28 July. The recording is available below.

Drawing on unique insight from his latest book Another World Is Possible, in this Nesta talks to… Ravi Gurumurthy, Nesta’s Chief Executive, and Sir Geoff Mulgan explored how we can counteract fatalism with radical political imagination. Moreover, they discussed how lessons from our past and collective intelligence could be used to build a better future.

Geoff’s inspiration for writing the book stemmed from talking with climate activists before the pandemic. In particular, he was struck by their pessimism towards envisioning a better future in relation to climate change, welfare systems and democracy.

“We were collectively lacking that sense of a roadmap of where we might be headed and what the options were to make things better.”

Geoff Mulgan

Our current imagination is split between the social and technological and a significant imbalance exists in the way we favour technological innovations. Geoff, having worked in digital technology, is a relative optimist for its potential but believes we should focus more attention on social innovations. We see this through massive investments into technological imagination within Silicon Valley, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, but no comparable investment into social options.

As a result, his book examines different ways imagination can be used to envision a brighter future as well as highlighting the potential barriers to achieving such visions. 

Geoff contrasts our ability to imagine today by looking back 100 years to radical socialist and Marxist ideas. Such thinking was popular and successful amongst political parties in Scandinavia but failed in countries such as Russia and North Korea. Within the UK, political parties recognised their role in linking current policy to the medium and long term and so research departments were dedicated to this, as seen with the Tory leadership under Chris Patton. However, many of these departments no longer exist and have instead been replaced by communications and spin doctors.

Although the current landscape may make it easier to imagine dystopias we need to recall the utopian visions of the past. 

“We need utopias to help us see the plasticity of the world to help us warm us up for realising that the world is something we shape. It isn't a given, it doesn't come from nature. It's not fixed. And it's often much less rigid than we expect it to be.”

Geoff Mulgan

Overcoming this dystopian thinking can be achieved through collective intelligence, which would enable institutions to promote social imagination for a very different kind of society. For democracy, this could be creating space for a population to take part in decision making beyond standard practice. Rather than relying on referendums and voting, we would draw on deep expertise and experience from civil society. Within health, this could be making use of intelligence not just from doctors, nurses and scientific research but from the lived experience of patients – thereby establishing a very different approach to health that goes beyond providing care to passive people. This kind of approach allows for more unique perspectives towards tackling society’s biggest challenges and demonstrates what innovative thinking could look like.

The opinions expressed in this event recording are those of the speaker. For more information, view our full statement on external contributors.


Web Ravi Gurumurthy

Ravi Gurumurthy


Ravi Gurumurthy joined Nesta as Chief Executive in December 2019. Ravi was previously responsible for the International Rescue Committee’s work in designing, testing and scaling products and services for people affected by crisis in over 40 countries - from reducing acute malnutrition and intimate partner violence, to expanding employment for Syrian refugees. Prior to joining the International Rescue Committee in 2013, Ravi held a number of roles in the UK Government, including Director of Strategy at the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change and as a strategic advisor to the Foreign Secretary. Across many departments, Ravi led a number of major social and environmental reforms including the development of the world’s first legally-binding carbon emissions targets and the integration of children’s services. Ravi has also worked as a researcher at the think-tank Demos and in local government in London.


Sir Geoff Mulgan


Sir Geoff Mulgan is Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London. Formerly he was chief executive of Nesta, and held several government roles (1997-2004), including as the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit director and as Downing Street’s head of policy. Another World is Possible is his sixth book.