Article / Policy Innovation
Published: 25.01.2023

One of the world’s greatest minds, Albert Einstein, once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Both are significant, but what makes imagination more so is that knowledge lays the foundation and present, while imagination takes us beyond to create new things in the future. In other words, imagination expands knowledge.

If humans had not imagined a world where wingless creatures like us could fly, we would not have planes that take us across the globe today. Had we not imagined that we could talk to someone in the distance, we would not have a telephone. If you think about it, all inventions start from human imagination.

What if we apply imagination to policymaking? We shall start by broadening the imagined boundaries of the policy design thinking process. We often think of policymaking as a complicated, pedantic, academic process. In reality, policy is for and by everyone. It is inspired and begun with our thoughts and imagination.

This article will take you to explore various aspects of human cognitive ability.

Imagination expands knowledge

A characteristic that distinguishes humans from other animals is our seemingly boundless mental capacity. Countless studies have been trying to understand human thinking. Their multitude findings are evidence in themselves how complex our thought process is. Here, we will use Riding’s Cognitive Style Analysis, as it is easy to understand and adapt to expand the scope of imagination in search of new ways to innovate and brainstorm. The measure illustrates the diversity of how humans think and try to make sense of the world.

Riding’s Cognitive Style Analysis measures thinking process on two dimensions: 

  1. Wholistic-Analytical: This dimension analyses how an individual organises and structures information. Wholists will observe overall information then break it down to smaller components, and organise information as a whole. Analysts will deconstruct information, focus on specific parts, and organise information in clear, separated sections.
  2. Verbal-Imagery: This dimension measures how an individual represents, processes, and memorises information. Verbals see and think in written or spoken words, while Imagers process thoughts in mental pictures, either graphic, photo, or drawing.

This simple cognitive analysis presents various possibilities that policy designers can adapt to expand their imagination and data collection.

Story framing: you can use the W-A dimension to determine the approach to issues, design questionnaires, or create data collection methods 

  • Issues that cover broader scope, like urban development, should be approached with a wholistic frame. You can ask people to imagine what their dream city looks like, then collect their ideas to categorise them into areas that need development.
  • Specific issues, such as the city’s health system problems, should focus on components. Ask people about their experience and the problems they think need to be addressed urgently. Small issues combined can create a bigger picture or trend that need our attention.

Brainstorming: V-I dimension offers creative ways to encourage imagination in data collection and brainstorming.

  • Verbals: you can run word-based activities, such as describe a dream city in 3 words, write down as many descriptions of a dream city in 1 minute. Group discussions or writing a story can also stimulate imagination.
  • Imagery: ask participants to draw, or use images related to an issue or problem in activities and have people suggesting ideas.
Mix & Match

Of course, this is but one example. We can add more dimension to the mix and create new thinking methods. Imagination is a powerful tool at our disposal. It can bring us to think outside of the policymaking box, or add freshness and fun into the process.



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