Monday, July 12, 2010

The Power of Imagination

Just at present, we live in a world dominated by concepts such as efficiency and effectiveness, by measurement, by performance indicators. These things are important, but they have also had a damaging side-effect: they tend not just to limit action to those things that can be measured, but also to lock action into the past.

I mention this because in the research and writing that I have been doing on the history of New England, I am constantly struck by the way our history has been influenced by individual action by people who wanted to make things better. They imagined something better, and sought to achieve it.

Many of the people in question would have regarded the way the way I put their actions as fanciful. They were practical people seeking to solve a problem or meet a need. Yet the cumulative affect of their actions, the capacity to think of something new, was to make life better.

There is limited room in a measurement world for truly new things. Often, these things simply cannot be measured. Equally often, their effects can only be measured in hindsight. Just as often, their creation may HRCP1675-Opening-National-Park-1937 involve strenuous action to overcome barriers created by existing systems.

The photo shows the opening of the New England National Park in 1937. This park was not created by Government in response to environmental pressures, in an effort to gain votes. It was created because key local protagonists, practical people all, thought that it was important.

One of the things that I have found interesting in recent comments on this blog is the way in which the very idea of self-government, of new structures, of new ways of doing things, has started to generate new ideas outside the bounds set by current structures,

Some of those ideas may not be sensible. For example, the application of rigid cost-benefit analysis to the idea of re-building New England railways as a way of re-creating economic and social linkages  is likely to kill any action stone dead. Yet the very consideration of those ideas raises new possibilities. If you are going to do something new, you have to break out of current bounds.

HRCP4528-ATC-Ceremony This photo shows the dedication of the Armidale Teacher's College in 1929.

This College was founded because those involved had a vision, a country college for country kids. It was founded because those involved also had a vision of a self-governing New England. This was part of its creation.

The College just survived the depression. It's survival then laid the base for the creation of the New England University College, the first non-metro university. In turn, the new College and then University provided some of the intellectual firepower to support new things, including distance education.

In Who speaks for the Hunter?, I looked at some of the problems created by the Hunter Valley by current approaches. When I look at the comments on local media and on this blog, I can see that there are ideas around about Hunter development, about the way in which Newcastle and the Hunter might play a broader role in New England to the mutual benefit of both.

Again, not all these ideas may be sensible. However, they provide a base for further thought, for the imagining not just of what is, but of what might be.

More and more I think how can we marshal this? How can we break out out?

This is not just a new state comment, although it is in part. Rather, it is a plea that we should continue to refuse to bound by existing chains, to look for better ways of imagining the new.       

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