Gabrielle Donnelly

Creating Space for Emergent Imagination

As a scholar-practitioner, imagination shows up in tangible ways as I support leaders and communities to engage with the complex issues of our times. Often, imagination can evoke thinking about the future. But, in thinking about the future, habituated responses frequently kick in: from the heroic visionary who wants to forge the way forward (now!) to those who feel the future is bleak and hopeless (and have checked out), to everywhere in between. To open pathways of imagination beyond these habituated responses, I often invite groups to move together—and dwell for a while—into divergent spaces of not-knowing. Can we pause and stretch (even in the discomfort of it) before our habitual responses set our direction, inadvertently taking us into the same-old ruts and dead ends? In this extended space, can we delve into what has been historically marginalized and, in futurist Ziauddin Sardar’s words, the ways our imaginations have been colonized? Can we rescue our imaginations by healing and retelling our pasts and presents as part of the practice of reigniting our collective wellbeing? Poet and philosopher Báyò Akómoláfé invites us to become fugitives in these wilds together.

From this place of getting (even just a little bit) lost, we can explore reclaiming imagination and liberating it while also holding it lightly. There is an opportunity to play with the possibilities in ourselves and our bodies, our relationships, our communities, and our societies. And some of this energy may be best used to imagine how we might hospice a particular world(view) together. My aspiration for new invitations into imagination is that they seriously meet the socio-ecological crises of this planetary moment yet find openings for lightheartedness and joy, where we can be both fierce and flexible, and unequivocally committed to creating and practicing in real-time the futures we want to see.

Gabrielle Donnelly is a writer, educator, scholar-practitioner, Associate Professor of Community Development at Acadia University, and a Lead Strategist at The Outside, a global consultancy activating large-scale equitable change, whose work focuses on bridging social change theories and practices to support leaders and communities to engage with the complex issues of our times and create more compelling and equitable futures.


  • Marilynne Lambert
    4 months ago Reply

    Congratulations, Gabe. Thoughtful and insightful.

  • Robert Kuster
    4 months ago Reply

    I really like your concepts, very inspiring and definitely many benefits for our future and betterment of mankind.

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