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UN Global Pulse has published a new research paper, The Most Creative Look to the Future, which explores how embracing creative practice and imagination can catalyse innovation and transformation across the UN system. It is grounded in the vision articulated in Our Common Agenda that in order to meet 21st-century challenges, the UN must combine “the best of our past achievements with the most creative look to the future.”

Rooted in the knowledge that the creation of the United Nations was a bold act of collective imagination and hope in 1945, we make the case for art, imagination and creative practice continuing to be seen as a fundamental aspect of transformation and innovation. That true innovation is indeed impossible without the skill sets and behaviours associated with imagination and creative practice. 

Through conversations interviewees both inside and outside of the UN system, and by digging into the literature around creative methods and organizational transformation, we find that art, imagination, and creative practice can offer the UN system the following: 

– An ability to sit with uncertainty, complexity and emergence

– A new temporality that can support long-term planning and give attention towards future generations

– Methods for creating alternative visions that are more inclusive and nuanced

– Foreground multidisciplinary solutions where artists, scientists and policymakers work together

– New systems and ways of working that can rewire an organizational culture

– Opportunities for prefigurative practice that can demonstrate new possibilities

What follows are a set of recommendations and starting points that will assist practitioners both inside and outside the UN system to experiment with integrating art, imagination, and creative practice into their work. These include testing readiness for change, establishing champions, extending the right invitation, rethinking competencies, evaluating differently and detailed ideas for pilots.

The research includes examples of how creative practice is already implemented alongside innovation within the UN system, including insights from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs’s Innovation Cell, the UN Refugee Agency’s Innovation Service and UNDP’s Accelerator Labs. The paper also showcases examples of how organizations harness the creative potential of exploring scientific and artistic practices together. This includes how the ETH AI Center brings artificial intelligence, art and science together to anchor multidisciplinary approaches and critical thinking in their work as well as how the UK Policy Lab embeds artists alongside policymakers to creatively develop the policymaking process.

As outlined in the Secretary-General’s vision of a UN 2.0, “stronger technical solutions alone will not deliver the change envisioned for UN 2.0. We see the faster adaptation of our culture as the critical step to bring the quintet elements to life.” Our paper offers concrete opportunities to use creative practice to drive culture change that can further support the transformation of the UN system and all quintet areas.

By illuminating pathways for imagination and creativity to permeate the UN system, our research seeks to catalyse the innovation and adaptation required for the UN to deliver on its bold vision for people and planet. Artistic, speculative and visionary practices provide critical tools for modelling, exploring and manifesting the future we want.

You can download the new research paper and its companion workbook here.

If you are inspired by what you have read, and are interested in collaborating and experimenting with us at UN Global Pulse on this work, please do reach out to Lauren Parater, Creative Strategy Lead at