How do you measure Imagination?

In a recent introduction to the OECD’s PISA creative thinking assessment, the Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher set the context for why imagination matters in today’s world by stating that “the capacity of individuals to imagine, to create, and to build things of intrinsic positive worth is rising in importance”. Against a backdrop of digitisation and automation, rote learning is looking increasingly redundant. And yet the value of imagination, the ability to bring to mind original ideas and concepts, is still given little time and space in today’s education and learning systems.  

Against a backdrop of rapid change, The OECD, along with a growing body of global institutions and businesses, recognise that by fostering a culture that values and nurtures imagination will lead to new avenues for growth, resilience, and sustainable development. But for imagination to be seen as not just a frivolous act, do we need to demonstrate tangible outcomes?  

Where does one begin when trying to measure imagination? For the Institute of Imagination, it begins in research. Last year we launched a Literature Review of contemporary research that has focused on Imagination and its relationship with education and learning. Partnering with Dr Penny Hay, Professor of Imagination at Bath Spa University, we reviewed some of the greatest minds working in this field. In this first stage review we saw ‘pillars’ of imagination emerging, helping us to arrange and align the literature themes into an Imagination Wheel. 

At the core of the wheel, the pillars lead to ways of thinking or acting and ultimately to outcomes of imagination. It is these outcomes that the Institute of Imagination have used to help inform its own impact measures.  

On our journey to better understanding the impact of imagination in education and learning, we have begun by looking at three key indicators.  

  • Creative thinking: the capacity to have original ideas and to bring these ideas to life by constructing something of value and positive worth.  
  • Competencies: a set of essential skills that empower children to effectively navigate personal, cultural, economic, and societal challenges that they will encounter throughout their lives.
  • Aspiration: the capacity to broaden one’s future career aspirations and to imagine new jobs and new industries that have yet to be invented. 

In our latest 2023 Impact Report, the institute of Imagination have set out how we have begun to measure these characteristics of imagination. Through a divergent thinking task we see that 83% of children taking part in our programmes are increasing their creative thinking skills. Children are identifying creativity, collaboration and communication as key competencies that they are developing in our workshops and after taking part in our programmes, 100% of teachers, agreed or agreed strongly with the statement ‘I believe thinking creatively is the most important skill for students to learn’. 

 The Institute of Imagination is pioneering new tools and new approaches to better understand the role of imagination in children’s learning. Encouraging the exploration of imagination through play, creative expression, experimentation and making not only enhances children’s cognitive development, through areas like problem solving and critical thinking, but also instills a sense of curiosity, wonder and hope. Perhaps one of the greatest characteristics that imagination can support is children’s confidence in their ability to adapt and be responsive to change. As Andreas Schleicher says: “today’s youngsters will likely be employed in roles that do not currently exist, responding to societal challenges that we cannot possibly anticipate, and using technologies that we cannot yet imagine”.   

Read our full Impact Report here 

Read our research with Bath Spa University here


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