We use art, science, and story to make current issues more accessible.
By making society’s collective knowledge¹ on current issues² accessible to everyone³, The Plenary is reimagining the way we learn about the things that matter most.
We gather ideas, strategies, and evidence from across perspectives to build balanced learning experiences.
From story to design to data, we incorporate multiple ways of knowing to construct society’s best emergent understanding of a given topic. That means respecting and communicating insights from across sciences, scholarships, and traditional knowledges. We also recognize that the best information changes as our methods and foundations improve, so we also include the skills and mindsets that promote ongoing updating as evidence evolves.
We focus on the most pressing, polarizing, and complex issues of our time.
General science communication, museum education, and other informal learning devices are all powerful tools for adults to continue their education outside of school. We believe the gap is in topical and digestible resources that provide an interdisciplinary, nuanced account of current knowledge on pressing, current issues, such as bias, sustainability, mental health, and economics.
We're building an ecosystem to support grassroots leaders ready for the next century.
Movements like Open Access and many internet outlets have made incredible strides towards financially accessible information (i.e. that everyone can afford). Outreach initiatives like Nerd Nites, The Conversation, and Ted Talks also do important work making information technically accessible (i.e. that non-experts can understand). We work to also ensure our efforts are psychologically accessible, which we define as feeling as if the event or resource was designed with you in mind. This means evaluating the human aspect of design: is representation of people of all backgrounds and abilities present in both the design and content? Does it break stereotypes about what science is and who it’s for? Does it start a meaningful conversation rather than assume the public has a deficit that needs to be filled? And most importantly, are participants motivated and excited to do something about it? We believe that engaging learning opportunities that are financially, technically and psychologically accessible to everyone is key to individual and societal success.
What We Do
The Plenary has two pillars: the Design Studio & the Collective.
We're cultivating a network of leaders to redefine "plenary" for the needs of the next century.
The Plenary designs creative fusions of the things we know, the things that matter and the things we love to do. We build shared realities, create immersive educational experiences, and offer leadership training across communities. And we chose the name “The Plenary” for a reason.
Plenaries are often the center point of knowledge-sharing events, like conferences and summits. Everyone is invited to the plenaries to learn about a topic of utmost importance. We believe society needs a few thoughtfully designed plenaries of its own. We’re giving the concept new life by providing grassroots teams with the tools and training they need to create powerful gatherings for their community to explore and reflect on the issues that matter most.
It’s in that spirit that we’ve designed our dual model approach:
Centralizing:Our Design Studio gathers and synthesizes topical knowledge through art, story, and experience.
Our team identifies urgent topics to focus on and brings together an interdisciplinary team of leaders who can provide a diverse range of perspectives on them.
For each initiative, the team will guide the creation of an immersive experience -- typically an event -- designed using The Plenary's framework that blends art, science, story, technology, and play. We work closely with a wide range of disenfranchised and historically marginalized communities to center them at these events. Additional resources may include supplementary courses, pop-up events, trivia, or media that reinforces or provides additional access points into the themes of the initiatives.
Once complete, these resources are added to The Plenary's library. Over time, the library will become a hub of collaboratively crafted resources on critical current issues.
DeCentralizing:Our Collective distributes materials, training, and inspiration to support everyday activism.
Scalability is critical to meaningful impact. We work closely with creative makers and engineers to develop event toolkits that can be easily replicated and shared. We partner with libraries, student groups, neighborhood associations, churches, schools, and museums -- anyone with the necessary passion and human-power is eligible to join the Collective and host a local event.
From informal block parties to formal galas, our goal is to provide all of the resources and training necessary for individuals and communities everywhere to offer, market, and tailor our learning experiences locally.
In addition to our events and training materials, we support everyday activism by providing our members with inspiration, activities, and resources they need to make critical learning a part of their relationships, their communities, and their daily lives.
Building Skills for the Next CenturyIn addition to art, scholarship, and story, all of our initiatives emphasize the following mindset and skill development that are essential to responsibly navigating 21st century issues. Our vision for the future leverages these sensibilities to foster leaders, communities, and infrastructure that supports the flexible application of current knowledge to our personal, professional, and political lives:
Information & Media Literacy.
Today's technology gives us access to information without curation. It's critical to master responsible evaluation skills fit for the digital world.
Comfort with Complexity.
Binary thinking and easy answers are outdated. Our lives are increasingly complex, filled with technology, entertainment, and political issues that were never possible before.
Comfort with Uncertainty.
Knowledge is always a work in progress. To protect progress, we have to keep our minds open to new evidence while still appreciating our best working understandings.
Self & Society Studies.
Human error is natural, but by understanding our biases and how they filter the world, we can minimize the havoc they wreak on our selves and relationships.
History is rich with wisdoms that continue to have applications today. It's also essential for understanding the context and emotionality of modern problems.
We’re building a healthy, sustainable future through community-centered change.
The heart of democracy is education — specifically understanding of the self, others, and information (as well as the interactions between them). These principles are rarely taught in school and, historically, those in power have been known to leverage them to manipulate the body politic for personal gain. Thus, a resilient and autonomous democracy is aware of the invisible psychological and systemic forces that shape society.
Sustainability starts with intention. Our society has been built largely by a series of reactions. Systems are often inertial and new innovations are often fastened on top of old ones. Discoveries are made and implemented without much attention to their downstream implications. As society grows increasingly complex and the unintended consequences of unsustainable systems come to a head, it is becoming vital to rethink our assumptions and foundations and design thoughtful, intentional solutions, with the future in mind.
A truly equitable society is reflective, adaptable, and maintains a power structure that is representative of all of its people. To support an equitable future, we need to analyze and improve upon institutions that disproportionately and negatively impact members of historically marginalized groups. We need to understand the biases embedded in ourselves and our systems, so that we can intentionally counter their impact through the design of checks, balances, and patterns of progress that are proactive, self-aware, and inclusive.
Humans are innately curious. Unfortunately, the impacts of our social groups and echo chambers can limit our openness to new experiences and evidence. We need to cultivate a culture of curiosity that no longer celebrates overconfidence. We need to cultivate communities that normalize being wrong sometimes, that prioritize exploration of criticism through reflective practices, that reward growth, and that see lifelong change as a key ingredient to all of our successes.
The Plenary is committed to evidence-driven, equitable, and novel designs that scale.
INCLUSION & COLLABORATION
Everything we do is filtered through the lens of several disciplines and communities. In particular, we prioritize the amplification of voices from members of historically marginalized groups across fields. Additionally, we consider and evaluate all perspectives on a given topic — paying particular attention to beliefs across partisan lines — even if those perspectives are not mainstream.
To effect change we must translate usable knowledge into meaningful action. We want to make sure everyone who experiences our events and resources is prepared to take a next step. Whether that is a follow-up resource, a specific call to action, or an opportunity to get involved, we want each experience to be a gateway to the next one.
NUANCE & COMPLEXITY
Complexity can be engaging if broken down into component parts. We reject clickbait headlines and sensationalized claims in favor of context and frameworks that support engagement. We contextualize and balance our claims so that they reflect the best current knowledge on a given topic, even if that topic is complicated.
Risk taking & Creativity
No risk, no reward. In addition to using tried and true strategies from across the psychological and learning sciences in our designs, we always make space for play and experiment. By welcoming designers, artists, and inventors into the planning room, we create a sandbox for new ideas to flourish and be put to the test.
We do our best to devise informed frameworks built on the foundation of decades of scholarship in public understanding of science, science communication, learning sciences, and other relevant fields. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ve thought of everything or will get it right the first time. We commit ourselves to the same practice we preach: keep evaluating, keep reflecting, and keep changing as the evidence is updated.
We recognize that everyone starts at a different point physically, psychologically, financially, and academically. We prioritize creating access points that work for as many people as possible, in particular those who have often been marginalized in information and science communication efforts historically. We encourage feedback from individuals who feel their needs are not being recognized and met.