What we’re doing
The Plenary makes society’s collective knowledge¹ on current issues² accessible to everyone³.
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.
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.
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? We believe that engaging learning opportunities that are financially, technically and psychologically accessible to everyone is key to individual and societal success.
Where we’re going
The Plenary supports informed, curious, and reflective communities through usable knowledge, immersive educational experiences, and community building.
— OBJECTIVES —
In addition to topical research, all of our initiatives emphasize the following mindset and skill development, as we believe that these concepts are are essential to responsibly navigating 21st century issues:
Self & Society Studies
Comfort with Complexity
Comfort with Uncertainty
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:
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.
what we stand for
The Plenary is committed to effecting change through 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.
how we do it
The Plenary takes the things we know
about the things that matter
and embeds them in the things we love to do.
We chose the name “The Plenary” for a reason.
The roots of the term are about being full and complete. This guides our approach as we work to construct nuanced representations of society’s current usable knowledge on a given topic. Our name is also a reference to the plenaries of both the past and present. A “plenary” is typically an important meeting where all members of a group or town attend to learn about a topic of significant relevance to everyone, regardless of your background, beliefs, or profession.
It’s in that spirit that we’ve designed our model:
COLLECTIVE DESIGN & PREVIEW
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. Together with our contributors, they become the project's "Collective". Each Collective pools their knowledge and ideas at a weekend retreat where they're charged with crafting the event and campaign using The Plenary framework.
At the end of the weekend, Collective members gather to provide a public "Preview" into the upcoming Plenary topic through talks and panels. This fundraising event is also recorded and made freely available once the resources launch.
- 2 -
Each topic's resources will be tailored by the advice of the Collective. Topics will include an immersive experience -- typically an event -- designed using The Plenary's framework that blends art, science, technology, and games. We work closely with a wide range of communities to welcome them to 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 year.
PUBLIC EVENTS & RESOURCES
At the end of each year, 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.
The best resources are useless if you can't get the word out. We use traditional, social, and new media platforms to promote resources and design a campaign around each topic. We partner with other organizations and support their doing the same.
CULTURAL & MEDIA CAMPAIGNS
The goal is to build a network of individuals and organizations to collaborate on large scale educational campaigns around the annual topic. By focusing and coordinating our efforts, we can have a greater impact on the status quo.
Scalability is critical to meaningful impact. We work closely with creative makers and engineers to develop event toolkits that can be feasibly copied and shared. We partner with libraries, student groups, neighborhood associations, churches, schools, and museums -- anyone with the necessary passion and humanpower is eligible to 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.