U+ 2020 : What Issues Should be Discussed?

List prepared for the Plurality University’s General Assembly (Online, Feb. 17 – March 28) and International Meeting (Amsterdam, April 10-11).

Plurality University Network’s 2nd International Meeting: List of Issues to Be Discussed during the meeting

The following is an evolving list of issues that may need to be discussed when thinking about the future of the Plurality University Network and its activities.

These issues should be discussed with at least 3 considerations in mind:

  1. How to further (and/or evolve) the mission of U+, and its benefits to everyone?
  2. How to increase its value to you – to the point where it would make sense for you to actively participate, to build projects within U+, to help with its financing, etc.?
  3. How to balance what is expected from U+’s staff (which is and will likely remain very small), and what should be done by/with members, and by/with others?

We have divided the list of issues to be discussed (ITBDs) into three sections – feel free to comment, mix/add issues or even sections!

How to discuss these issues?

1. MISSION

1.1- How to balance and/or prioritize between several goals, namely:

  • “Change representations in order to change reality”: Use arts and fiction to imagine / reveal, and possibly enable, alternative futures.
  • “Draw inspiration from other people’s future”: Increase the quality, density and civility of public debate.
  • “Develop the ability of individuals to think about the future”: Increase the diversity of people and groups taking part in the conversation.
  • “Shift expectations and aspirations and influence public debates”: Focusing on influence, impact and effectiveness.

(the list itself can be questioned!) 

Also: What level of priority for this issue?
(1=Maximum, 2=Good to have, 3=Less than other issues)

1.2- How to represent and broaden the diversity of “thinkable futures”? 

One of the goals of U+ is to connect those who use arts, design, utopias to think up alternative futures. Imaginaries and imagination are a way to think beyond existing paradigms, but also to recognize very different perspectives, coming from a variety of cultures, experiences, disciplines. It should also open discussion on futures to people who may not otherwise feel welcome or pertinent.

What is the best way to achieve these three objectives? How can we provide a space for creation, for sharing, for interacting between a variety of perspectives? How could we try to map (or otherwise represent and put in perspective) the plurality of visions, in ways that are useful to participants as well as to other publics: researchers, teachers, media, decision-makers, etc.?

Also: What level of priority for this issue?
(1=Maximum, 2=Good to have, 3=Less than other issues)

1.3- How to achieve true diversity and plurality?

To date, the U+ network is truly international, but limited in diversity: Europe and North-America are over-represented, French and English are the only vehicular languages, members are mostly highly-educated, urban and reasonably well-off… How can we become truly diverse (in cultural, social, and other terms), while not trying to be all things to all people? Since diversity often requires action on the ground, how can we achieve that while keeping the organization small?

Also: What level of priority for this issue?
(1=Maximum, 2=Good to have, 3=Less than other issues)

1.4- How to work on the quality of “public space”?

One hypothesis is that arts and fiction, plus futures (which cannot be “known”) create a less polarized and more welcoming “public space”, where disagreements are productive rather than destructive or sterilizing. However, we need to demonstrate that, and there may be protocols that are better than others at managing controversies & differences. Should we explicitly work on these and if so, how, with whom…?

Also: What level of priority for this issue?
(1=Maximum, 2=Good to have, 3=Less than other issues)

1.5- How to maximize impact?

If we want to “Change representations in order to change reality”, we need to look at how imaginaries of the future interact with real-world discussions, projects, decisions, etc. This is in part about visibility, but also about process: who is involved from the start (the start of what?), how can fiction translate into reality without being normalized, how to avoid the traps of “storytelling”, etc. Also, with what other networks should we create connexions (in arts, design, foresight & futures literacy, etc.)?

Also: What level of priority for this issue?
(1=Maximum, 2=Good to have, 3=Less than other issues)

2. U+ AS AN ORGANIZATION

2.1- Should we focus primarily on (i) Exploring substantive issues such as mobility, peace, etc.? (ii) Methods, sharing experience and empowering groups to use arts & fiction in futures work? (iii) Others?

2.2- What or who should not belong to the U+ network?

U+ has a Code of Conduct, but for the sake of diversity, it has refrained from asserting a specific set of values as regards the future itself. Are there explicit “red lines” that we should affirm (in ascending levels of controversibility: racism; climate skepticism; transhumanism…)? If so, how should they be discussed, asserted, enforced?

2.3- Who should be our publics?

Towards whom should U+’s work be primarily directed? Members, who each have their own public (U+ being small and mostly virtual)? Futurists and groups working on futures? Public and/or corporate “decision-makers”? Media? Academia? Everybody? What are the concrete consequences of any specific choice in terms of activities, organization, etc.?

2.4- How to increase member engagement?

At this stage, the level of engagement of most members is low or nill. Is it an issue, and if it is, how to increase engagement, while acknowledging that members are diverse, busy and far apart? What would create a higher sense of community? What would be valuable enough for more members to act upon?

2.5- Depth or Reach?

Should we focus more on increasing the number of members (230 on Jan. 30, 2020) and the diversity of their (social, geographical, cultural, professional, etc.) origins, or on deepening the relationship between current members while letting growth continue organically?

2.6- How to work in a truly distributed manner?

Today, U+ is truly distributed in what it produces (events, interviews, content is produced or curated by members), but not in how it makes décisions, designs or discusses projects, etc. We need to get better, for many reasons: Because we can’t ask people to physically meet all the time, for financial and ecological reasons; Because that’s how diversity will express itself more fully, and in more grounded ways; And because it’s more democratic. What should be our priorities, and how to achieve them?