Plural Connections Group
Plural Connections is an interdisciplinary research and action lab based at Northeastern University that explores how computational and design-based methods can help advance pluralism: a positive response to diversity in society. Our mission is to use tools from data science and design to promote educational, economic, and social well-being by fostering inclusive connections across lines of difference.
Check out our people, projects, and publications pages to learn more about us, and feel free to send us a note anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Why "Plural Connections"?
Connection is possibly our greatest superpower: through connection, we can begin to know one another, offer mutual support, and gain clarity on many of life’s greatest challenges. Digital technologies have enabled connection in ways and at scales that were previously unfathomable. Too often, however, connections occur in silos, and networks—those manifesting online, but also, physical spaces like neighborhoods and cities—"cocoon" into clusters segregated by race, income, political ideology, and other attributes. These cocoons can prevent people with different backgrounds from sharing knowledge and resources with each other; warp how we view those whose lives differ from our own; and even entrench poverty by limiting access to critical educational, economic, and social opportunities. New technologies, for all of their promise in helping to combat these issues, have also more deeply entrenched many of them.
"Plural connections" are connections between individuals and groups that cross cocoons to create bridges of mutual understanding, respect, and support. These connections champion "pluralism": a positive, inclusive response to diversity in society (more here). This response is not just about how we perceive and engage with "the other", but also, about how we support them in accessing a better education, finding better jobs, learning new things, and having other experiences that enhance their capabilities.
Key focus areas
Given this broad thrust, our group works across a number of topics and domains, with a particular focus on:
Inclusive education — We explore how data and technology can help embed learners of all ages in networks full of resources, social capital, wisdom, and diverse ways of thinking to help them pursue trajectory-altering, quality education.
Mindful media consumption and sharing — what we read and share on digital communications platforms shapes our biases, beliefs, and actions in “the real world”. We explore how we might foster more reflective, mindful media consumption and sharing to replace polarization with curiosity and compassion for those who are different from us.
Our research methods straddle the fields of computational analysis and design. Computational analysis involves social network analysis, natural language processing, econometrics/causal inference, and other data analysis methods that can help us make sense of how people are connected and how they engage with one another. Design includes practices from human-centered design, user experience design, and the design and evaluation of algorithms and experiments in order to prototype interventions that seek to spark change. Our hope is that combining and selecting methods required by certain problems (instead of picking problems suited to certain methods) can spark more sustained progress towards addressing many of the challenges highlighted above—and ultimately, help cultivate a more inclusive society that champions pluralism as a core value.