PLEI: the national movement

May 29, 2007

What is the state of the national PLEI movement? Is it strong? Is it healthy?

When the field of PLEI in Canada first began to take shape in the 1970s, PLEI truly was a movement—the leaders and the literature in the field often called it that. A grassroots, almost revolutionary spirit jumps out at you from the PLE artifacts from this period. Ideas and innovative practices spread across the country seemingly by magic, and with no help from the Internet or even regular national conferences.

As the eighties arrived, the movement grew more mature but also more robust. The Canadian Law Information Council (CLIC) (later renamed as the Canadian Legal Information Centre) assumed a clearinghouse and coordinating role, establishing a staffed secretariat devoted exclusively to PLEI. The federal Department of Justice, which had been doing and funding PLEI in roundabout ways since 1972, took on a massive role in 1984 by becoming the impetus and pocketbook behind “completing the network”—ensuring at least one sole-purpose PLEI provider in every province and territory.

The 1990s, though, brought with them the closing of CLIC and a major national recession. The major PLEI groups in Canada not only scrambled for money (in some cases fighting among themselves over short-term project-based funding), but now also lacked a staffed national organization committed to doing the research and coordination necessary to fuel the field’s development. Though the Public Legal Education Association of Canada (PLEAC), an unstaffed national networking association for providers, had been operating since 1987, neither PLEAC nor the federal government has since taken over the tasks the CLIC’s dissolution left undelegated.

Many of those who weathered the 1990s working for a PLE organization point to the recessions as the main cause for PLEI’s hiccups during that time—hiccups that the field may not yet have completely recovered from. But, I wonder: what about all of the things CLIC was doing? Does the field need to find a way to get these done today, or else risk another crisis?

Here is a list, from CLIC’s 1978-1980 annual report, of the things it undertook to provide for the national PLEI movement:

  • a support network capable of providing materials and information on PLEI projects
  • a mechanism to identify and review available PLEI materials and to identify gaps in the literature which need to be filled and to act as a catalyst to ensure that the gaps are filled
  • development, support and follow-up on a series of conferences covering the broad PLEI field
  • identification of the need for additional research into the impact of PLEI programs and the preparation of professionals interested in PLEI activities
  • a manual to identify sources of funds for PLEI projects and to assist applicants and funders in their roles
  • identification of the legal information needs of special interest groups at the national level
  • an annotated bibliography covering audio-visual and print materials for the non-lawyer

How many of those things are not getting done today? Which of them must be done if the field is going to grow?

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