The future is uncertain, but we can anticipate what needs will arise given current conditions and offer our service to address these needs. Even if there isn’t a pretty job title for it. I’ve dealt with this throughout my journey defining my work in the vast sustainability field. So many things to be done, so many existing systems to try to translate to and work within.
Leaning on the design process, sustainability strategies, ecological design principles and experience with developing and managing projects with artists, companies, foundations, and organizations, I still find myself and others snagged on the best title for this work. Titles such as "Sustainability Strategist", "Project Manager", "Specialized Generalist" (a joke because it's true), "Trends Forecaster","New Ventures Director" all of these titles and more might fit depending on the project. I see, using design thinking to reconnect and remake processes to have a different outcome to be “Program Design”, at least for now. Maybe there is a better title and explanation out there (if you are reading this and have one please share it with me).
Program Design and Development seems to be confused with programming or slinging code, but I use program design to mean using the design process to developing plans, processes, relationships and experiences to reach measurable goals. I’m particularly passionate about eco-centered design thinking for taking organizations from linear take, make, waste economy into the circular economy. This can take the form of creating a program for a conscious company that wants to join the circular or regenerative economy, or become a social enterprise by developing a program with manufacturers, for example, to create a better product, relationships, and system that is more socially, financially, and ecologically thriving.
Community-based design and ethnographic research also work that I (and my team if needed) do to support designers by finding out from the stakeholders what challenges and benefits they have, need, and want. This work is important for strategic planning, business planning (especially for social enterprise start-ups), urban planning and architecture as well as community development in general both internationally and locally. Foundations often use program design for creating opportunities and projects that address their intended stakeholders. Design for learning, strategic partnerships, and new venture planning could all use program design and development.
By whatever name fits the best, the essence behind the title is motivated by how badly our systems need to be reviewed, redesigned, and become relevant and resilient to ecological pressures the future generations will face. Rethinking and redesigning innovative and efficient programs and projects are critical. Bringing in an outside perspective on these matters makes a big difference for moving beyond, around, over, the cultural and hierarchical blocks that keep organizations stuck. Let's focus on the work and not the words.
I work part time with an environmental art organization dedicated to waste reduction. Part of my work with them is to curate materials that people would like to donate to artists. Metro government has a reuse line (503 234 3000) that allows Portland people to call in and get help on where to take their stuff they would like to recycle. Occasionally, there are pieces that are perfect for artists to use such as old instruments or dental office teeth molds. If this is the case, people call me to have help to connect to artists. Talking to people about their unique waste streams is interesting because they legitimately want to give items away to people that will reuse them, but they don't want to have the human to human contact that reuse can require. For example, if an item would be better reused on Craigslist, they typically don't want to post it there because of all the fear around the type of people that would show up for their stuff. They are fine having an artist call them to make arrangements, however. The take home here is that if you are looking to reuse items donated on craigslist you might call yourself an artist, and there are huge psychological barriers and stigma attached to reuse, recycling, and recapturing waste.
Waste pickers around the world suffer these social labels when the services they are providing is so needed and valuable. When I modeled high couture fashion made from trash I loved the mental flossing that provided. Here was a group of beautiful ladies wearing refused trash reimagined into amazing creations. We watched as people had to face their conditioned stigmas.
The social marketing needed for the circular economy and waste to product economy to thrive is educational and a marketing (destigmatizing) challenge on the outside as much as it is a systems design challenge on the inside. In your area of influence remember to see the reverence in the recyclers, the scarab people, remember that you can quell the fears people towards the "type" of people that reuse, remake, fix. Somewhere being resourceful and waste conscious was co-opted by wasteful capitalism and the consumption economy and we have to reclaim that ethos as sane, common sensical, ecological, and creative.