9/22/2022 Fall ’22 Designer in Residence: Karen Proctor, Improv Lab

Jaimie Cloud. That’s why.
Among other things, Jaimie Cloud is a pioneer in the field of Education and Sustainability, and is founder of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education in NYC. She teaches Environmental Ethics at DSI.

DSI: What is design for social innovation?

It would begin with a sense of the desired future, a sense of the current reality, and then a pathway forward through design that gets us from the current reality to the desired future. It says social innovation but in order for social innovation to be sustainable, obviously it’s going to have to be economical and ecological.

DSI: What would you like to say to prospective students about the program?

I think the first thing that I would say to them because it’s a new program, is that they need to understand that they’re coming to build the program with each other and with the faculty, that’s quite different than coming to a well established program. So there is a lot of design for social innovation to be done on the actual program and that students are invited to participate in that. This is not just something that we are delivering to them, this is something that we’re co-constructing with students.

DSI: Can you talk a little bit about your background and the work you do?

My educational background is in change making. So, making change in complex systems across cultures.

A lot of people work in international development, so I decided to stay here to work on development. My target audience is schools, primarily schools and universities, because to move towards a healthy and sustainable future in which people are reaching their potential, and they’re healthy and thriving indefinitely, we need to educate quite differently than we’ve been doing.

My work is to transform schools and educational institutions so that they educate for the future that we want. Because right now, most programs, most schools are inconsistent. How they teach and what they teach are not necessarily preparing people as change agents and leaders for a different kind of future. I think that DSI is doing that but I think that’s rare…that’s why I’m teaching here because it’s already designed to do that.

DSI: Is there a project that you could talk about in more detail?

A big part of it is curriculum design. We call it backwards design, which is very similar to future-based design that you would think of in social innovation. We work with the faculty to “sustainablize” the curriculum. We take existing curriculum or we design new curricula that educates for sustainability. And so a lot of the work is working with faculty and doing professional development and coaching so that they’re educating kids to think differently. Then we also need to design the assessments so we can tell if they are thinking differently.

The most interesting work is in municipalities that want to move towards sustainability because now you have, for example, a school district that’s inside a town that wants to move towards sustainability, so if the school district is educating for it, then that’s a beautiful partnership. That’s the most interesting…that’s the kind of work that I’m doing in New Jersey because they have a big sustainable Jersey initiative for municipalities. Initially the schools were not involved, but we don’t think you can sustain anything without all the children, young people and their teachers.

DSI: What do you think are some key things that designers for social innovation can contribute to sustainability education or sustainable development?

The first thing that comes to mind is creativity because creativity is a key property of all living systems and contributes to nature’s inherent ability to sustain life. I think the idea of sustainable design thinking, which is a combination of regular old design thinking coupled with some key questions that sustainability would require like, Is this worth doing? What’s the goal? Are we addressing the problem or the symptom of the problem? What are the parameters? What are the ecological or economic or time parameters that we need to live within?

Of course the most important question: Is this worth doing? Here we are, the best designers in the world, should we be spending all our time designing a plastic grocery cart or could we actually do something really useful and emergent? I think creativity, design thinking and probably the courage that it takes…risk taking ability that it takes to do things you’ve never done before, design things that haven’t been designed before to think in ways that you’ve never thought before. It seems to me that designers are inherently risk takers in that sense. They’re not afraid to do new things because they’re always doing new things so that’s natural. And I think that for a lot of people, that’s the scary part — because it hasn’t been done before. But to a designer, that’s a good day.

DSI: Could you offer some advice to young people who are starting in the world of social innovation?

I think the first piece of advice is to be hopeful and to assume that a healthy and sustainable future is possible because that frame will drive everything you do after that.

The second part is that we’re all responsible for the difference we make. Whatever we do and don’t do makes a difference, so be intentional about the difference you want to make and then keep reading the feedback to get closer and closer to actually living out that intention. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so the intention is absolutely necessary, but it’s not enough. You have to actually find out what your affect is and keep continually improving your ability to deliver on your intentions. You could say the road to nowhere if you don’t want to put hell on the website.

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