Professional citizenship: is it for designers?

I think it’s called reticular activation – when you come across something you’ve haven’t seen before – and suddenly you notice it everywhere.   Well, about two weeks ago I was in a meeting where ‘professional citizenship’ was on the agenda and since then it’s been coming at me in various guises, almost daily.

It was a new concept to me, but I discovered that: ‘It emphasizes the role of professionals in rebuilding the civic life of communities in addition to their traditional role in providing specialized services to individuals. It moves beyond the late 20th century notion of the professional as a detached expert who informs other citizens but is not informed by them, who critiques social systems but does act to change these systems, and who tends to see patients, clients and communities in terms of their needs and not their capacities for individual and collective action. … Citizen professionalism is mainly an identity: seeing oneself first as a citizen with special expertise working alongside other citizens with their own special expertise in order to solve community problems that require everyone’s effort.’

The idea that was being talked about in the meeting was that members of a professional body should use their expertise outside their ‘day job’ to help with societal issues and opportunities.   This idea sounded worth pursuing but raised some questions in my mind:

  • How does a ‘professional citizen’ differ from a volunteer?   I’m assuming that it’s about using the specific professional skills in the volunteer role.
  • Is being a ‘professional citizen’ the same as being a ‘good’ and active, community member?   I asked this one, because during the week a couple of organization design communities and another couple of HR ones asked me how they could grow the professional skills of their members by encouraging and supporting the members in helping each other develop and apply their skills.
  • Is being a ‘professional citizen’ a role that is part of the requirement of a given profession?  Or just an add-on if the professional feels like taking it on?  And if a requirement, perhaps as part of CPD or licence maintenance, how do you monitor or evidence it in action?
  • What are the boundaries of ‘citizenship’.  If being a professional citizen is something professionals are expected to do as part of their membership of the profession is the role within the profession (see active community member above) or within wider society deploying skills in situations not part of the ‘day job’.  This point is discussed by Richard Smith in an interesting blog Doctors—the case for professional citizenship
  • What if you’re not a ‘professional’ in the sense of being a doctor, lawyer, architect etc?  Can you still be a ‘professional citizen’ or does the ‘professional’ bit put you in a different category of citizenship?

As I’m poking around these questions in relation to organization designers (I’m not going to discuss whether they can be categorised as members of a ‘profession’)  I’m finding some pointers.  Three I’ve enjoyed are:

  • Carrie Bishop, Director of FutureGov talking about how design can change the world and the role of organization designers in that.
  • The activity ‘What kind of citizen/community member are you?’  (It’s aimed at K12 students but perfectly adaptable for anyone).
  • The RSA report You know more than you think you do: design as resourcefulness and self-reliance that asks  ‘what happens to design and to society if you shift good citizenship from a secondary benefit to a primary goal of design?’

What’s your view of professional citizenship.  Is it a role for organization designers to take on?  Let me know.

Graphic:  Kate Pugsley, Tiny People.×12