Why This Matters:
Societal challenges are complex, borderless and dynamic. There is an urgent need to consider the capacities and capabilities needed for social problem-solving in the 21st century.

Canada has an unsustainable social outcomes spend.
People are not accessing the best possible social services, supports and solutions.

Canada faces increasingly complex social, ecological and economic challenges. Against this backdrop, it’s an uncomfortable fact that Canada’s social outcomes spend – 7% of GDP according to the OECD or roughly $300 billion – is not yet producing better, more lasting impact.

Solutions are not developing at the same pace as problems. In this context, there is an urgent need to critically consider the capacities and capabilities needed for social problem-solving in the 21st century to make measurable advancements against societal challenges.

Over many decades, Canada’s social impact sector has built strong capacities, capabilities and standards in volunteer management, governance, financial reporting, program delivery and fundraising, among other things. In addition to these, there is increasing consensus that problem-solving in the 21st century requires additional capacity and ability in research and development, or R&D.

It is understood in the business world that R&D drives new, and enhancements to existing products, services and processes. It is vital to long-term competitiveness. Businesses that conduct R&D have greater impact in the marketplace. R&D can also help social mission organizations achieve significant advancements in long-term quality of life for Canadians. However, R&D is not yet well-understood or widely practiced and thus is not yet legitimized as a core organizational practice. In fact, according to recent research by the TCC Group, only 5% of the nearly 2,500 social mission organizations studied are engaging in R&D practices. The study also discovered that organizations that use R&D practices are almost two and a half times more likely to grow at or above the annual rate of inflation, regardless of the size of the organization’s budget.1

Now is the time to build a body of knowledge, practice, resources, and standards around social R&D. The goal of the social R&D exploration incubated by SiG is to catalyze just that. By working with funders, policymakers and practitioners to establish proof points and build a community of practice over the long-term, the exploration aims to boost the legitimacy and value of front-line R&D, thereby finding ways to strengthen adoption, legitimacy, capacity, capability and resources. This report is an initial, but critical step in this direction.

So, what is Social R&D? With crowd-sourced input and feedback, the working definition is: A combination of competency, culture, and craft that is intentionally applied to continuously learn, evaluate, refine and conduct practical experiments in order to enhance social wellbeing.

Although not yet mainstream, there are sparks right across Canada. While this report presents profiles of inspiring R&D practices, the following examples give you a taste of what to expect.

The social enterprise InWithForward conducted R&D into how adults with cognitive disabilities learn, leading to the implementation of an innovative start-up in Vancouver called Kudoz, an adult learning exchange hosting hundreds of lifelong learning experiences. The result: a more inclusive, stronger community.

Framework, a charity that created and runs Timeraiser, prototyped and developed a number of innovations over the past ten years to advance volunteerism, which has led to more than 170,000 volunteer hours performed by young professionals across Canada. Their work has fueled a greater sense of belonging for the young volunteers involved, while also helping charities achieve their social mission.

Youth Fusion in Montreal is seeing success in lowering high-school dropout rates across Quebec by involving more than 20,000 youth-at-risk in meaningful school projects that foster learning, skills and social integration — a practice supported by experimentation and finding new formulas.

Getting to Moonshot is a first of its kind positive deviant analysis of the R&D habits of Canadian social mission organizations.

View the full report (PDF)

The Social R&D Community is curated by the Social R&D Fellowship. The Fellowship is an ongoing effort to seed a vibrant ecosystem of public good R&D across community, public, corporate and academic sectors.
The Social R&D Community acknowledges that our work takes place across the ancestral and unceded territories of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.