R&D is a dance between a number of inter-related practices. When done well, it reliably uncovers new knowledge and generates solutions that are radically more efficient and/or effective than current approaches.

Building upon the Declaration for Action, here’s our current understanding of key practices that lead to strong Social R&D:

Practices for Social R&D v1.0*

1. Preparing

Building the mindset, resources, skills, and permissions for maximizing impact of R&D efforts

Examples: R&D training and practice, R&D benchmarking, reflective practice, community partnerships and co-production, resource allocations and organizational readiness. 

2. Looking

Seeking new pathways for social transformations

Examples: Community-led inquiry, ethnography, lit review, case studies, data sourcing

3. Thinking

Refining observations and insights into a deeper understanding of i) the challenge/opportunity, and ii) the characteristics of new solutions

Examples: Brainstorming, generating hypotheses, leveraging small, big and open data

4. Developing

Converting new and deeper understanding into new solutions, and/or applying it within existing solutions

Examples: Designing and testing, piloting, prototyping, designing feedback loops, co-production

5. Diffusing

Contributing to collective knowledge, socializing innovations and enforcing a strong ethical framework

Examples: Building/sharing capacity, aggregating/sharing lessons from success, failure and process development, leaping by learning


*Practices for Social R&D v1.0 was an initiative to capture key ingredients for social mission R&D. The goal of this exploration was to offer practitioners and the sector as a whole a point of reference to share and discuss insights emerging from R&D work across a range of social and environmental change contexts and methods.

Priority updates for v2.0: additional explorations on what “Ethics” infrastructure could and should look like, e.g. lived-experience ethics boards, co-researcher protocols, etc.; and cross referencing the R&D practices of social movements.

Supports to help you strengthen your R&D craft

Case Studies

R&D functions can take a number of guises within organizations. Some have a problem-first orientation and others have a curiosity or discovery-first orientation. Some have a dedicated structure independent from or adjacent to the core business, while others are embedded into everybody’s job descriptions. Some are shared across organizations and others are in service to a single organization.

Whether through physical community labs, research centres, dedicated teams, cross-organizational design and prototyping facilities, academic partnerships, or other means, in many organizations social R&D is already happening.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Project Kudoz

Social R&D Community member InWithForward is a social design organization that makes human services more human.

Kudoz is a community learning platform. It connects people with and without developmental disabilities to novel experiences in their city. The team is disrupting the stuckness and stagnation that contributes to declining quality of life, greater service dependencies, and rising costs.


Gen H Play Project

Social R&D Community member Vivo is on a mission to raise healthier generations in Calgary and beyond. They want Canadians of all ages to achieve their optimal health at home, school, work and play.

Gen H Play project is a 10-year initiative to leverage play as a transformation vector to achieve positive 10% shifts – shifts in people’s lifestyles, shifts in the care and design of communities and shifts in decision making at organizational and government levels.

Have a case study to share?

We are working on building a Social R&D case study set with examples from across the country.

This deep dive is time-intensive and could use your help. If your team has any resources, case studies or R&D activities to share, please do so!

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.