Getting to Moonshot

A photo by SpaceX.
Canada spends over $300 billion annually on social outcomes, according to the OECD. Our fast-evolving societal challenges – ranging from mental health to reconciliation and affordable housing – demand equally fast-paced and nimble research, learning, experimenting and replication of approaches so people access the best possible services, supports and solutions no matter where they live in Canada. This is where Social R&D comes in.

Over many decades, Canada’s social impact sector has built strong capacities, capabilities and standards in volunteer management, governance, program delivery and fundraising, among other things. Along with an appreciation and celebration of these competencies, there is increasing consensus that problem-solving in the 21st century requires an additional strong capacity and capability in research and development, or R&D.

Just as R&D in the business world drives new or improved products, services and processes, R&D can also help social mission organizations achieve significant advancements in long-term quality of life for Canadians. Currently, a small proportion of social mission organizations embrace and incorporate a wide range of new knowledge (like insights into how the brain works and how positive behaviours can be encouraged) or new technologies (like web-based platforms  that support people in periods of life challenges – such as Tyze) or new processes (like human centred design).

R&D in the social impact sector is not yet well-understood, supported or widely practiced. It is not yet adopted as a core organizational practice.

SiG’s ‘Social R&D’ exploration aims to catalyze a change.

We are calling the sum total of know how, approaches, technologies, process and approaches emerging to advance how we achieve long-term inclusive quality of life in Canada, ‘Social R&D.’ We see it as a significant step in developing a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada: diffusing a foundational capacity that the whole social impact sector can draw on, whether an organization pursues systems change or service efficacy.

The upcoming new report, ‘Getting to Moonshot: Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector’ presents over 50 inspiring R&D practices from across Canada, including: Saint Elizabeth’s field visits with frontline staff, GrantBook’s digital simulations, Skills Society’s neighbourhood prototyping, The MATCH International Women’s Fund’s 15% staff time for experimentation, among other things. The report also highlights calls to action from the sector on what is required to go further. Here’s a preview:

There are wonderful elements of R&D in Canada’s social impact sector and this report is an attempt to make a small portion of them visible and demonstrate that investment in Social R&D is a critical success factor in seeing measurable gains in social wellbeing.

SiG invites practitioners, communities of practice, impact networks, grantmakers, philanthropists and governments to engage with us to co-create infrastructure and resources that help to strengthen Social R&D adoption and capability in communities across Canada.

Against a backdrop of increasingly complex social, ecological and economic challenges, and increasing austerity, Social R&D is a foundational key to making significant advancements to how social mission organizations enhance lives.

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Vinod Rajasekaran About Vinod Rajasekaran

Vinod Rajasekaran is an engineer and cross-sector leader obsessed with improving systems so we can do good better for the next 100 years. He is SiG's Fellow, exploring Social R&D.

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