Social R&D 2015-2017

3 – 2 – 1 – 0


A photo by Juskteez Vu.

Official release of Getting to Moonshot: Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector by Vinod Rajasekaran.
FOREWARD by Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of Nesta.


Join the Social R&D Journey…

1.1 Overview
1.2 Work plan
2.1 June 2015 Gathering
2.2 October 2015 Gathering


1.1 Overview

What is the role of R&D in accelerating the pace of social change?

Canadians take great pride in our history of innovating for the public good. Yet, it’s an uncomfortable fact that Canada’s circa $300 billion social spend in social outcomes can produce better outcomes. While the private sector on average spends from 2-20% of their budget developing new products, services and processes, there is no equivalent in social and grantmaking organizations. Rule number one in innovation is there needs to be both intentional capacity dedicated for it and that resources are required.

This is the ambition of the social R&D exploration hosted by SiG. The exploration focuses on three key areas of enhancements to social and grantmaking organizations:

  • HABITS: Through Appreciative Inquiry principles, discovering the best of social sector’s innovation and R&D habits to identify ways for funders and social mission organizations to better activate, empower and build innovation capacity
  • ACCESS: Prototyping a practical use-case that allows for innovations searchability and connectivity among organizations working in similar spheres in order to incentivize re-use, not re-invention
  • INTEGRATION: Helping to shape an integrated Canadian innovation agenda that recognizes, supports, and is optimized for social sector R&D, no longer siloed around STEM and business innovation.

The project takes a multi-disciplinary approach. There have been policy professionals, front-line agencies, executives, academics, entrepreneurs, storytellers, engineers, and among others contributing to the journey so far. Each phase of the project could inform the way the R&D function thrives such that it is inclusive, resourced and has sustained long-term value. We aim to take an iterative, discovery-based, collective leadership, and lean start-up approach to the work.

1.2 Work plan

The exploration is divided into four work packs (WPs).

WP1 is responsible for the collection of inspiring practices in R&D from case examples. This gives us a glimpse into the manifestation of R&D in diverse organizations. It may tell us how R&D capacity is built; how R&D is incentivized, supported, shared, learned, measured; governance and operating models; how a community of R&D practitioners are supported; and how this function may be embedded with organizations and networks. WP1 will also include an initial value proposition map of R&D function within social organizations. The analysis of the research and value proposition map would provide guidelines and initial features for social R&D network prototype.

WP2 will examine these guidelines and features in further detail, and develop and test hypotheses on how R&D may actually be perceived, received on the ground. It is about analyzing role, implications, pain points, assumptions, advantages and drawbacks concerning R&D desire, capacity, funding, social expectations, access and conditions – all using a concrete prototype project that already involves social sector organizations and funders. A key output in WP2 would be minimum specifications about what are the critical pain points, crucial outcomes, and which features are to be implemented, pivoted. In addition, WP2’s prototype analysis and WP1’s case studies collection may be used to compose a set of policy recommendations to multiple levels of government in order to create more inclusive conditions for R&D in social and philanthropic sectors.

WP3 will concurrently take the prototype analysis to hack and deploy a min spec virtually accessible searchable peer-to-peer R&D library for the social service organizations and group of funders. This searchable library will involve collecting and curating existing R&D (best practices, data, insights, interventions, etc) then making them, and their contributors, accessible across the social sector organizations and funders involved. Through this searchable, peer-to-peer library of R&D, we connect front-line professionals and funders with existing solutions & building blocks, as well as other change agents, facilitating reuse of what works or adapt it for new contexts. WP3 would also see the development of R&D capacity building activities within the prototype project to take advantage of the solutions library and its implementable ideas.

WP4 involves ongoing stewardship and knowledge exchange with stakeholders across the country and abroad. Stakeholders include social service organizations, government, funders, thinkers and practitioners, among others. Stewardship would take the form of ongoing sharing of prototype results and failures, strengthening the public narrative around social R&D, widely disseminate the policy recommendations and project performance, as well as identifying future sustainability model.

Throughout the exploration, we would apply creative commons as the underlying principle to our work, collaborating with partners to drive change and using open licences to allow learnings and resources to be used, adapted and shared widely. As such, resources created during the project shall be licensed under the latest version of the Creative Commons Attribution (e.g.


The exploration will produce a number of outputs, as outlined below:

  • Research: R&D case studies collection (WP1)
  • Prototype: Minimum specifications using a concrete prototype (WP2)
  • Policy: Set of policy recommendations for inclusive R&D (WP1, enriched by WP2)
  • Digital platform: Searchable peer-to-peer R&D library (WP3)
  • Convening: Supporting the targeted convening of institutions capable of collaborating for an attainable R&D goal
  • Data: on R&D case studies (WP1), on the ground prototype (WP2), and on the virtual platform (WP3)


2.1 June 2015 Gathering

A June 2015 thought-piece by Tim Draimin and Vinod Rajasekaran, “Doing Good Better: Upping Canada’s Game with an R&D Engine,” helped to kick-off the exploration. Then, in July 2015, a small, but diverse group of front-line professionals, foundations, creatives, entrepreneurs, public policy professionals, academia, NFP leaders, among others gathered with questions and to begin a discovery process.

photo (1)FullSizeRender (14)photo (2)photo

The Gathering helped to:

  • dive into questions raised and triggered by individual experiences;
  • explore international models that might be instructive or useful for a social R&D ecosystem;
  • pinpoint guiding principles, and
  • allow the emergence of a virtual cohort who would be involved in development and stewardship.

This shared desire was initially characterized by a joint Declaration of Action that outlined a possible process to developing such an R&D network…

Introducing: An audacious opportunity

As an emerging alliance of front-line innovators, professionals, advocates, academics, nonprofit and foundation leaders, entrepreneurs, and public policy professionals: We declare a commitment to generate intentional, networked, and shared Research & Development (R&D) capabilities for lasting, positive social outcomes.

Our view is Canada’s innovation culture and ecosystem requires a networked, cross-sector R&D approach if we are to achieve the positive social outcomes we seek.

Creating the conditions for innovation requires our collective commitment to enable and advance R&D for social impact.

Canada’s upcoming 150th birthday in 2017 is an audacious opportunity for this country to lead the world in advancing breakthroughs in complex social, economic and environmental challenges through open, networked and distributed R&D for societal well-being. Over the past 12 months, a common call has been heard at gatherings, in research, around milestones and in working groups across the country around tackling entrenched challenges by animating cross-sector innovation and R&D.

We see R&D as complementary and reinforcing activities that unleash continuous process, product, policy, service, structural, and systems innovation across society.

These activities include, but are not limited to:


Exploring, community-led inquiry, ethnography, lit review, case studies, data sourcing


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


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


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

A cross-sector social impact R&D approach will significantly enhance the work of Canada’s innovation ecosystem and propel us towards long-term social and economic prosperity.


Now is the time to seed and lead a vibrant ecosystem of public good R&D-enabled innovation across corporate, academic, public and community sectors to generate lasting positive impact.

We believe that an advanced R&D approach necessarily:

    • Focuses on transforming entrenched structures, policy and systems
    • Designs for thriving communities and enriched lives at all stages of life
    • Strives to be open, networked and distributed, supporting all contributors from the passionate amateurs to the large-scale innovation hubs
    • Operates in a spirit of abundance
    • Activates various forms of capital including data, talent, knowledge, infrastructure, finance and social capital (networks)
    • Pursues connection by diffusing from, to and across the margins, the grassroots, the labs, the R&D “arms,” and ongoing organizational silos
    • Targets systems innovation, engaging in the complementary co-development of institutional, scientific/technological, business, and social innovation
    • Facilitates social organizations and enterprises to pursue a “fifth dimension” of core activity: innovation
    • Leads from a new ethical framework for R&D for public good
This declaration is a living document. It serves as a reminder of our commitment to action. We invite others to join in the development of this R&D approach to enable lasting impact.

2.2 October 2015 Gathering

A second gathering in October 2015 convened a “development group” and a “stewardship group” made up of folks from across the country who are leaders, funders, and practitioners in multiple issue domains as well as functional areas such as: simulation, data, prototyping, narrative building, systems, integration, stress testing, stewardship, community, and movement building. The intention at the gathering was to map the R&D system, identify users and stakeholders, build an initial narrative, identify core functions, and identify areas in which R&D would be most valuable in the social and philanthropic sector.

Core functions of an R&D network were identified as:

  • Looking: Exploring, community-led inquiry, ethnography, literature review, case studies, data sourcing
  • Thinking: Brainstorming, generating hypotheses, leveraging small, big and open data
  • Diffusing: Designing and testing, piloting, prototyping, evaluating, designing feedback loops, co-production
  • Measuring
  • Developing: Building/sharing capacity, aggregating/sharing lessons from success, failure and process development, leaping by learning

Core activity areas for R&D were identified as:

  • Data: R&D into the role of data in becoming an asset in social change work.
  • Narrative and language: R&D into the role of language, lexicon and narrative in social change.
  • People and leadership: R&D into building social capital and empathy, and new type of leadership for 21st century social change.
  • Generating breakthroughs: R&D into how tipping points and breakthroughs can be catalyzed.
  • Interoperability: R&D into new models of governance, cross-organization exchange, accountability, and risk.

Here’s a flavour of why people are joining this movement for change.


The following individuals and organizations have joined us on the journey of enhancing social R&D capacity, conditions and connectivity for Canada’s future.

Tim Draimin SiG National

Vinod Rajasekaran – Impact Hub Ottawa

Kelsey Spitz – SiG National

Lee Rose – Community Knowledge Exchange

Sarah Schulman – InWithForward

Andrew Chunilall – Community Foundations of Canada

Stephen Huddart – The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

Jason Pearman – Public Servant, Co-Founder Impact Hub Ottawa

Rohit Ramchandani – Antara Global Health Advisors/ColaLife

Amy Mapara – Canadian Red Cross

Jess Tomlin – MATCH International Women’s Fund

Robert Coatsworth – Social Housing Advocate and Volunteer Director

Anil Patel – Grantbook

Indy Johar – 00:/

Dave Farthing – YOUCAN

Andrew Taylor – Grand Challenges Canada

Bruce MacDonald – Imagine Canada

Jean-No̩ Landry РOpen North

Ben Weinlick – Skills Society & Think Jar Collective

Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation

Marilyn Struthers – Consultant
Former Eaton Chair in Social Innovation, Ryerson University

David Phipps – York University

Liz Mulholland –Prosper Canada

Claire Buré

John Brodhead

Graham Dover – Mindset Social Innovation Foundation

All are welcome to join this alliance of activity and inquiry. Please email to sign this declaration for a robust, networked and cross-sector social R&D ecosystem and/or to sign-up for news & updates as the ecosystem develops.


The Top 9

  1. “How can Integrated Innovation Advance Well-Being and Inclusive Growth” co-authored by the Public Policy Forum (2016)
  2. Doing Good Better: Upping Canada’s Game with an R&D Engine By Tim Draimin & Vinod Rajasekaran (2015)
  3. Conference Board April 2013 Public R&D Spending By The Conference Board of Canada (2013)
  4. Introducing Kudoz & Fifth Space By InWithForward + partners (2015)
  5. Netiquette 2.0: Moving Forward at the Speed of Trust By Marilyn Struthers & Penny Scott (2015)
  6. Fueling Nonprofit Innovation: R&D Vigor Trumps Randomized Control Trial Rigor By Peter York (2011)
  7. Impact by Design: Making R&D Work for the Social Sector By Meg Long (2012)
  8. Making Evidence Practical for Development By Joe Dickman & Samir Khan (2015)
  9. The point of no return By Sarah Schulman (2015)

Most Recent



Join or follow the social R&D journey!

Social Media

  1. Follow SiG on Twitter
  2. Follow #SocialRD on Twitter
  3. Watch Video from our events on our website

Sign the Declaration of Action

Email to sign this declaration for a robust, networked and cross-sector social R&D network.


SiG Fellows:

Vinod Rajasekaran

Jason Pearman



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