Getting to Moonshot: Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector

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 longterm 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.

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.

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