Introducing the Social R&D Program

For a long time, many social purpose organizations have been working to respond to the social and environmental challenges facing our communities. But, the systems that we work in are changing quickly, and we need to improve our ability to evolve and apply new methodologies to tackle the intractable challenges.

For those of us who are looking from within the non-profit, charitable and public sectors, the chance to learn, to reflect and to test new kinds of practices have not often been available. We want to draw from the approaches that research and development can offer: we want to test new ideas, create new evidence of what’s working and what isn’t — and share these results-based approaches so that we can further develop and scale.

Over the course of the past few years, there have been great efforts to help bring “Social R&D” into the social innovation/social purpose space. The McConnell Foundation and Social Innovation Generation began this work by issuing a number of important foundational reports that have demonstrated why social purpose organizations also need to invest in our own capacity to experiment. Publications such as Getting to Moonshot and Design and Deliver helped many of us to better understand the potential and opportunities that Social R&D can unlock. Through this period, Jason Pearman, a McConnell Foundation Fellow, supported an emerging community of practice (CoP) of Social R&D practitioners and helped to advocate for more resources from governments and foundations to support this work.

We are pleased to continue to build on these great foundations, and to announce that Annelies Tjebbes and Kiri Bird will be working with our team at Social Innovation Canada to ensure that this work continues to strengthen our collective knowledge and skills. Last year, we were named as a partner with McConnell Foundation and Innoweave to support the work to build Canada’s Social R&D field. ESDC and the McConnell Foundation have come together to make a $2 million investment as part of the Investment Readiness Program.

This field-building work includes a number of components:

Identifying and filling knowledge gaps

The field of Social R&D is very new compared to conventional R&D in the industrial or tech sectors. SI Canada will be engaging with experts to help investigate practitioners’ needs and identify existing and new tools. New toolkits, case studies, best practices, and other knowledge products will be developed and disseminated.

Connecting practitioners

As we host in-person convenings and reactivate McConnell’s Social R&D community, we’ll help social purpose organizations connect to each other, share what they’re learning, and identify opportunities to create greater positive impact. We’ll be connecting with the participants in early 2020 to understand how to best support ongoing collaboration. We’re looking forward to hosting our first in-person convening for interested Social R&D practitioners together by late spring of 2020.

If you’re interested in keeping up to date about this work, please sign up for our mailing list.

Demonstration projects

A call for Expressions of Interest took place late 2019 and closed in early January to fund for Social R&D demonstration projects of varying sizes (up to $25,000, or up to $100,000). These year-long projects will get underway in early spring 2020 and demonstration project leads will be welcome to join the Social R&D CoP.

Coaching for Demonstration projects

Successful applicants to the Demonstration Fund will also receive support to work with coaches or experts in different aspects of Social R&D. If you are interested in sharing your R&D skills by working as a coach, contact Innoweave ( to see what opportunities may be available.

For more information about this new program at SI Canada, you can contact Annelies Tjebbes ( or


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