Putting the Social into R&D / Du social dans la R-D

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (David Phipps, RIR York and Cathy Edwards, RIR Carleton) participated in a two day design workshop to develop the basis for an R&D agenda for Canada’s social sector. Or was it to develop a national agenda for R&D with social impact? Whatever it was we won’t be able to do it alone.

Des membres du RéseauImpactRecherche-ResearchImpact (David Phipps, RIR York et Cathy Edwards, RIR Carleton) ont pris part à un atelier de conception de deux jours qui visait à poser les fondements d’un programme de R-D pour le secteur social au Canada – ou peut-être à mettre au point un programme national de R-D ayant un impact social? En tout cas, peu importe ce que c’était, on n’y arrivera pas tout seuls.

For two days Cathy and I joined a meeting of national Foundations (including Community Foundations Canada, Ontario Trillium Foundation, Vancouver Community Foundation, McConnell Family Foundation, Trico Foundation, Rideau Hall Foundation, Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation), social entrepreneurs, Imagine Canada and intermediaries like Tim Draimin and Kelsey SPITZ from Social Innovation Generation who organized the event with Vinod Rajasekaran from Hub Ottawa/Rideau Hall Foundation.

We came together as a follow on to work over the summer that was inspired by a SIG blog titled “Doing Good Better: Upping Canada’s Game with an R&D Engine”. The summer work generated a Declaration of Action that called on social innovators/entrepreneurs and their allies to imagine the impact of joining the heart of community and lived experience with the R&D capacity found in other sectors.

We fortunately didn’t get stuck in definitional dystopia. We resisted the unproductive challenge of agreeing on a definition of “research” or “development” but we did discuss if this this was social R&D or R&D for social impact.  I prefer the latter. Universities already do lots of research on social and environmental issues (although we do some “innovation” but little “development”). We can also develop technology or analyze open data; however it has social (and environmental) impact when we work to reduce disparities, encourage reconciliation, work on climate change and/or improve the health of our local and global communities rather than making money as the primary objective. Money isn’t bad as a byproduct of R&D with a social impact but it means we pay attention to the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

We were all asked to make a commitment to one of five working streams arising from the design workshop. I signed up for the conversation about working across sectors in a polycentric fashion. No one sector will be able to achieve social impact from R&D working alone. We need governments and we especially need corporations at the table to achieve lasting impact at scale. Cathy Edwards volunteered to continue the conversations with Hub Ottawa to build up connections and conversations in the region.

Universities, represented by RIR, are at the table. Our role is to represent the role that academic research institutions can contribute to this planning stage and, eventually, to broker to specific research expertise. We will first broker to academic expertise on the social/community/charity/voluntary/NGO (chose your descriptor) sector to ensure the right governance, finance and tax instruments are available to maximize the ability for the social sector and people with lived experience to participate as equals in these R&D efforts. Live long and prosperSubsequently, as domain and subject priorities are identified, RIR will be able to broker research collaborations with faculty and students from across Canada.

If you believe in this work you can contribute by adding your name to the Declaration of Action by emailing info@sigeneration.ca.

For me, the entire event can be summed up in the words of Anil Patel (TimeRaiser) who commended us to “share strong and prosper”.

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