Social R&D in Four Portraits: An Exploratory Study of the Emerging Field of Research and Development in Canada’s Social Purpose Organizations




Nonprofit; Social R&D; Research & development; Social innovation; prototyping / Secteur à but non lucratif; R et D sociale; recherche et développement; innovation sociale; prototypage


Since 2015, Canadian practitioners and funders have been adapting research and development (R&D) principles and practices to the context of social purpose organizations (SPOs) to increase the trans-sectoral capacity to generate social innovations. As a result, Social R&D is rapidly gaining popularity among a diversified array of organizations. This article distills the findings of a mix-methods exploratory study and offers a typology of four different Social R&D conceptualizations and practices. An analysis of the literature and of the empirical findings indicates a general lack of shared understanding about what Social R&D entails as a concept or a process. Further precision of meaning is needed to judge of Social R&D’s specific value or to responsibly support its implementation through policy.


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Author Biographies

Maxime Goulet-Langlois, McGill University

Maxime Goulet-Langlois*, Doctoral Student

McGill University, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, and

Former Research and Knowledge Mobilization Manager at Exeko

* Lead Author

Building on seven years of professional experience as a practitioner and research manager for the Montreal-based nonprofit Exeko, Maxime is now pursuing a Ph.D. in the Faculty of Education at McGill University. At the cross-roads of popular education and professional skills development, his work focuses on the variety of infrastructures for knowledge production, utilization and dissemination in the nonprofit sector.

Naomi Nichols, Trent University

Naomi Nichols, Associate Professor
Canada Research Chair, Community-Partnered Social Justice
Department of Sociology, Trent University 
705-748-1011 ex 7822

Naomi is an Associate Professor. In July 2020, she became the Canada Research Chair in Community-Partnered Social Justice in the Department of Sociology at Trent University. At the time of this study, she was a Professor at McGill University.

Jason Pearman, Employment and Social Development Canada

Jason Pearman, Senior Policy Analyst

Employment and Social Development Canada, and

Lead, Social R&D Fellowship

Jason is the Head of R&D for a funding program in the Government of Canada. He was the McConnell Senior Fellow for Social R&D and led the Social R&D Fellowship over 2018 and 2019. Past lives include: Lead of Policy and Program Experimentation at Natural Resources Canada, Reverse Mentor for the Deputy Minister Committee on Policy Innovation, and Co-founder of Future of Good Summit and Impact HUB Ottawa.


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