A Licence To Be Better

CKX releases report highlighting results of a three-month learning journey for 32 social change experiments. 

All things being equal, if you could see the work you were doing wasn’t as effective as you’d like, you would probably change course. But when the work you’re doing affects dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people, knowing how to change or what to change, can be a tricky proposition. Couple that uncertainty with financial dependence on a system that is used to an old way of doing things, and you have few incentives to change.

But what if you were given the time, the funds and critically, the permission to try something new? Such was the case when in late 2017, Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), the McConnell Foundation and the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th offered grants to encourage and support research and development (R&D) activities embedded in social impact organizations and frontline services.

As part of the initiative, 32 experiments in communities across the country were given three months and up to $15,000 in unrestricted funding to test a social change hypothesis in their community. Our recently published synthesis report highlights some of the broad patterns observed from across the experiment cohort. It shares some of the lessons learned from the experiences including the anticipated unsuccessful experiments.

Reading through their findings, it’s impossible not to see the benefits of opening up room for this kind of R&D work - even when things don’t always go as planned. A quick scan of the intentions of participants reveal the desire to make service processes more transparent, more collaborative, more reflective of different worldviews and experiences. As example:

Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA) worked with respected Elders to discuss Indigenous concepts surrounding parks with a focus on the cultural and the spiritual significance of the land.

Community Living Parry Sound looked at communication and creating safe, neutral environments for people of all walks of life to come together and explore their similarities and strengths, with the objective to expand their social networks.

Critically, the outcomes point to the need for an all-hands-on-deck approach to co-creating a more effective social change sector. The freedom felt by participants to try something different was palpable - many expressed that being given license to experiment - meant finally being able to try something long desired to reach better outcomes. And there’s some additional insights for everyone working for change.


“The biggest lesson learned through this project is that doing things the right way is more important than doing things right away.”

- Teach for Canada


The value proposition of R&D too often sounds academic. Yet, this round of granting painted a vibrant picture of what could be a vastly different social change sector if practitioners and their institutional partners embraced R&D wholesale.


“There’s a danger, inherent in yet another new frame and funding line and language - which asks change leaders to jump again through hoops, re-language and reframe their work - to do the work that just needs to be done.”

- MetaLab


At its best, this sector would be listening to and co-creating services with communities, fostering leadership capacity and amplifying the experiences of clients and community partners. An R&D informed sector is capable of increasing empathy and a sense of belonging, while fostering community ownership and leadership over decision-making and service delivery. Ultimately, it would be more agile, more dynamic and truly, a living system.