How to Make the Internal Case for Research and Development

Hit them with reason

Why It Matters

Business as usual won’t get us to the quality and scale of social change fast enough. We need new ways of experimenting, designing, and developing. Research and development (R&D) has brought wonders in other sectors, from life sciences to energy. The world of impact is starting to see benefits too.

From youth homelessness and social isolation in cities, to retraining pre-retirement workers and achieving economic reconciliation, problems are getting more complex and incidence rates are skyrocketing.  

This is where the process of research and development (R&D) is highly relevant.

R&D has been a key mechanism for other sectors to uncover pathways to significant impact and growth. Whether it’s Netflix, Airbnb, or Tesla, organizations that are transforming their respective sectors relentlessly develop new programs, services, or product classes — and continuously improve their existing suite of offerings.

What is R&D? Social Innovation Generation characterizes it as a range of embedded capabilities, tools, and processes, such as behavioural science, data science, and lean prototyping. The goal is to continuously develop and improve processes and outcomes across the spectrum of social change work.

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

Make the internal business case for R&D

Challenge Yourself to Go First

You likely have the sphere of influence to make room for R&D within your organization. Start by doing it yourself and capture data on experiments that documents the journey through photos, cost-benefit data, and before-and-after comparisons.

Be Your Organization’s Window

Have the view into how other organizations are increasing their efficiency and impact via their R&D efforts via a running list of what R&D looks like and what it has helped organizations in a similar context achieve. Be prepared to explain why these examples are relevant and how they could help meet specific organizational priorities. Nesta’s toolkit for innovation learning can help you think through how to communicate this information well.

Find the Pockets

There are parts of the organization that are constantly scanning for the latest evidence, that are committed to protecting time and resources to develop new ideas, that test new ideas in rigorous ways. They are always around, but often under the radar creative ideas or side projects. The more stories that you can point to of your organization’s R&D pockets, the better.

Be Ready to Tell Your Story

Yours—and the stories of others. Make sure the message is about small tweaks and experiments that can strengthen your organization’s current activities. Be careful not to present too great a challenge or push to the point of threatening the core business or mission or approaches.

Exploit FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

If there are a lot of egos at the table (you be the judge), then exploit the fear of missing out and present R&D as something getting traction. Refer to its rising place among what other social impact leaders or funders are embracing. Make visible what your peer community is doing with respect to R&D and let an air of competition set in.