Social Research and Development (R&D) is the work directed toward innovation and improvement of processes. This includes evidence gathering (interviews, focus groups, and surveys), story-telling, and recorded observations.
Raising the Roof’s Nightstop Program Evaluation was one of the 32 social change experiments across Canada that were animated by CKX. Social change is defined as changes in human interactions and relationships that transform cultural and social institutions. These changes happen over time and often have strong and lasting consequences for society. Some well-known examples of such change have resulted from social movements in civil rights, women’s rights, and LBGTQ rights. All 32 experiments were designed with different social changes in mind. Raising the Roof’s experiment, for example, focused on changing the stigma associated with youth homelessness and ways to address it. The existence of a program such as Nightstop, where youth facing homelessness can be welcomed into the home of a caring volunteer rather than placed in a shelter, shows a social change from an institutional approach to homelessness to a community-based approach.
The lessons learned by Raising the Roof’s evaluation process in addition to the other 31 experiments led to a report titled Ready. Set. Experiment.
This report shows the many different reasons research and development methods were used with the following four themes:
- Encouraging youth leadership through peer learning and creating comfortable and private places for people to share experiences
- Creating a sense of control and belonging within the community
- Creating plans to develop services and strengthen capacity with data analysis
- Understanding Indigenous ways of knowing in order to develop services with Indigenous communities
Patterns were found with the Social R&D process across all 32 social change experiments:
- Process over outcome
- There was a collective appreciation for the process of social R&D instead of having to focus on specific outcomes
- People liked that they were able to take action and find better ways to provide services and take user’s needs into account.
- People felt that the three-month learning journey was too short. Especially when trying to build relationships with service users and community members.
- Many participants pointed out that since there wasn’t enough time to build relationships, it was hard to build trust
- Commitment to act
- One group mentioned the need to have a commitment to gaining the respect of the community you want to work with and to make participation easy and available to these communities.
- Many non-profits have been doing Social R&D in their own ways for quite some time. Some might informally check-in with service users and some might create surveys
- Don’t force a “way” of doing things
- Keeping in mind that many people have been doing R&D in their own way is important when using technical terms. People may not understand the terms but they understand the ideas
- Connecting people doing Social R&D based on ideas instead of terms can help social services build networks and learn about the many ways to design social R&D processes
- Meet people where they are
- When supporting multiple organizations with their own Social R&D it is important to group them off by experience. This way people new to the field can learn the basics of Social R&D while people with a lot of experience can support each other on a higher level
- If you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else will
- Organizations should work with the community they are supporting instead of for the community.
- It is important to ask what would be helpful and collect data to see if new or existing programs are actually helping people in the way they are expected to
- Agencies should work together to benefit from each other’s strengths
This collection of social experiments has shown how important and useful experimentation can be in the social change sector. This has allowed organizations who have not engaged in Social R&D to experience it and learn from organizations that have previously been part of this kind of data analysis.
This process will help organizations show how their programs are helping the community, build trust with the community they are serving, find ways to improve existing programs and create new programs that people actually want.