#11, March 2022

Are we ready for a culture of public and social R&D?

Faced with the complexity of today’s socio-environmental challenges, we must think outside the box and reconsider dysfunctional approaches. Innovation requires that we allow ourselves time and space to experiment—to navigate the unknown. It is precisely by experimenting that we not only open up the field of possibility, but also mitigate the uncertainties involved in attempting something new.

The 11th edition of Raccords focuses on experimentation as a lever for social transformation. Research and development (R&D) is both encouraged and widely practiced in fields that value pure science, technology, and industrial and commercial profitability. But public, institutional, civic, and private-sector decision-makers often overlook and even dismiss R&D as a way to address the social and environmental challenges they face. Yet the problems of poverty, homelessness, migration, climate change, and education stand in the way of collective and individual prosperity. These problems call for ingenious and sustainable solutions. To take them on, why not promote social R&D in the same way we do business R&D?

Raccords explores this question by meeting with a London-based expert in collective intelligence, public policy, and social innovation; a Montreal-based creator; and a Paris-based social innovator who heads an action group focused on transforming the management culture of local communities.


Could experimentation on the social R&D front be a game-changer for the future?

For Geoff Mulgan, Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London (UCL) and former Chief Executive of Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, it is high time to collectively invest in a well-structured system for social R&D experimentation. This requires a culture of social experimentation that is as coherent, institutionalized, and embedded in our practices as what we take for granted in pure and applied science today.


Recognizing the capacity of municipalities to innovate

Do public administrations have the capacity to innovate socially? How can they overcome the complexity of bureaucratic systems so they can revisit ways of doing things that no longer work and explore new impact initiatives? And how can they address the major social and environmental challenges specific to their territories? Our guest, Stéphane Vincent, founder and executive officer of La 27e Région, presents public and social R&D as a means of activating, with communities, outcomes that are concrete, rapid, and sustainable.


Works from "Possible Futures" art show

“Possible Futures,” an exhibition embodying a posture of exploration and conceptual investigation, reflects the ways in which the imagination faces humanity’s uncertain destiny. Through absurd assemblages of different objects and processes, the artist stages relationships between a diversity of ecosystems—technological, biological, and domestic—which rarely interact so directly.


Top picks from Raccords and our guests, Geoff and Stéphane

Our contributors, Geoff Mulgan and Stéphane Vincent, share some favourite resources for further exploration of public-sector experimentation.

Other Raccords