Earlier this year the I was on a panel at the 21st National Metropolis Conference in Halifax. Our topic was Building a Newcomer-Centric Technology-Enabled Settlement Sector in Canada. I don’t get to these gatherings very often and they’re always a reminder of how much is happening in a very complex sector and how awesome and committed sector folks are.
I presented a summary of some research work I’ve been doing for a client and thought I’d share my thoughts about how we can harness the digital and forward-thinking work happening in government here. You can read my presentation notes and view my slides on my site.
The gist of what my research and conversations suggest about the sector is that we:
I know you know all this.
I want to be clear that this is not a new conversation in our sector. The “future of settlement work” is a conversation that is decades old as is the literature that looks at innovation, best/promising/emerging practices and technology. Some people I’ve interviewed expressed frustration. “Every report that we do, from professional development results, from conferences, we do needs assessments, we do final reports, they have all the information. Tell them to go back to their existing reports, read our recommendations, conference reports provided year after year.”
There’s a sense that this conversation happens all the time and things don’t change or change very slowly, but with increasing expectations from the funder that things will change, but without the supports and resources identified by the sector and other actors.
They're not wrong. I've found 20 years of reports looking at innovation, best practices, and technology in our sector that come to very similar conclusions (I'll summarize all of that soon). The literature coming out of the sector indicates that agencies along with their main funder (IRCC) should collaborate on how this innovation can be harnessed consistently across the country.
This hasn't really happened, except in some pockets here and there. But nothing cross-sectoral in any concerted, consistent, coordinated, or meaningful way.
If we know what the lay of the land is, and we know what assets and resources the sector has, but also the capabilities it needs to develop to achieve the outcomes our clients want, what are the levers for change that will get us there?
There are approaches, promising and emerging practices that we can learn from to help get us there, including from other sectors, but what we need is what Maytree’s Alan Broadbent has called the Three I’s of Integration – Investment, Intentionality and Instruments (jump to page 3). Otherwise, we are building innovation and technology systems on top of a shaky, broken table foundation that’s missing a leg and will collapse with the added weight of innovation and technology-use expectations. It will take resources and some small steps together with funders, clients and communities and in-sector collaboration to get there.
Broadbent has also said after we identify the problems, the hard work is to craft the solutions.
It seems like an uphill battle. But, I’m optimistic!
Why? Why might things change this time?
Because certain things seem to be aligning:
This year's CFP had the potential to start this process, especially with its focus on CORE values. From what I've been hearing about newer projects that sought funding and weren't, I'm not terribly optimistic about a sector-wide process.
So, we’ve got 5 years to start taking those small steps together so that when the next CFP rolls around, the way we approach, fund, implement and deliver services can start to look different from how we’re doing it today.
We can do this. A good starting point is a new national Community of Practice that has been developed by our sector's umbrella groups. Check it out, sign up, learn, share, connect, explore, and collaborate.