In this conversation with Victoria Esses, we talk about that along with the work she is doing to highlight promising practices in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector, the resiliency of the sector, innovation, and the role that Local Immigration Partnerships can play in convening and driving collaboration across the country.
Victoria Esses is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations at the University of Western Ontario. She is Co-Chair and Principal Investigator of the Pathways to Prosperity Partnership. Her research focuses on immigration policy and practice, including public attitudes toward immigration and cultural diversity; promising practices in settlement and integration; factors promoting the settlement and integration of immigrants; and the measurement of community welcome-ability and immigrant outcomes.
She has extensive experience conducting academic research in this area, as well as work for federal, provincial, and municipal governments and for the settlement sector. In 2010 she was awarded the Harold Crabtree Foundation Award in Public Policy Research.
Some themes from our conversation:
What follows is an AI-generated transcript using Otter.ai. The transcript may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.
Welcome to Episode 19 of the technology and Human Services podcast. In this episode, I chat with Victoria so as you can get her full bio when she introduces herself in the episode, but among other things, she has done a great deal of work understanding the information practices of newcomers. And in this conversation, we talked about that along with the work she's doing to highlight promising practices in the immigrant and refugee serving sector, the resiliency of the sector, innovation and the role that local immigration partnerships can play convening in driving collaboration across the country. It's an interesting conversation. I hope you enjoy it.
I'm Victoria Esses.
I'm co chair of the pathways to prosperity Partnership, which is a national network of researchers, the settlement sector, policymakers and others working in the area of immigration. Our goal is to promote welcoming communities and to support settlement and integration of immigrants in Canada. I'm also a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario, on director of the network for economic and social media. trends in the center for migration and ethnic relations at Western University. And I'm also a fellow of CFR Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
Excellent. Thank you very much. Thanks for joining us. So I want to start with some of p2p work recently are you're in the middle of doing some work on the best practices project. And and I'm wondering if you can tell me a little bit about about what that is and why it's important to take the time to highlight best practices in the sector.
For sure, I would like to talk about promising practices rather than best practices, promising practices or practices that have an objective basis for claiming effectiveness in achieving their stated aims and have the potential for replication. Promising Practices have to demonstrate evidence of effectiveness, and they have to have unique or novel features that contribute to their success. Over the last couple of years pathways prosperity has been doing work on promising practices because we think It's important for the sector to be sharing resources and sharing practices that they may be engaging in with others. Rather than reinventing the wheel. This allows an opportunity to learn the best features that are being used across the country. When we first started on this project, we found that a lot of the promising practices that were nominated in response for to our calls for nominations, didn't really have evaluations didn't really have a lot of evidence of effectiveness. Some did, but not a lot. And over time, we found that more and more of the practices have learned how to do
evaluation, the ones that are being
nominated. Now many of them do have strong evaluations proving their effectiveness. And that's been really rewarding. We recently did an evaluation of this project, just looking at what people think of the practices that we're highlighting, and I should mention that in order to To describe practices, we don't just have written texts. So we do have little briefs that we produced. But we also have videos, where we interview the people who've developed these practices, talking about the key features that have contributed to their success, and also how they've gone about evaluating them. And people found that very useful. ratings of these videos and briefs have been extremely positive. And people have appreciated the opportunity to learn from others. And they've also appreciated the opportunity to learn not only about the practices, but how people are going about evaluating them, which is part of the project.
evaluation is always been an issue in our sector, as you say, for years, perhaps we didn't do it well. So I'm wondering, there's a lot of schools of thought about what makes a good evaluation. How can someone evaluate the work that they're doing with an eye for potential replication with an eye for sharing what makes a good evaluation that someone else could benefit from as well?
I think sometimes people
conduct evaluations by looking at whether clients are satisfied. And satisfaction to be is not evidence of effectiveness. It's nice that people are satisfied. But it doesn't prove that the practice is actually leading to the outcomes that it's intended to produce. And therefore, I would say
that a strong evaluation
is measuring outcomes, the specific outcomes that that project was intended to produce maybe an anticipated outcomes as well. So if you're doing language training, or people learning the language if you're doing job training or job preparation work, are people developing the skills to be able to go out and interview and obtain jobs.
Those are evaluations,
I think that tell us whether the practice is effective. And of course, there are some practices that may be more difficult to evaluate than others. Because their outcomes are less specific, they're more amorphous. And therefore, it's important to be evaluating a number of outcomes. I would say quantitative measures are important. I'm a quantitative researcher. So I think that is important. But I also think that qualitative information, you know, people's attitudes and beliefs and what they're getting out of the practice are important as well. So a mix
of quantitative and qualitative is always best.
Excellent. And and the outcomes focus is something the sector has talked about for a lot of time, but they're measured in terms of outputs, typically, although that that sounds like it's starting to change a little bit, if you believe the language in some of the call for proposals from irctc, and their their use of the core principles, which includes outcomes, how how useful are the best or the promising practices and the way you're doing evaluation of these practices for the funder, for example, who's more more than likely also interested In How can we replicate and scale something that's successful
founders who've been involved in our project who said they've been very useful because they don't always have time to know about all practices available in the community, and just watching a short video and being able to gather information and have more ideas about what might work, I think it's very useful.
I should also mention that
pathways prosperity recently received a new grant from immigration, refugees and citizenship Canada. And we will be doing quite a bit of work on helping the sector to measure outcomes. So part of the project that we will be doing is on improving outcome measurement. We will also be continuing the work on promising practices continuing to produce videos on practices that
have some evidence of effectiveness.
That's really exciting to hear the outcomes one in particular, so I mean, can you give me even just a few framework of what I know that your early days and you're This is probably a five years three to five year project. So you're looking at as a long term process, but that's, that's something that I think a lot of agencies are struggling with. And are you looking at building like a framework that can be used nationally for agencies, what's what's the potential output of what you're doing, but also the outcome around, you know, sector capacity even to do better evaluation and outcomes measurement themselves.
So let me start off by saying the pathway to prosperity is co led by the sector. Jean McCrea represents Cs x a, which is the National umbrella for the settlement sector. And our goal is not to tell the sector how to measure outcomes, but to work with the sector, using the skills that they have or helping them to develop new skills to improve the measurement of outcomes. And the first step really will be to look at the challenges that they're experiencing and doing this. So you know, we have some anecdotal evidence in terms of capacity in turn of time, that there are constraints on measuring outcomes. And of course, larger organizations have more funding available to be able to get, for example, third party evaluators in. But what we're hoping to produce are toolkits and resources and workshops that were working with the sector to help them build their capacity. So we're not going to tell them what to do, they're going to tell us what they need. And we're going to work as partners in developing measures, and in helping them to think about how they can measure their own programs. So I don't imagine building a national framework, which is kind of rigid and says, you know,
these are the outcomes you have
to measure, but more developing a process for measuring outcomes and helping agencies to be able to use that process.
So we're really focused on capacity building, which is which is really great, really important and then they can customize and find their own local tools and local approaches. actly Now that sounds great, that's that's really exciting. I mean, that's, that's, that's something in the conversations I've had just I mean, my niche is more on technology. But in every conversation, that idea of evaluating and measuring outcomes is something that a lot of agencies simply constantly struggle with. So I'm excited. I think that's a really interesting project. And so, you know, I hope that that has some legs for sure. It's a nice segue into some of the questions around the future of the sector. And I'm curious as we move to a more outcomes based focus, and perhaps through a project like this, along with others, more capacity around measuring outcomes. What do you think the future of the work might look like? The more that sector the sector learns about its own impact.
Well, I think the sector is on track to professionalize and to develop new and very innovative strategies to provide services to newcomers. And we've seen that recently in the last few years, the arrival of large numbers of Syrians in 2015 16, and now the current demick has really allowed the sector to shine, I would say, in terms of its ability to pivot and to be flexible in order to serve newcomers effectively. And I think that is one of the one of the major strengths of the sector is its ability to be responsive to new needs in a very short amount of time when necessary. And I'd say that members of the sector aren't only skilled in providing services to newcomers. They're pretty dedicated to maximizing the outcomes of newcomers. And so I think it's an exciting time. I think that the sector has proven itself over and over again in the last few years. I'm sure it's proven itself previously. But you know, my experience has been more recent, and I would say that the sector has proven itself in terms of its flexibility, its ability to change what it's doing in response to current needs. And I believe that the future of settlement workbook can didn't tell you this tradition of really innovation and dedication.
You've been studying the sector for quite some time, and the promising practices. This isn't your first kick at the idea of promising practices in the sector, for example, you've done some, some past research. And so I'm curious, some, when we talk about innovation, it's a very loaded word in the sector in many sectors. And a lot of people talk about how it comes from other domains and is used to show how mainstream service providers are, in fact, not innovative, because the definition is very, very specific and very, very, sometimes very technical. And they look at mainstream providers and say, Oh, that's not really an innovation that, you know, an innovation is blowing everything up and starting over kind of thing. I'm wondering, yeah, you know, I, you're for those who can't see you rolled your eyes a little bit, which I do as well when I hear that. So I'm curious if the sector wants to kind of create its own vision or its own ideas of what innovation looks like the promising practices that you've been providing. I've been watching the And reading. I think a lot of a lot of those, those innovation folks would look at those and go, Okay, that's, that doesn't sound like innovation, but it really it really is for a lot of agencies. And and I think, again, depends on how you define it. What would you say, in broad strokes, an innovation approach or innovation practice in the settlement sector looks like?
So let me start by saying that a lot of what the sector is doing now, I would say is innovative. It may not be new, but it was developed with a specific need in mind and new ideas were put into it. And it's always adopting, depending on who's coming into Canada, depending on the needs of newcomers who show up at the door of these agencies. So let me start by saying I don't think that settlement agencies that are doing the same work over time are not innovative. I think they are innovative because they're shifting, and they're shifting in response to the needs. Not they see in the community and in newcomers coming into the country
building on that. What? What if we wanted to develop or define our own flavor of what innovation is in the immigrant refugee serving sector? Regardless of the the quote unquote experts from other domains? What would we want to talk about? And I think you've started to define it there. What do you think is useful for the sector to think about when when we talked about how we're innovative?
I think the sector is innovative in its flexibility, and its ability to shift as I was talking about, for example, in response to the arrival of huge numbers of Syrians in a very short amount of time, and be able to serve those newcomers now with the pandemic being able to shift from in person services to using online platforms to meet with newcomers. So I think
is partly flexibility and just changing over time, your response to the needs that are apparent.
That's great. Thank you. And in doing that, and being innovative, what are and you've alluded to some of this earlier, I think, but what are some of the challenges that the sector faces in moving forward in its future and in its innovation path,
I would say that the sector does face some challenges. And for the most part, I would say that settlement workers are extremely dedicated and hardworking individuals, but they're not always extremely well paid considering the work they do, and the skills they have. And there can be a lack of continuity and funding, which means a job security can be a problem that the best workers aren't always able to stay in the same positions for a long time because of instant instability of funding. The sector is also really busy and they're busy providing services to newcomers, so they don't always have time. To reflect and prepare for the future, they sometimes have to be responsive to something that, you know, shows up very quickly. And I think that professional development for the sector is really important. And I hope it'll become a really a routine part of funding for the sector.
You mentioned earlier, you see a future trend of professionalization in the sector. Can you tell me a little bit I mean, that sounds like it's very related to this sort of challenge that you just described, what what might that look like as a way to resolve some of this?
I think professionalization involves some acknowledgement of the skills and the experience that settlement workers are able to bring with them to their positions, and that professional development means developing new skills and investing in the people who are doing this work, rather than just assuming that anybody can do it, which is not the case.
I want to shift a little bit because I know that p2p does a lot of work. with local immigration partnerships, and does a lot of convening and a lot of support there. That they're a fairly new organizational structure in the sector. And, and personally, I think they have an incredible amount of potential because they're local. They're they're sort of not they may be tied to an organization, but they're fairly neutral or in a lot of cases considered somewhat objective and neutral as a convening body. What some, what potential roles Do you see they that they could evolve into or what's working in lips now that could evolve and continue to grow out for the sector and around capacity around the future of work around, you know, supporting agencies and around collaborations locally and things like that.
I think the local immigration partnerships have a lot of potential for producing a different aura for agency so that they're not seen as competing with each other, but supporting each other. Part of the work on promising practices has to do with sharing information. And I think that's what local immigration partnerships also are doing. They're bringing together organizations within a community who are to some extent competing for funding and saying, Let's work together. Let's collaborate and let's share information and share tools. And together will do a better job than we can each do individually. And I think it's been very effective in that way. I think the other thing that the local immigration partnerships do that so many agencies don't do is address the needs of the community and the community. I mean, the community at large, and there's a lot of work going on anti racism on, you know, anti immigrant sentiment, and really promoting welcoming communities within different cities or regions. It's something that the local immigration partnerships have taken on and taken ownership of, and that's something that hasn't really been addressed by other players in this field.
So some really interesting niche opportunities in places where that where they play in terms of welcoming communities, it's a nice segue to to look at creating a welcoming community is partly related to what you know, information and systems navigation for newcomers in particular. So, you've done some really interesting research around newcomer information practice over the years, as well as looking at ways to get information to newcomers better. So it's kind of I mean, obviously, the two are related. I'm wondering if you can speak a little bit to the idea of information seeking how it's different within newcomers and how that can relate to this goal of creating welcoming communities.
So information seeking has to do with the process of trying to obtain information from others. It may be from other people from printed sources from documents, or via technology, for example, online sources. I think a big challenge for newcomers is that they're very unsure of who to trust and till they often go to family and friends for information
and Family and friends don't often
don't have accurate or up to date information. So you may trust them, but they may not be providing the best information for you. I think another challenge for newcomers has to do with, obviously language issues. So even when they can find information, they may not fully comprehend it. Not only the language itself, but the nuances that are built into the language. And newcomers don't always have strong social ties when they first arrive in Canada when they need information.
And they don't really know who to go to to get
help. And that's how they end up depending on family and friends, some of whom aren't even in Canada are, you know, talking about the rumors, or,
you know, when I was in Canada 20 years ago,
this is the way it was, and that's not useful.
So what are some ways that um, that you've looked at or you've done research on or have ideas about that we can better design information systems to help newcomers get the information they need, whether it's directly or through somebody Use intermediaries.
So I would say that newcomers,
information needs can be divided into two big categories. And one is really information on what services and resources are available to them. And the other is just knowledge of the Canadian system and way of life and how to navigate that system. Newcomers don't always want tons of information when they first arrived. They don't necessarily want a lot of information in one place early on, but they need to know how to get that information. And I think that one of the things that we could do to improve information provision is having some central source or repository where information is available, and immigrants can go to that source when they want it. So one of the things we hear is that, you know, there's the guide that immigrants get at the airport and some of them throw that guide away because at that time, they don't need it. They're overwhelmed with other issues, but then later, when they need that information, they don't know where to find it. I think there's also a big challenge in terms of navigation knowing the Canadian system.
And I would say
having mentors, settlement agencies helping in that regard is very useful in terms of specific information that newcomers need. before they arrive in Canada, they need accurate pre arrival information. I think before newcomers arrive in Canada, they need accurate pre arrival information to make sure that they have realistic expectations about what their life in Canada is going to be like. They need to know that they're not necessarily going to get a job right away, that they're not gonna have a credit history when they get to Canada and that can be a challenge for some people. It can be a challenge in getting housing, for example, and being able to rent an apartment even in terms of specific information once newcomers get to Canada, there's quite a bit of specific impact. mation that I would say that they need, they need information on how to search for housing, and how to secure housing. So what's the housing market like in Canada? What are neighborhoods? Like? How do you look for housing here? And what's the lease? What are the rights of tenants and landlords in terms of housing and what's appropriate housing for my family once I get to Canada, and I may not have the same type of housing available that I had before I got here. Another issue that comes up a lot for newcomers has to do with how to manage money. So there isn't necessarily direct information on this, but this is now being developed. And I would say, as I mentioned, developing a credit history but also you know, the use of credit card so some people are coming from countries that don't have credit cards, and they seem great, but then you end up with this You know, huge debt? How do you obtain financial support in Canada? How do you take out a loan? And what are the obligations once you take out a loan? newcomers Of course need information on the labor market, how to find and apply for a job. Also the credential recognition process. So just because I was a doctor in my home country doesn't mean that I'm going to be able to practice once I get to Canada, and that's important information for them to know.
I think something that we sometimes miss
is information for children and youth. So think about the challenge of coming to Canada as a young person. And you know, you're already self conscious and you show up at school when you don't know how to work that system. And it's embarrassing, and it can lead to problems. So
what's the Canadian way of life?
How do you use a combination lock on your locker, how to navigate the school system and also education pathways. So we hear a lot not only From youth, but from their parents, what are the education paths, pathways to follow? What courses should I be taking in high school in order to end up in the program that I want in university or college? newcomers also talked about needing information about health services and how they access health services. So I've heard from people who've said that they delayed on having specific types of surgery because they thought once they got to Canada, it would be available right away. And lo and behold, there's, you know, a year waiting list. So what is the health service system in Canada? And that should also include mental health services? So what mental health services are available and when would they be needed? Why would they be needed. Finally, newcomers often talk about obtaining information about sponsoring other family members and how they go about that and what the requirements are for that. And that's something that go to settlement dates. He's for help with quite frequently. And it's
important that that information be available to them.
I mean, that the, the landscape of information is tremendous for new companies and I have you spoken to kind of the breadth of what that looks like, as well as the timing, which is really important. Like, you know, we can get them all that information but if if they're not ready for they say, they'll throw the guide away, or they just don't think they need that information right now. So how do we ensure that the format of what we're providing is is also appropriate and because that's ever changing as well especially with technology and also the the ways we provided and I'm thinking not just of technology, but languages intermediaries like the just the the the information ecosystem, what what what we could do to make that a better system for newcomers so that they, they do get that housing information when they're ready for it or the or the health information etc.
For sure, um, so I've talked about this with you before. Our research has shown that many immigrants are proficient with technology. Most of them have cell phones, most of them use the internet. And immigrants use WhatsApp and other cell phone apps.
Even during the current pandemic,
I hear that immigrant serving agencies are using zoom and other online meeting platforms in order to provide services, do language training, etc. So the idea that immigrants don't have access to technology, I think is just false. Immigrants like receiving information from the internet, they trust government websites, and they trust information that's coming from the authority of the government.
and so having this information available is important, I would say and the information has to be available in multiple languages. It has to be available in multiple formats. For example, not all immigrants are literate, right? And even in their native language, and therefore, videos are important. Animations diagrams, and we all know that when you're providing information on how to do something, a step by step written description is not very useful. It can be useful for some people who are, like that type of information. But for others a video that shows actually how you do it, or even in person, services or mentors who are actually showing you how do you go and go about getting a loan or how do you go about doing your taxes, or whatever is much more effective than some written document. So I would say that all formats are important. We also know that there are cultural differences in how people use information and access information and that in Some cultures, nuances are more important than others. And so it's really important that we take these cultural differences into into account.
That's great. Okay, thank you. I think that kind of covers the big questions that I have. Is there anything that that we've talked about in the past perhaps or that I didn't ask you today that you, you you think is important for people especially around to to understand around newcomer information practice and just where we can make sure that as we move forward with sort of the future of settlement, you know, perhaps in a blended way with, you know, increased use of technology, that we can build systems in that that better address the information needs and timing for newcomers that we haven't talked about?
So a few things, when we were interviewing settlement agencies about information needs, and this was specifically in the case of refugees. There was a quote that I loved, and this quote was, that newcomers need the right information at the right time. It's very simple. But they don't need every piece of information about Canada in one go. They need information when they want it. even thinking about ourselves, we ignore information, we can't possibly be processing everything that's presented to us. And we ignore information that we don't think is relevant right now. And then, you know, I'm sure we've all had the experience where we wish we could remember where we seen something a few days later. So having a source or a place to go where you know that it will direct you to find information. The source doesn't have to necessarily hold all information, but it can even have links to all the information available. I think the information should be provided in variety formats,
but it also has to be consistent, right?
So you can't have one group telling you one thing and another group telling you another thing, in terms of the issue of people going into Family and friends for information. Maybe there's a way to
provide those people
provide even, you know, native born Canadians with more accurate information so that when we're giving advice, our advice is accurate.
Now, that may seem a bit pie in the sky, but I'm
thinking about, for example, private sponsors who sponsor refugees, and we know that, you know, refugees will go and ask them for information and
they're telling them, you know,
honestly, they're best guests,
but they don't have that information.
And they've never been in that situation. So. And one other source that I think is interesting to think about is cultural and religious organizations. We know that when immigrants come to Canada, they often look for social connections through these organizations. And these would be great places to be able to provide information or provide links to information and so you know, they're immigrants often are asking for information In those locations,
and it would do us well,
I think, to be providing those organizations with accurate information that they can disperse.
That's great. Thank you. And I know that there are capacity issues, in some cases at agency at the in at the individual agency level, with being able to create or design information products, they're very focused on one on one or even some group stuff. And I've wondered if that's a role that even lips has been or could be playing in that local kind of context of let's create a repository that all the agencies can borrow from and contribute to, but that we agree that this is our local settlements context of information. Is that something that has happened or is it is an idea that could have some play?
That seems like a bit of a leading question because I have a great example of that and that's the London and Middlesex local immigration Partnership, which puts out a weekly newsletter. And initially the newsletter has mainly had to do with job postings and newcomers actually The newsletter, we're looking at those job postings. But since COVID-19, hit the newsletter now contains information on supports during COVID-19. And it's a huge repository every week it seems to be growing, and agencies can then use that information in their local context.
So I would say,
lips are a great source for convening and capturing information in a community in a region and being able to disperse it to organizations within that region.
I didn't know that. So that's not it wasn't a leading question, but that's
a great question. That
is, for me a great example of that of that capacity because again, like the agencies themselves, they're in the trees, they're doing the service delivery, and yeah, they're accessing whatever information they can and sometimes it's coordinated. A lot of times it's based on the individual workers ability to do their own kind of content curation, but that sounds like an excellent support for people who are who may not have the time or or the expertise in a particular area to grab that information to live can play that role and can sort of then disperse it and distribute it. And you have a common pool of authoritative information that gets updated by the by someone whose role that is to play.
And what's great about it is that
it's local information, right? It's the information that is needed in the local context for a particular purpose,
right, because settlement is inherently local. Right?
Right. Yeah. Awesome.
That's a great note to end on. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. We've gone way over time, but I appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation. There's a lot of really good information that that I think is useful for agencies right now, who are who are doing this work to hear and to start building their own systems around this because I think that the amount of technology that's being being suddenly utilized, as you described is creates a challenge but also a huge amount of potential for us to be able to streamline some of this information provision. And so what you've what you've set here today is really useful and I encourage you Everyone to take a look at the the the promising practices project as well, because I think there's some good inspiration there as well. So, thank you very much.
Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you and your work. You can find more podcast episodes, wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my site at Markopolos org. I appreciate you listening and if you have any tips, suggestions, ideas or want to be interviewed or know someone who wants to be interviewed, please drop me a line through my website, or Marco at marcopolis.org. Thanks again.
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