Blog Post

Enabling digital change in immigrant and refugee-serving organizations

(This is the third in a series of posts from the Settlement Sector & Technology Task Group's final report: From Silos to Solutions: Toward Sustainable and Equitable Hybrid Service Delivery in the Immigrant & Refugee-Serving Sector in Canada. Over the coming days/weeks, I will be extracting thematic sections from the report and posting them as articles to make them more accessible. In each key theme, we provide an introduction, sector perspectives (from interviews and focus groups), a number of useful tools and practices we have found to help guide our recommendations to help the sector and IRCC develop the themes into practice, and then a list of specific recommendations that are relevant to the theme.)

Institutional and Sector Resilience 

In the first phase of our work, we captured a number of promising practices that SPOs had implemented to adapt to the changing environment regarding the format of service delivery and organizational operation. The pandemic crisis has opened up some new opportunities as digital strategies have expanded to reach more audiences. We see the progress that has been made by SPOs, which strengthen the capacity of program resilience. 

In this process, individual settlement practitioners and SPOs have demonstrated creativity, flexibility, agility, and elasticity to create success, strategies, and implications to conquer challenges, difficulties, and toughness in pandemic times. Digital transformation and adopting the hybrid service delivery model can be unique driving forces to encourage and continue institutional resilience in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector. 

Enabling Digital Change in the Organization

Introduction and Discussion about Change Management

In the Digital Maturity Model approach, change management is crucial. People, processes, leadership, and organizational readiness require attention and development.  

As we have learned particularly over the past year with services moving to digital and remote delivery models, becoming digital requires a number of overlapping capabilities, literacies, and organizational capacities. These exist within particular contexts. The most important perhaps is the client context (their literacies, preferences, capabilities, etc.). SPOs also work within the constraints of a funding context, and societal information and communications contexts which impact their  work, how and what they communicate within our sector, with newcomers, and beyond.

Some agencies have returned to in-person or partial in-person services. Most will return to in-person services in the coming year. Additional planning and remodelling will need to occur to ensure office safety for both staff and clients. This will push organizations to reconsider how workplaces and shared spaces will be transformed and reorganized, and how to make the most effective use of what is available, and where technology support fits in. OCASI recently called for proposals to develop a Working From Home Post-COVID Plan. While focused on building an OCASI-specific plan we believe the report’s key recommendations will be useful sector-wide, and hopefully will be shared.

It is important to acknowledge that different agencies are at different stages of digital maturity, capability, and adoption. Similar to the Digital Maturity Model, researchers have created a model of three phases of adoption of technology (in their case social media) in government, which can be extrapolated to broader innovation practice: experimentation (informal adoption, decentralized among workers), constructive chaos (workers begin to recognize both benefits and risks of the technology use, organizations attempt to standardize technology use through practice or policy standards), and institutionalization (organizations establish standards, processes, and enforcement measures to control the use of the technology).

Most settlement agencies are in the experimentation phase (or digitally developing), some have moved into constructive chaos, and a few have begun institutionalization. Like any organizational or institutional change process, this progression takes time, leadership (in order to move between stages), resources, capacity development (front-line, leadership, funder), flexibility (within the organization as well as negotiated with funders), continuous learning and room to learn.

Sector Perspectives on Change Management

Change management is a key factor, including senior management support, and is critical to the success of a data strategy: 

“You need to have both high senior level support. Any type of change management project in an organization is always going to take senior officials to say this is important to us. And so that has been definitely a crucial success factor you have to buy in basically, in organizational buy in. But oddly, like, sometimes just the structure and culture of these organizations plays a huge role as well. So a good example of this is, is the employment counselor and the job developer the same person? Or do they split those roles? We’re doing both an intervention for clients, but then ultimately trying to get an employer in the system as well. There's some opportunities for us to pull some resources together to be able to build baseline knowledge that the staff has. Can we come together and have an agreement on what those baselines are? We should have a system that can provide that sort of on demand training, that maybe is certificate driven, versus things that they might happen to catch in a webinar or ad hoc learning.” (employment, interview)

One participant stressed that change management in information and data administration required a new approach for daily work-related activities. This shift in their standard operating procedures requires a considerable amount of resources and human investment: 

Whenever we are introducing a new system, we are not just introducing a system, we are introducing a new way of work. And then we put those ideas in a written process format, we call it a standard operating procedure or processes. So if I’m not here today, if my job is to do intake, if I’m not here, somebody else comes in, looks at the documents and they can easily do it. They need to be from the point of education and so on, but they can follow the procedures and do the same thing. What it does is it creates a standard of work, regardless of who is doing the work. It would be easy for us to measure, easy for us to monitor, easy for us to create analytics at the end of the day, and easy for us to sort of create outcomes out of it. The downside to it requires a lot of resources….Change management requires shuffling staff and moving staff from here to there restructuring and all those stuff. And their instruction also could include actually moving a business unit from here to another business unit. So one of the things we have done the past two, three years where we combined settlement, business unit, immigration settlement business unit, with employment together. So now the employment is with settlement. And we do have small programs like language and so on, they all combined in one business unit, they sort of create synergy and better service delivery for newcomers. (technology, interview)

A manager described how system integrations helped manage client virtual participation, but still required operational management, consistency, and staff to follow procedures: 

We recently integrated Zoom with our client management database that we use on the Salesforce system. So this has some benefits from an administrative perspective and cuts down sort of manual tracking of attendance and whatnot. And it’s immediately added to client records. So you can see any workshops that a client attended, which are all great things, but in order for that integration to work properly, meetings have to be set up in a certain way. And there are specific fields that are very important in order for that to work effectively. So we are training staff on how to do that. And even though you’ve done the training, and maybe you’ve produced a guide to manage the data. (technology, focus group)

Similarly, a frontline practitioner outlined their pre-COVID client tracking database ecosystem, which helped them seamlessly serve program needs in transitioning to hybrid service delivery:

We use the Google ecosystem. It’s essentially a database [for us]. But basically, it’s a whole system of interconnected Google sheets that has been developed to simulate a typical database that you would use. So all the data points that we enter, either gathered through surveys and forums and things like that will populate into different spreadsheets that we can repurpose, and move around to make use of the data. So things that we did before the pandemic, for example, was our system was already linked to our intake forms. And so those would pre-populate so that the caseworker and whoever else was involved in the intake situation could have that available to them online, and they would be able to fill that out just the missing pieces that were needed. (resettlement program SPO, focus group)

Change Management Tools & Practice 

Change management within a digital context has certain unique qualities that should be taken into account as organizations embark on their digital transformation. These four tools provide useful reference points for organizations:

  • OrgWise, OCASI’s voluntary organizational standards for the Settlement sector in Ontario has an online self-assessment tool SPOs can use to assess their strengths and areas for growth. The focus is on governance and management standards, as well as broad approaches to service delivery and community building.
  • AAISA’s recently created Intersectional Organizational Assessment (based upon a diversity, inclusion, and psychological safety competency assessment framework) is meant to be used by management teams to assess services, develop a plan, and then later reassess services after work has been conducted to address intersectional issues. A second assessment can be conducted later to show the progress made or further improvements areas that can be addressed. The assessment is centred around six key management areas: governance, programs and services, human resources, communications, community relations, and physical facility and environmental design. 
  • Jisc’s Digital Discovery Tool can be used to raise awareness of the range and importance of digital capabilities, and to encourage personal development. After answering questions, users are made aware of digital practices they already have and new ones they might try. Once their answers have been submitted they receive a visual profile of their digital capabilities. This is followed up with advice on the ‘next steps’ they might take to further develop their practice.
  • The European Framework for Educators' Digital Competence (DigCompEdu) (2017) defines what it means to be digitally competent as an educator. DigCompEdu categorizes 22 competencies into six areas. The framework's purpose is to demonstrate how digital technology can be used to develop and innovate education and training. The six areas include Professional Engagement, Digital Resources, Teaching and Learning, Assessment, Empowering Learners, and Facilitating Learners’ Digital Competence. 

Addressing Digital Equity and the Digital Divide - Relevant Recommendations

  • Recommendation 1: Develop a roadmap to support organizational digital transformation -- all sub-recommendations
  • Recommendation 3: Establish a hybrid service delivery lead at IRCC -- Later: Evaluate, incorporate, and establish digital and data maturity models into Service Provider Organizations (SPO) program planning, funding, and operations, including active evaluation, learning, and knowledge mobilization of existing digital and hybrid service delivery in the sector.
  • Recommendation 5: Establish a national sector capacity-building approach -- all sub-recommendations

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