Blog Post

Digital transformation in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector - the discussion continues

In my 2021 Pre-Arrival Virtual Conference presentation I spoke about a future connected to our values and vision, which is not so much disruptive, but 'constructive innovation.' A future where newcomers are supported through our collaboration, using systems that help them, and us.

In this 2022 Pre-Arrival Virtual Conference follow-up I wanted to be a bit more practical. Still future focused, but perhaps more narrowly now. The practical future window I’m focused on in this presentation is about 2 years. From now until the next national Call for Proposals. Still looking at what our sector can aspire to. But more practical.

This presentation is very much the culmination of what I've been learning and thinking about when it comes to sector digital transformation over the past 2 years. We've done a lot of experimenting, learning, thinking, and researching. I think we have pathways and roadmaps to take us forward. This is some of my thinking about how to get there.

Presentation Transcript

Thanks for having me back. I enjoyed our conversation last year. Then, I was aspirational. This year, I want to be practical. Still future focused, but perhaps more narrowly now. The practical future window I’m focused on today is about 2 years. From now until the next national Call for Proposals. Still looking at what our sector can aspire to. But more practical. I’m going to start with where we’re at as a sector, IRCC’s vision for digital services, our sector vision, some the challenges we continue to have (unlikely to be many surprises here),, and then I’d like to end with a focus on you, in particular what more we can learn from your years of experience to help the sector. Our window for the aspirational vision from last year is, I would say, 7 years. Two Calls for Proposal from now. Possibly earlier, in terms of a pilot, but in place in 2029. That seems so far away, but it’ll get here sooner than we think. So, on to the practical, starting with what we know, a current snapshot with a short history lesson, as well as some challenges we know we face.

Where we’re at - IRCC’s Call for Proposals is coming in 2024. We’ve learned a lot over the past 2 years, and in previous decades. Current research on technology and innovation is aligned with similar themes, findings & recommendations. Agencies across the country are at various stages of re-opening and evaluating their service delivery models. So I’m going to start with a pre-pandemic history of technology in the sector + where it intersects with current research. I’ll share some good Ideas in the sector & digital transformation the pre-date as well as have emerged during the pandemic, and an overview about what we learned about our sector during the pandemic and what that means for the future.

There's a lot of research, in fact, over 20 years of research in our sector focused on technology and innovation. A number of common themes come up consistently. There are unique needs and challenges for different regions just as their unique needs and challenges for different communities and different client groups. The sector is keen to work together to build more innovative and collaborative practices. During the pandemic we saw dialogue across the sector but also with with funders leading to innovation. We should build on this moment of trust, collaboration, and coordination. We understand that we need to be investing time and resources into building capacity in the sector. The entire settlement sector is keen on expanding service eligibility to formally serve clients such as foreign students and temporary foreign workers. Technology can help play a role there. We need to continue to build and implement different funding arrangements that are innovation-focused that allow for testing and experimenting. 

We need investment in knowledge mobilization, so that we're sharing what's being learned, that we're understanding what's working in the sector. If someone is working on something interesting, others find out about it, to leverage it, bring it into their work, or to replicate it.. Newcomers have always driven their own settlement, creating community, supports, and service for each other. We know that not all newcomers access services. It's important that we not only encourage newcomer innovation, but understand it as much as possible, so we can support them in their practices, but also help with interventions that might make a difference or even shorten their settlement journey. 

None of these trends are new. They come up time and time again in sector research. And they came up again in recent research, from the Settlement Sector & Technology Task Group, Settlement 2.0 and 3.0 reports, to Digital Inclusion of Refugees Resettling to Canada: Opportunities and Barriers (particularly of interest here as it focused on the Canadian Orientation Abroad program, AMSSA and ARAISA’s report on Client Management Systems, to the Association of Canadian Studies’ Envisioning the Future of the Immigrant-Serving Sector report. 

Pre-pandemic examples - We’ve been trying to figure out new and innovative ways to provide information for some time.  Before there was formal pre-arrival, we were doing pre-arrival work. was created in 2000. COSTI started offering online services in 2004. ISANS in 2007. Everyone here is a sector leader in online service delivery, which pre-dates the pandemic.

We’ve been running webinars, creating useful orientation videos, and using digital messaging and smartphones with clients for years.

If you’re thinking about creating digital literacy resources for your newcomers, consider not duplicating efforts, but build on things like these that already exist. These digital literacy for Newcomer resources and projects all pre-date the pandemic. This is not a new conversation, nor area of development in our sector. We should be sharing and building on each other’s work, sharing it back to the sector for all to use.

During the pandemic all of these have continued to be built upon, usually in silos by individual agencies, but also out in the public sphere where some actively share their content and innovation. There are many examples of resources the sector has created. But we need to share them so we can all use them, build on them, improve them, and share them with Newcomers.

This is just a snapshot of a few areas where our sector is working on assessment and data initiative. These are other intake, assessment, and tracking systems that are trying to create innovation in our intake and needs assessment processes and data management. All pre-date the pandemic.

There are other interesting examples. Here we have examples of automation and online support. The orientation to Ontario chatbot that COSTI has built with its partners. ACCES Employment’s virtual employment and resource attendant. And we also have chatlines like an online Newcomer Mental Health Support chat at the Niagara Folk Arts Centre, where newcomers can interact with actual staff..

Agencies have also been creating their own apps, whether it's from the arrival advisor app, serving BC and Manitoba, the Welcome to Alberta app, which was replicated in Saskatchewan, COSTI’s ArriveON that builds on the Orientation to Ontario content, or the point B app, from the YMCA in in Hamilton and Brantford or the Mennonite New Life Center of Toronto app.  It’s important to note that work on almost all of these innovations pre-dated the pandemic. It’s also important to note that the downloads for most apps, at least in the Google Play store, which shows downloads, are quite low, which to me suggests that perhaps apps are not necessarily the way to go on their own, but as I outlined last year, could be considered within a suite of digital services, all connected to the same content, providing a no wrong door approach to technology. We need to think about what the possibilities of service delivery could be if we combined so many different silos together. How could it be a better experience for newcomers?

In our context, we’ve called it in the past No Wrong Door. Tech calls it the OmniChannel strategy, which is perhaps simply a technical innovation of an approach we’ve aspired to create for decades in our sector, community, and other social/community service sectors as well.  

The Omnichannel approach means integrating all service approaches into one seamless method of communicating and engaging with Newcomers. Newcomers choose how they want to interact and get information, no digital wrong door.

What are some specific things we learned about our sector during the pandemic? Service providers, even those that didn’t see digital as a legitimate service delivery method or channel, were able to adjust to a digital and remote service delivery model quite quickly. These slides are from a Fall 2020 IRCC sector survey that sought to understand the impact of the pivot to online service delivery in order to better support service providers in this new context, to inform future policy and programming.

Not surprisingly, we’ve learned that online services are possible, even desirable with some Newcomers, and for many services. Most indicate, yes, they’ll continue delivering some online services, with some changes. And those changes are going to be moving from a completely digital and remote service delivery model to a hybrid or blended model. It is simply a fact. And it does mean some fundamental shifts in how we work and what our jobs will look like moving forward. 

What did online service deliver look like. As expected, online staff-led and phone (call/text/email) are the highest. I would like to see the call/text/email split into their own categories because I think that it would be interesting to see the differences. But we know that the phone calls took longer and were more resource intensive than other technologies, but also incredibly important to reach Newcomers who were or are not using technology to access services. Which leads to our next slide.

We’ve learned a lot about how technology can work and for whom. The digital divide has raised issues about digital inclusion for us that we haven’t faced directly before. Dealing with these challenges has become a priority for our sector.

It’s also worth looking at what we know about newcomer technology use in Canada. Here is some recent data from the Media Technology Monitor survey of newcomers in 2021. When it comes to digital, Newcomers are mobile first. No real surprise there.

How they use digital platforms is useful for us to understand. Social networks, messaging apps are popular and are used not just for messaging, but as multimedia communication tools. Is this new information? No, it is not. But it is useful to see is that this is a trend that has been steady over time. So let me take you back.

In 2007 Statistics Canada told us that recent newcomers use the internet more than Canadian-born.

In 2014, Yahoo Canada’s Digital Acculturation study, told us “when it comes to media preferences, new Canadians are digital first, with a particular focus on mobile devices.”


  • “spend four hours per day on their mobile devices, compared to 2.6 hours for Canadian-born residents — that’s 54% more time on mobile.”
  • spend 1.9 hours/day on tablets, compared to 1.5 hours for Canadians.
  • spend less time on desktop computers each day, 3.8 hours vs 4.4 hours/day for Canadians.
  • 69% use online calling or video chatting apps to stay in touch with friends and family.
  • 47% also want to consume media in their native language.
  • According to Yahoo! Canada, “Traditional media channels including TV and radio are less effective at reaching new Canadians. They watch only 1.5 hours of TV (compared to 2.5 for native Canadians) and listen to one hour of radio (compared to 2.1 for native Canadians) daily.”

This was reconfirmed in 2017 by a Université du Québec à Montréal study. And continues to be confirmed by our own experiences and recent research.

A 2020 study looked at Newcomer device and internet access in Toronto. Again, mobile first. They also dove into some of the digital divide challenges facing newcomers, which we’ve all come to know and understand.

Some other specific research has been looking not just at what Newcomers use the Internet and social media, but how and why.

Youth using social media to share information about Canada with other Syrians (both in Canada and elsewhere), while also sharing information about Syria. How Chinese Immigrants social media use influences their acculturation experiences. The role that ethnic community social media forums play in Bangladeshi newcomers' settlement into Canadian society. The use of social media tools for building professional networks during the pandemic.

The reality is that as they search for better or different experiences, newcomer networks have always existed outside of our formal service ecosystem. They have also been increasingly digital. That has only gotten stronger over time. The sites on the left have existed for decades. Most of these websites are in English, but there are many more in other languages. They house discussion areas in the hundreds of thousands. Many of you know these sites, may use them, may have used them in your immigration experience. They are resources in the newcomer settlement journey. We already know that a relatively small percentage of newcomers access mainstream in-person government and community services. Newer online social networking and information sites such as those on the right mean they’re potentially bypassing these services even more. Online groups and digital messaging apps and channels mean that the conversations are increasingly private and hidden from us.  What's the agency role in providing services on these sites? Or at the very least looking at them as rich outreach opportunities? This has been a consistently overlooked and missed opportunity for our sector, and for Newcomers on their settlement journey to benefit from your knowledge and guidance. We need to learn from newcomers directly and meet them where they are.

At the same time the networks have become increasingly private, Newcomers are also increasingly very public, sharing their experiences and stories. Just as they’ve migrated to new channels, platforms, and apps, newcomers are sharing their experiences with each other. Their reach is viral. Look at the views for some of these YouTube videos. What might a connection with these new influencers look like for our organizations? How can their reach and influence support your work?

Let’s look at just one example in some depth. This channel had 203,000 views of their moving to canada video on the previous slide. 103 thousand subscribers. First day in Canada video, 1 million views. She’s been recently documenting her house buying experience, you can see some of the videos on the second row - tens of thousands of views. Note the length of most of the videos, most, including her most watched, are over 10 minutes long. People will watch compelling content.

Her about page has a simple invitation to collaborate. Some of you are spending money on social media advertising, etc. What might a collaboration with Pooja and other popular “influencers” mean for you, in terms of return on investment and reach? As well, these videos are on YouTube, ready for you to embed into your own content. You can make use of this now.

These videos, stories, experiences, can be part of your own content, whether you create relationships with the creators or not. If they’re useful to Newcomers, they can be useful for you to re-share, add your own context around, build on, & create something new with. 

So, that’s a long overview of the current snapshot, but it’s where we’re at.

So, moving onto IRCC’s vision. We know IRCC is on board. Their expressed vision aligns with the research, sector experience, and recommendations made to them. That feels like progress. 

As you see here, IRCC has a vision for clients, service provider organizations, or SPOs, and themselves:

Clients have access to hybrid service options..

Service providers continue their digital transformation, in a hybrid service delivery format.

IRCC’s Settlement Program identifies a suite of digital settlement services that to service effectiveness.. Hopefully this includes the Language and other IRCC programs as well. It’s important for consistency across the sector.

Over the next 2 years they have committed to continuing to build an evidence base of what works, and have identified specific areas where the sector is looking for guidance - cybersecurity, privacy, digital literacy, and are building digital guidelines and standards that will be part of the next call for proposals in 2024. A Technology Task Group will guide the sector and collaborate with IRCC to make this vision practical and fundable. The next big CFP is in two years. We’ll know then what direction the digital settlement agency is heading in, and who will lead the sector. 

A National Steering Committee on Technology is being created that will guide the sector and collaborate with IRCC to make their and the sector’s broader vision practical and fundable. We do also need to look at where our other funders, such as the province are at and push them along this digital continuum of seamless service delivery. You receive funding from all levels of government, United Way, and corporations. What is their vision for digital service delivery and how can you work with them, influence it, and make sure it works for you?

So what are the components I think we need to achieve the sector vision? When we’re looking at the immediate future of settlement work, I like to think about it as a bit of an iceberg. There is a great deal below the surface that has to be in place before what we see above the surface is effective. And, as you’ll see, what’s below the surface isn’t just about building digital competencies, but is much broader than that. The future of settlement work is about much more than technology but I want to focus this iceberg conversation on technology since that’s what we’re focused on here. These are the baselines we need to focus on. I’m going to review Settlement worker competencies, Community Change focuses on community innovation. Then the digital settlement agency, digital skills and we’ll jump above the iceberg to visible uses of technology and where IRCC’s future vision floats.

The future of your job, the frontline worker’s job, comes up a lot in this conversation. Mainly as a point of anxiety. A fear of being replaced by technology. I don’t think your job is at risk. It is evolving. But you are more important than ever before. And, as we look to the future, we can and should drive the change that is happening and ensure it aligns with our sector's core values, as well as the type of work we want to be doing.

We've been talking about frontline competencies as a sector for many, many years. In 2019, some folks did some research and looked at the big picture competencies of settlement practitioners. The report found that the work of settlement counsellors goes beyond just providing direct services to Newcomers to include building capacity in communities that welcome newcomers. The role of settlement counsellors has two fundamental parts, each based on capacity-building:

  1. empowering newcomers
  2. empowering destination communities

The emerging aspect of the role of settlement counsellors is focused on building capacity in the existing community to be inclusive of newcomers. This involves advocating to overcome biases and systemic barriers that prevent immigrants from participating in society and in creating environments based on “unity in diversity.” 

The report proposed eight critical competencies to help settlement counsellors be successful. As we’ll see as we move through the iceberg, these skills are the foundation of a digital literacy and competency framework.

Tamarack’s Community Community Change models shows us that Community Innovation is just one part of the puzzle. It’s about systems thinking, new forms of leadership, engaging our communities, or clients, in our systems change, identifying and amplifying what works, and building on it to create new approaches. 

We are moving ambitiously towards creating a digitally mature sector. Nethope, an organization that supports international humanitarian organizations in their digital transformation has created a model for the digital nonprofit that looks at six core digital competency areas, people, processes, technology, data, investment, and readiness. 

The Canadian Centre for Nonprofit Digital Resilience, which some in our sector have been consulted about, and which is a useful emerging national organization that can help ensure consistency across the entire Canadian nonprofit sector when it comes to digital transformation, is using the Nethope model and has identified the conditions and baselines needed to make it happen. You’ll see some common themes from our own sector’s research and advocacy - knowledge mobilization, professional development at all levels, roadmaps to get there, shared technology (that seamless service platform I mentioned last year), better data practices (which means better understanding of Newcomers, their journeys, their technology and information practices), investment. All of this is relevant and useful to us.

They’ve identified 9 key strategic areas of focus. They overlap with our own. It is useful for us to be connected with the emerging national organization their activities, because while IRCC is our sector’s largest funder, our sector is broader in scope as well as funding jurisdiction. So it’s useful for us to be part of these broader advocacy, baselining, and policy structures and discussions.

I’ve created a draft version of they Nethope model, applied to our sector. If we look at their categories, in our context, some specifics emerge where we are and should be focusing. We can start to see what our priorities might be. So at the core, at the centre, is newcomer centric data, creating a seamless newcomer settlement experience journey. We need to be centring Newcomers, whether they access our services, or not, in our plans. When we think about people, we're talking about professional development in our context, building a competencies framework for our work, including knowledge mobilization and transfer. When we're looking at process, we're talking about digital, and data maturity and risk frameworks. Frameworks we can not only build on but learn from, borrow, customize and implement in our sector. Technology, in our case, needs to be tempered with digital inclusion and equity. This needs to align with our sector values of access, anti oppression and inclusion. When we're thinking about readiness, this is where we're talking about those baselines in hybrid service delivery, where we have a common minimum standard or floor of infrastructure and competencies that no agency and no individual should fall below. We can certainly exceed those baselines, and should strive to, but at their core, we all should have access to build those baselines. When it comes to investment, I like to use what Allen Broadbent from the Maytree foundation called the three I’s of immigrant integration: intentionality, instruments and investments. We need to be strategic, we need to be intentional about what we're doing. We need to have the right instruments, tactics, or technologies in order to to address what we’re being intentional about. And we need investments in those instruments and in that strategy in order to make it happen. Data is key to all of that. In this model, I'm putting it at the center, labelled as Newcomer. It's really being newcomer centric, fully understanding newcomers and communities, in order to create that seamless newcomer settlement journey. Understanding newcomers makes the technology and service intervention decisions much easier.

The Canadian Centre for Nonprofit Digital Resilience’s working principles are very aligned with our sector vision. So, again, strategically, it makes sense to participate in their work. And it’s useful for us to know there are others doing similar work, allies we can work with to create larger visions, borrow strategies and practices, and work to build a nonprofit sector wide digital maturity model.

So what does that mean for individual workers at service providers? NetHope’s Digital Skills Framework is an organized way to guide you with what to know, learn, and do in order to better communicate, collaborate, solve complex problems, advocate and create new ways of doing work in an increasingly digital world. The Digital Skills Framework is based on research into technology trends, existing frameworks, and digital skills needed for success, both now and in the future.

It’s an evolving framework, as newer technology and trends, such as advancement in cloud technology, blockchain, AI and Machine Learning, as well as IoT need to be incorporated into the frameworks to fully identify the skills needed for employees and organizations to be successful now and in the future.

  • Technical Literacy, forms the foundation for all the other skills in the framework. It involves learning about the tools and technologies you need to succeed and to make a greater impact in digital service delivery.
  • Highly Adaptive Collaboration means that people within an organization need to participate in digital teams, share projects, tasks, calendars, tools & media. They need to work effectively across cultural, social and language barriers, while learning to share openly across networks as appropriate.
  • Complex Problem-Solving  is the backbone of all employee work. Technology allows individuals to use data in figuring out answers to problems. It also means problems get more complicated with the increase in information. Employees will need to solve increasingly complex problems using research, analytics, rapid prototyping and feedback. They will have to pivot to incorporate environmental changes and organizations will need to continually build an agile environment to achieve the best solution. 
  • Digital Responsibility means operating in a safe and secure manner when online. In the nonprofit sector, work with vulnerable populations means safety and security of those individuals is a moral imperative. You and Newcomers need to be able to identify secure sites, as well as the benefits and risks of giving information across devices and different sites through software. 
  • Creativity & Innovation includes the ability to generate new ideas or revise original ones with divergent thinking or by drawing connections thru categorization, prioritization or other segmentation. This skill uses the information available thru technology and data to make better formed decisions and allows people from different places to participate in the creative process. Organizations can then take well-formulated risks on new ideas to generate greater impact.
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit is an important part of a digital skill set. It involves an experimentation, evaluate, learn, change attitude, and a feeling of ownership. Employees can look at old problems or processes with new eyes. They challenge old ways of working and are open, co-creators with a laser focus on users and customers, and an agile way of working within an organization.

eSkills, a digital literacy project for Newcomers provides a deeper dive into the areas of Technical Literacy and Digital Responsibility. While created for Newcomers, this model is useful for us as workers too.

Their model expands on the notion of digital literacy to encompass larger and comprehensive ideas of digital fluency, digital citizenship, and digital equity. For example, Digital literacy is can be considered an understanding of how to use the tools; digital fluency is the ability to create something new with those tools… In learning a foreign language, a literate person can read, speak, and listen for understanding in the new language. A fluent person can create something in the language: a story, a poem, a play, or a conversation.

A UNESCO summarizes this broader view, calling digital literacy “the ability to define, access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. It includes competencies that are variously referred to as computer literacy, ICT literacy, information literacy and media literacy." It entails the “ability to identify and use technology confidently, creatively and critically to meet the demands and challenges of living, learning and working in a digital society.”

You can see those elements in the eSkills model. It’s aspirational, but achievable, and something all our organizations should be striving for.

Privacy and security has come up as a concern. It’s on both the sector and IRCC’s radar as something we need to resolve across the sector. For now, we need to build our competencies, both as individuals and organizations. Decision frameworks like this one are useful. But simple steps are our friends. Use strong passwords or passphrases for your accounts. Use a password manager. Turn on two-factor authentication. Don’t wait to download the latest security updates (update apps, computer updates, etc.). Be sceptical - beware of phishing, misinformation - find trusted sources. To protect your digital chats, use secure and encrypted apps/tools for messaging (be careful about backing up your chats to the cloud). Frameworks like these can give us checklists, questions to ask ourselves, and pathways to help ensure our technology decisions are responsible, safe, and secure for Newcomers and for us.

In your work, you are increasingly playing a key role in digital systems navigation as Digital Navigators. Like general Settlement work, as a Digital Navigator you’re helping Newcomers navigate the digital system. These supports can range from providing access to hardware, many agencies have created technology lending libraries, to helping with connectivity, but most directly, it's helping Newcomers become digitally literate, and build your own capacity to provide digital services, including to those who may have lower technical capacity.

When you emerge above the surface of our iceberg, we start to see the visible uses of technology in our sector. I’ve organized these into 3 areas: sector focused, Newcomer focused, and community focused

Sector focused means looking at how we collaborate, share knowledge, and are active in our communities of practice. Information-sharing, collaboration, knowledge mobilization, professional development all take time. Everyone needs a focused approach to innovation. It takes time. But we can do better as a sector to share what’s working, what we’re learning, how we’re using technology, how we’re planning for the future, etc.

Being newcomer focused means being newcomer-centric in our work. We tend to focus on what works for us and what our funding guidelines are. 

We don’t end up with shared resources related to evaluating the newcomer journey, their experience in settlement, our place in it, and where we might have greater impact. 

The immigration journey, information and system navigation is overwhelming for newcomers. We know this. 

Newcomers may not know what they don’t know. We know earlier interventions can make a difference in someone’s successful settlement and integration.  It’s why pre-arrival services exist, right? Even when offered beneficial services or programs, people often don’t take advantage of them. Clients don’t hear about the services, or don’t think they need them. We know this is a challenge both with pre-arrival and in-Canada services.

If we don’t reach people with timely information there are :

  • Missed opportunities.
  • Potentially longer timelines for settlement.
  • Frustration and misinformation.

What we need to start talking about is how our entire service system puts newcomers in the centre and builds from there. Not just at the individual organizational or service level, but at a systems level. Collaborating together to put newcomers at the centre of our services and efforts is essential to better service experience and therefore better settlement and inclusion experience for newcomers.

Community focused takes us back to that Tamarack Model of Community Change and Community Innovation, where we’re working together on collective impact, harnessing the knowledge and experience, as well as needs, of the communities we serve. 

There’s a common theme in all three areas that comes from Harold Jarche, a Canadian consultant who works with individuals, organisations, and governments to improve collaboration, knowledge sharing and sense-making. It’s Seek > Sense > Share.

Seeking is finding things out and keeping up to date. Building a network of colleagues is helpful in this regard. It not only allows us to “pull” information, but also have it “pushed” to us by trusted sources. Good curators are valued members of knowledge networks.

Sensing is how we personalize information and use it. Sensing includes reflection and putting into practice what we have learned. Often it requires experimentation, as we learn best by doing. In our case, this is also sense-making for Newcomers, helping them navigate systems around them, be they community or digital.

Sharing includes exchanging resources, ideas, and experiences with our networks as well as collaborating with our colleagues. It also means how we share information with Newcomers to help them on their settlement journey.

IRCC’s future vision sits a bit above and below the surface because we know a bit about it and hear about it in some settings, like what I shared today, but it is not completely transparent or known to everyone in the sector. In particular, we don’t know all the details. But, we know that IRCC is on board when it comes to a future vision of the sector providing hybrid or blended service delivery. 

As we ponder all of this the question for us is what do you need to feel competent and comfortable to provide digital services to newcomers?

Which brings us to our challenges. When we’re looking at the current reality and things to work on over the next couple of years and beyond, there are a few things that come to mind. We can do better at sharing and learning from each other. As individuals and organizations we need to look at wellness as a priority in our work, including ensuring work/life boundaries and building in time for reflection and learning. Remote work policies are being built by many organizations, alone, individually, and we should be sharing what we’re working on to build sector policies that can be personalized within organizations. But those with resources to build these policies and frameworks can share them with others in the sector. We should be having this conversation. Expanding service eligibility in IRCC services is a longstanding conversation, and challenge. As we increasingly see pathways to permanence from temporary immigration statuses it makes sense to start figuring out how to serve, inform, and orient those Newcomers who want to move along those pathways, sooner in their journey, rather than later. Through all of this we are embracing digital transformation in our organizations, which means organizational and secto culture change. That’s not easy, but if the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we can do anything. The final challenge affects everything, from aspirational to practical. The inevitable post pandemic budget crunch, the great belt tightening, will come. And we need to be ready for it. We need to be able to make the case, provide the evidence, build the business case to show IRCC and other funders why more investment is the way to go, not less. To build this long term vision of hybrid service delivery, digital transformation, centring and serving Newcomers, clients or not, will require the investment part of the three I’s. We need to invest, not ignore our intentions.

Now, I don’t want to end with challenges, but by highlighting why we should all be paying attention to you and what we can learn from you in pre-arrival services. In 2017 I interviewed Madison Watson for my podcast Technology in Human Services. At the time, she was Director, Pre-Arrival Settlement Services, YMCA-YWCA of the National Capital Region. I always appreciated how frank Madison was in our conversation, it was an amazing treasure trove of information. At the time, she and her team were working to figure out what an online service can be, how to manage online workers and the experience of constant change in technology. Sound familiar?

It was, for me, an incredibly enlightening conversation. One of the key takeaways, for me, of our conversation was: "If you take a key message away from this conversation, it is to be prepared to adapt. Where you start may not where you end up in terms of online service provision. Being flexible and open to change is important." She may not have known just how accurate that was! But now, after 2 years of pandemic service delivery, we know just how right she was. My experience during the Settlement Sector & Technology Task Group and in other conversations is that SPOs making the pivot to digital/remote work did not take advantage of the years of experience pre-arrival service providers could bring to the table. In fact, one org ED I spoke with talked about how they defaulted to the ESL/LINC providers in their org and didn't bring in their Pre-Arrival team at all. Imagine, having a team that had for at least 3 years been working fully online, fully digitally, and ignoring their experience and expertise? Astounding. We have much work to do. And part of that is to value everyone's contributions, experience, and knowledge more actively as we build a future vision of our sector. 

So my call to action for you is to share more about what you’re doing, what you’ve learned by working online, share your current struggles and how you’re working on them, and work with the National Steering Committee on Technology to ensure that we all learn from how you’re adapting. Build that evidence base to show IRCC and other funders why more investment is the way to go, not less, talk about where you started and where you’re going with online service provision. We have so much to learn from each other. Let’s make sure we do! 

Thanks for having me today, I look forward to our conversation.

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