I've talked about this in many presentations over the past two years, but realized I hadn't created a standalone article about the idea yet. So here it is.
Let’s reconceptualize what Settlement Services are from the newcomer viewpoint, with newcomers at the centre. It’s not agencies delivering programs and services. It’s a service designed to provide Immigrants and Refugees (and increasingly those with temporary or no status) with accurate, relevant information and supports, so that they can make informed decisions about their new life in Canada and begin the integration process - including preparation before arrival.
All of these pieces come together to create a service experience for newcomers that gets them the information they need in the format they want, when they need it.
The key thing that I want to suggest is that, ultimately, if we’re going to be Newcomer centric, in that not too distant future we're not going to have this distinction between pre-arrival, and in-Canada services. We are simply going to have settlement services. And if we build a common portal that everybody ultimately has access to, the seamlessness becomes complete where pre-arrival, and in-Canada services are no longer separated, but they're part of the service continuum. They're simply the way we provide settlement services to newcomers. That's perhaps a long way out. And that perhaps is not the current vision. But as we look at future visions, shouldn't that be one of them?
If that all seems intimidating, don’t worry, it’s already been done in other sectors. Here’s an example of an experience through pregnancy to 5 years old. BabyCenter.ca. And this is a technology that has been around for at least 15 years, because I used it in 2007 when my first child was born.
In its simplest form, you sign up for an email newsletter and get a weekly email. The email content is based on your expected due date. The weekly emails focus on practical things to know, expect, and understand about your pregnancy, and this new baby that is challenging all you thought you knew about the world! There’s an app or get information by email.
When your child is born, you update your delivery date (it’s never the prediction, right?) and start getting weekly emails about your child’s development. It connects you to information, but also a repository of articles by health, pregnancy and parenting experts. And insights from other parents (OK, mainly moms).
Here's a video overview of the approach:
“Delivering remarkably right information exactly how she wants it.” Isn't that the goal of any information provider?
It didn’t replace our midwives, paediatrician, advice from in-laws, other mommy groups online, in person connections with other new parents, etc. But it gave us what we needed when we needed it. Often with surprising accuracy.
Because child development is a bit of a linear experience, kind of like immigration and settlement. We know some things will happen in a certain order. We know newcomers need some information at specific times.
And we know the challenges they’ll face at certain times. You can’t predict everyone’s path completely, but we can help them come to know what they may not know and serve them on their unique situation.
Imagine, if at the point of their immigration application being accepted Newcomers are enrolled in something like BabyCenter's weekly email? Something that meant they got information at the right time, before and after they arrived in Canada?
Creating a seamless digital experience isn’t really a new concept, it’s something we should explore together.
Research has shown that only between 30 - 50% of immigrants are aware of and access settlement services. Auto-enrolling Newcomers into an information and orientation system like this means that they at least have the option to know about the services available to them. They can opt out if they wish.
It's important to point out that exploring this isn't even a new idea for IRCC. In 2019 the then National Settlement Council met and one of the presentations was Increasing the Uptake of Settlement Services Using Behavioural Insights (Nudge) Techniques, by University of Toronto Rotman School of Management students.
They were tasked with answering the question How might we increase the uptake of settlement services among Economic & Family Class Immigrants? The Newcomers's Journey & Touchpoints image above comes from one of the 3 team presentations.
You can view them here:
Nothing seems to have come out of those presentations, but they're definitely on the right track, and mirror the BabyCenter model.
If you're wondering, like me, whether anything practical comes out of these meetings, one of the sessions on the agenda was:
“Blue Sky” Exploration and Reflection: Alternative Community-Based Approaches to Planning, Funding and Delivering Services
Through an interactive panel, the objective of the plenary is to explore alternative community-based approaches to planning, funding and/or delivering services.
It's worth noting that there are currently at least 16 Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) across Canada currently exploring this question in their communities, funded by IRCC. Here's an example.
Why not the seamless auto-enrol information and orientation model? It can be done.