Blog Post

Mobilizing Knowledge in the Immigrant and Refugee-serving Sector

(This is one post in a series of posts from the National Steering Committee on Technology's final report: The Future is Now: Strengthening High-Quality, Inclusive and Innovative Hybrid Service Delivery. The post pulls key recommendation sections from the report to make them more accessible. In each key post, I provide an introduction, along with each sub-recommendation narrative and specific recommendations relevant to the sub-recommendation.)

Mobilizing knowledge means that all SPOs are funded, supported, and encouraged to participate in formal and informal information sharing mechanisms to build, share, and replicate sector knowledge.

Prioritizing Collaboration and Information Sharing

A consistent theme across all reports was that there is a need to develop a shared vision, culture of understanding, and ways of working toward innovation in the sector. Collaboration and communication between key stakeholders are considered essential components of this. PeaceGeeks (2021) further illustrated what sector stakeholders believe are key drivers of innovation in the sector: embedding partnership and collaboration, holistic and newcomer-centric approaches across service design, and delivery with a commitment to address systemic barriers.

It is important to define and formally recognize the value of innovation to the sector (AMSSA, 2021; PeaceGeeks, 2021). Importantly, there have been several promising innovative practices that are well-documented in the reports, both before and after the pandemic. While examining the reports, it has been noticed that reports accurately capture
that innovation is happening in several ways, in different forms, and at different levels. Getting the basics right would constitute innovation for some SPOs that are in the early stages of their digital transformation journey, while for others it means engaging technology in a sophisticated manner. Equally important, this does not just apply to technology, but to people, interactions, and processes. As PeaceGeeks (2019, 2021) noted based on its analysis of best practices in the sector, innovation mostly occurs within the relationship between newcomers and settlement workers and within the unique experience of settlement workers (who have immigration experience). This recommendation is also endorsed in ACS (2021), which notes that innovation can be built through connecting community, post-secondary institutions, and other stakeholders, as well as combining public and private funding.

Among the reports, it is consistently recommended that IRCC, the sector’s core funder, and SPOs, should communicate, collaborate, and create ways of bilateral dialogue between IRCC and organizations. This should encompass all stages of service delivery, from program design through implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

The recommended way to approach this, as PeaceGeeks (2021) highlighted, is to develop a sector-wide definition of client “outcome”. This is critical in terms of enabling the sector to discuss and provide evaluation frameworks for novel projects and innovative practices. As AMSSA (2021) noted, many SPOs have created their own methods to measure outcomes to reflect their service quality and adapt hybrid service delivery accordingly.

Integral to this, feedback mechanisms on outcome evaluations between IRCC and sector organizations should be promoted. More information sharing between IRCC and SPOs is needed to share lessons learned from both successful and unsuccessful projects. Explicit in the reports’ findings, sector stakeholders are increasingly aware of this critical need. As PeaceGeeks (2021) captured aptly, IRCC is also receptive to receiving innovative approaches from SPOs on reporting service outcomes.

It is also recommended to initiate knowledge mobilization activities to foster sectoral learning. AMSSA (2021) underscored the need for establishing a knowledge mobilization approach at IRCC to actively share learning from funded projects, including Service Delivery Improvements (SDI) projects, at the national and regional levels. PeaceGeeks (2021) reemphasized this by recommending the sector and IRCC work together on knowledge mobilization of pilot projects. Concurrently, this facilitates scaling, expanding, and replication of existing service solutions within the sector.

Reports suggest that the main driver that stimulates innovation from the intention stage to the implementation stage is cross-organizational knowledge sharing and collaboration. As recommendations widely agreed on, SPOs should be
supported to create ways of sharing information, best practices, processes, mistakes, solutions, failures, and strategies about hybrid service delivery. One way of approaching this is to design and implement a central hub for shared learning on tools, programs, and resources for hybrid service delivery. PeaceGeeks (2021) recommended the creation of physical and virtual spaces dedicated to SPOs’ innovative ideas and hypotheses to flourish and discuss innovative work.

Importantly, the recommendations also underscored the need for creating both formal and informal venues for information sharing, networking, and dialogue. For example, ACS (2021) highlighted that events such as conferences, workshops, and focus group discussions enabled several SPO staff to learn from each other as the sector pivoted online. Similarly, PeaceGeeks (2020) highlighted the need for official platforms for collaboration. At the same time, for many SPOs, informal connections (e.g. running into someone) offered unique opportunities for information gathering.

Reports also addressed how critical these networking and knowledge-sharing platforms are for the sector as they help SPOs identify areas of collaborative future work. Critically, as they recommended, more efforts are required to have a
sustained and deeper partnership between Francophone and Anglophone SPOs as well as between urban and rural SPOs. It is critical to break down silos and ensure that every stakeholder participates equitably in national-level conversations.

Another important area of information exchange is between pre-departure and post-arrival service providers. IOM (2021) recommended the establishment of a Working Group or a Community of Practice that allows sharing of lessons learned and best practices. It would be critical for these two groups to communicate and learn from one another, since each have extensive digital service delivery expertise, have developed new tools, and have tested
them in their own operating contexts. The report suggests that such a platform would benefit in ensuring service gaps are bridged.

This resonates across several recommendations on the value of smaller centres in optimizing sector innovation (AMSSA, 2021; PeaceGeeks, 2021). PeaceGeeks (2021) highlighted that smaller centres have similar needs and capabilities in terms of innovation (In accordance with the reports, we use the term “smaller centers” to refer to
rural, remote SPOs to differentiate them from urban SPOs.). Their approach is newcomer-centered, as reports signaled.

Smaller centres, grounded in community, are uniquely positioned to deliver services and programs by identifying what newcomers expect rather than by deciding what to offer and tailoring resources, although limited, based on newcomers’ needs, creatively and collaboratively. PeaceGeeks (2021) further recommended IRCC should create
a National Small Center Working Group (as part of NSIC) made up of sector and IRCC representatives from all regions. This clearly indicates an opportunity for the sector to learn from smaller centre SPOs and to elevate their voice in national conversations.

Recommendations also highlighted the value of SPO-private sector partnerships in fostering innovation in the sector. Reports (PeaceGeeks 2019, 2020, 2021; AMSSA 2021, ACS 2021) underscored the importance of such collaboration in terms of leveraging private organization’s resources and capacity on technology, new funding sources, and forming long-term relationships based on reciprocity and mutual advantages. These recommendations share core attributes in the experiences of the sector with innovation, as captured in PeaceGeeks (2019): innovation cannot occur in survival
mode.

Reports also highlighted the value of sector engagement with academics and researchers in supporting innovation, including through academic knowledge mobilization activities, access to systematic knowledge on digital technology use and innovation in context, and fostering creative collaborations. Academic research is limited, as Turegun et al. (2018) (cited in PeaceGeeks, 2019) indicated, to capture the impact of settlement services on client outcomes.

Other strategic areas exist. As PeaceGeeks (2019) noted, these are open data and digital services, and transformative use of service data, such as client feedback information. Open data refers to purposefully releasing data in any machine-readable format for free and non-exclusive use, re-use, and redistribution by any party. In the context of settlement service delivery, it is important to collaborate with researchers and academics to engage with data, connect the dots in different service delivery schemes and outcomes, and glean new insights about newcomers’ settlement journey. Critically, these processes must be in accordance with responsible data practices.

Ultimately, being innovative is about having the right information, the ability to use it efficiently, and appreciating its opportunities in everyday service delivery. The recommendations highlighted the importance of improving SPOs’ research capacities. For example, ACS (2021) advocated for establishing a “center of excellence” where organizations
with greater research capacity conduct analysis and disseminate information across the sector, allowing smaller organizations with lesser capacity to obtain knowledge. Others (AMSSA, 2021, PeaceGeeks, 2021) recommended a wholeof- sector approach in which the sector and organizations are funded to develop their data practices (e.g. use, share, and analyze data ethically and efficiently) for service delivery and enhancement purposes.

Prioritizing Collaboration and Information Sharing Recommendations

Goal: A formal, funded knowledge mobilization approach fosters a shared vision, culture of understanding, and sector knowledge exchange.

Streamline communication and information sharing mechanisms and provide funding to promote collaboration:

Between IRCC and SPOs by

  • Reinforcing feedback loops between IRCC and SPOs on outcome evaluation

Among SPOs by

  • Creating a central hub for sharing learning of successful approaches to hybrid service and share pilot projects
  • Creating both formal and informal networking and knowledge sharing opportunities
  • Ensuring collaboration and sharing are sustained between English-Francophone SPOs as well as between rural and urban SPOs
  • Cultivating data sharing culture and practices sector-wide

Between the sector and funders by

  • Creating opportunities for continuous engagement on expectations, needs and terminology
  • Supporting SPOs with the resources needed to develop evaluation metrics related to the strategy

Between SPOs and private sector by

  • Exploring partnerships based on reciprocity and mutual gains

Between sector and researchers, including academia by

  • Planning and supporting mobilization of research, including by strengthening access to open data where appropriate

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