Blog Post

What works well in a digital/remote model? What works better in person?

By: Marco Campana
February 15, 2023

In this Feb 7th, 2023 session I brought a group of folks together to talk about resources, experiences, and insights in the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector. We discussed how we could strengthen hybrid services and ensure high-quality, inclusive & innovative delivery.

This is a conversation that isn’t happening at scale in the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector. And it needs to. It also needs to involve frontline workers, middle management, and not just the usual suspects from sector leadership, EDs, and heads of sector umbrella groups. There is much wisdom in the room, huge amounts of experience. The goal of the session was to kick start a conversation that will continue and build and impact how we look at where we are and how we can build hybrid services for the future.

A word on session scope

This session focused on discussing hybrid service delivery - how you serve Newcomers in both an in-person/digital approach. It did not focused on organizational hybrid work models and structures - how you structure your work (eg. 2 days in office, 3 days at home, etc.). These are interrelated, yes, but they are different conversations. As part of the session notes here I will share some high level resources, post-session, on hybrid work models and structures, but we didn’t focus on this in our session.

We worked together to answer these questions:

  • What works well in a digital/remote model?
  • What works better in person?
  • What do you need to make a hybrid service model work?
  • What do your clients need? How can you support them to access hybrid services that include remote/virtual components?
  • What projects or efforts are you working on at your organization focused on digital or hybrid service delivery?

Getting a sense of where everyone is when it comes to hybrid service delivery is essential in this conversation. I used a Mentimeter poll to gauge where organizations are at when it comes to digital and hybrid service transformation - surviving, striving, or thriving. I also tested some myths and assumptions when it comes to hybrid service delivery. Here’s a video summary:

Image of bar graph with answers to question how do you feel your organization is doing when it comes to transitioning to a hybrid service delivery model?
Image of 2x2 matrix aggregating participants answers to 7 questions

What's working, not working, what do you need?

We had a whiteboard/virtual post-it note activity and discussion to focus on our main questions. In hindsight, I think this would have been a more effective activity done in smaller break out groups with a bit more time. I’ve been asking these questions with teams at one client, and the discussions have been robust and deep. We didn’t get to that depth here with a larger group. Lesson learned.

But, definitely still some great input and feedback from the group. Here are their insights for each question (unedited).

What works well digitally/remotely?

  • Orientation
  • English Conversation Circles
  • Volunteer Interviews
  • Information sharing among peers in a virtual community (e.g. Facebook groups, forums)
  • convenient timing
  • Workshops
  • Partnership
  • Reaching distant clients
  • Flexibility, communication, bigger scope, more opportunities.
  • Providing service outside catchment area
  • Multi-team staff meetings
  • Communication with staff/clients
  • environmentally friendly, eliminates transportation barriers
  • creative in some ways
  • Staff don't have to live in area, can work remotely
  • Hybrid is cost effective
  • More accessible
  • The options it provides the clients
  • Using Zoom and be able to provide simultaneous translations at once
  • The team’s willingness
  • helpful when clients have work hours the same as settlement services
  • clients can send a quick question by email and have it answered or be directed to a phone call
  • Most of my services are online and clients find it more accessible, clients suggest their time is valuable and this allow them to be part of programs 

What works better in person?

  • Intake
  • Case management for newcomers/ immigrants with specialized needs
  • Client transportation/navigation
  • Certain collective activities that build community (parties, potlucks,...).
  • Establishing trusting relationships
  • personal connection
  • Staff meetings and PD days- teachers and admin can be "Zoomed out" 🙂 Plus... snacks.
  • Some presentations and orientations that could elicit more audience participation.

What I find the most interesting when I ask these 2 questions is how for both SPO and Newcomer perspectives is the agreement on nuance. There is no black and white, either/or when it comes to hybrid service delivery. It is both/and. For example, hybrid services are both convenient and a hardship. They are both more accessible and can create access confusion. Remote services are more accessible for Newcomers with family, work, and other commitments that make it difficult to access services. They can also be difficult for Newcomers with young children or other distractions in their home which makes it difficult to find private space or space to focus on a class or session. Some SPOs have seen increases in client participation and numbers online. Others have seen decreases. 

It has been challenging for women experiencing domestic violence to get help online when their partners control the technology. Getting them to in-person services increases safety and access to services. On the other hand, for women experiencing harassment, stalking, and violence outside the home, being able to work and access services remotely while in their home has meant less anxiety and more safety.

Stories and scenarios like these illustrate the nuances of this both/and in-person and online/remote service delivery. They also punctuate the importance of getting the mix right, in a Newcomer-centric framework that ensures access to services for all in the ways that they want, need, and prefer it.

I’m always grateful for the insight of sector folks when I host this conversation.

What do you need to make a hybrid service model work?

  • Mobile tech resources
  • Funding model that understands teaching goes beyond just "time in the classroom".
  • Appropriate and current tech in classrooms/ offices/ home.
  • Clear expectations for communication and work, leadership who champions diversity of working styles.
  • Funding for multiple subscriptions for most staff
  • Tools that help managers evaluate staff effectiveness
  • Powerful CRM that eases communications/referral between programs
  • Clear picture of what IRCC actually sees LINC as in 2023.
  • funding, training

Knowledge mobilization means learning from peers

When it comes to moving the sector along, I believe it’s essential we share with each other. On the session registration form, I asked if anyone wanted to share. We had 4 people provide 5 minute presentations on their work and projects. It was a favourite part of the session. Each presenter’s bio is below, with a link to their presentation slides.

Shelley Zuckerman presented about how North York Community House has been intentionally building a hybrid service model to meet client needs, where staff are skilled and comfortable delivering services in this way. Shelley was the Executive Director of North York Community House (NYCH) for 30 years.  During that time, she led the growth of NYCH from a newly established small organization to one with a wide range of high impact programs and services throughout northwest Toronto and a budget of over $8 million. In August 2022 Shelley retired as Executive Director and is currently a special advisor to NYCH. A major initiative that she recently led was the evaluation and scaling of the organization’s innovation and digital transformation initiatives.   

Shelley has a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Toronto and over 40 years of experience in community development and the management of non-profits in Montreal, Edmonton, and Toronto. Throughout her career, Shelley has been committed to increasing innovation and impact in organizations and services, engaging residents in building strong neighbourhoods and supporting the full participation of newcomers to Canada. Download Shelley's presentation.

Jasmine Thibault presented how Access Alliance has standardized their remote programs and services. Jasmine is Director, Community Programs – Settlement & Allied Health. With Access Alliance for just over 3 years, and in the not for profit sector as senior management for over 15 years. Access Alliance provides accessible, community-governed, inter-professional primary health care services, including health promotion, illness prevention and treatment, chronic disease management, and individual and community capacity building. Our goal is for all people who face barriers to good health to have access to high quality primary health care within an integrated system of care.

To achieve this they:

  • Have a solid and strong commitment to the determinants of health.
  • Focus on the most disadvantaged immigrants and refugees.
  • Are committed to evidence-informed practice.
  • Acknowledge that strategic partnerships are critical for our success.

Download Jasmine's presentation.

Jasmine has also shared the Best Practice Standards for Remote Program and Service Delivery from Access Alliance that she mentioned in her presentation. This page includes a link to their Standard Guide for Incorporating Remote Program and Service Provision into a Multi-modality Service Delivery Approach. Thank you Jasmine for sharing.

Patrick Robinson provided an overview of OTEC’s Newcomer GPS: Exploring an Integrated Digital Pathway to Settlement project. Pat (he/him) is a lifetime Torontonian and 3rd generation settler. Pat is a researcher, facilitator, and strategist at Hypenotic. Hypenotic is a meaningful marketing firm and founding Canadian BCorp with a focus on not-for-profit clients. Many of these do front-line work with newcomers. Pat has taught entrepreneurship skills at Centennial College, Humber College, and OCAD University. Download Patrick's presentation.

Noha Zaher presented the Y National Capital Region’s WESO: Wired Evaluating Settlement Online project. Noha is a researcher and works primary on data analysis, using the programs Stata, SPSS and Excel. She has been an accounting professor and a researcher for more than 9 years. Working on different topics, from accounting to climate! And now, she is exploring the field of settlement. Noha is a tough cookie, with PhD in accounting, a master of science in management and a bachelors in finance and economics. Download Noha's presentation.

Answering pre-registration questions

During event registration I asked if participants had any questions. Given the explosion in generative AI tool (AI tools that created content or respond in long form to your questions) attention right now, I thought it would be fun and interesting to see what ChatGPT (the AI with the most attention right now) had to say! If you know ChatGPT, it’s not connected to the internet to search for additional resources, etc. So, what I’ve done is provide ChatGPT’s unedited response to my actual questions, along with additional resources I would recommend. You can review the quality of the answers (most are actually quite excellent), which is an important reminder of how important the human and quality control are when using AI and other automation tools. 

A presentation from me

I had planned to do a quick presentation on some key sector themes and trends. But of course I over-programmed the agenda. So you can access the notes and slides from my presentation over here - Digital capacity for Immigrant & Refugee-serving organizations.

Assessing your organization’s digital maturity

I had also planned on diving into a digital maturity exercise and reflection.We didn’t get there, but you can do it now.

How digitally mature is your organization? Find out with this assessment.

I want you to have some time to assess your organization’s digital maturity. It’s an exercise that can take some time, but I want you to go through it quickly, 10-15 minutes. Choose answers that make sense to you intuitively. See where a tool like this might be useful for you. We’ll talk about how you use it in your organization.

While hybrid work models were out of scope for this session, but are very much of interest, here’s an assessment tool you can try.

Assessing your organization's hybrid work readiness

As you work towards being digitally mature, you are also likely working on a hybrid work model. Take this Cisco Hybrid Work Maturity assessment and get your personalized report and recommendations for optimization.

How did it go?

We ended with a quick reflection. Not many filled it out, but I love the head, heart, feet reflection, so here is what folks said:

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