Blog Post

A much needed Newcomer rural perspective on digital inclusion & more (newsletter summary post)

By: Marco Campana
July 11, 2023

A conversation with Lisa DeGara – a much needed Newcomer rural perspective on digital inclusion

It's been a while since I posted a podcast episode. Editing this one reminded me how incredibly insightful, experienced, and committed you all are in the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector.

In this episode, I'm super excited to share my conversation with Lisa Jane de Gara, Manager, Small Centres at Action for Healthy Communities in Alberta.

I came across Lisa’s work in rural Alberta in a conference presentation and wanted to chat with her about the challenges and opportunities of digital in and between rural small centres, with a focus on how to provide services in that challenge/opportunity context. She’s able to effectively put a face to what we know about stats and information about rural internet access, what the acceleration of hybrid/digital service delivery means in that context, and the additional nuances of Newcomer-related digital literacy, digital divide challenges.

We explore what she learned from her Summer 2021 Digital Literacy training, including how she was able to replicate another nonprofit’s curriculum for Newcomers, and how important the device (Chromebook) was in that process. We also explore that post-COVID context, and how we can harness what we learned during a time of purely remote service delivery and what means for how Immigrant and Refugee-serving organizations serve Newcomers in rural small centres.

The work she and her colleagues are doing in rural communities and how our sector’s shift to hybrid services is important for us to discuss and ensure is taken into account in digital inclusion work in our sector. As you’ll hear, those that rural perspective is not heard or included often enough in our national conversation. And it needs to be. Hybrid means very different things, has many nuances, and is approached very differently in different settings.

Lisa says that technology is merely a means of enhancing the in-person experience. You can do a lot online. But it’s best if you use technology to enhance that in-person interaction. And she outlines how dangerous an urban, bureaucratized, middle class, SouthWestern Ontario perspective that permeates our sector’s thinking can be when it comes to digital inclusion. As she describes, many people can’t just walk down to their local library to access devices, high speed internet, and support. We also talk a bit about the cult of efficiency. It’s OK to be less efficient if your impact is high. That’s a strong balance and tension that needs to be addressed.

Lest you think she might be a Luddite, Lisa recently finished a Master of Science in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I really enjoyed our conversation, the needed perspective she brings that I found myself realizing I don’t have enough of, and what it means for our sector.

Have a listen and let me know what you think.

Useful research

Chatbots in humanitarian contexts - Learning from practitioner experiences (2023)
The goal of the report is to offer guiding questions and considerations for humanitarian organizations deciding if a chatbot is an appropriate tool to address program and community needs. It also contains use cases highlighting the experiences of practitioners working in diverse geographic contexts and issue areas.

This is a great, practical report that complements really great work done by Refugee 613 on their Digital Messaging for Settlement and Integration (DMSI) project. Here are some of their resources if you haven't seen them yet:

Using Digital Messaging to Support Newcomer Communities - A Toolkit for Individuals and Organizations
The Digital Messaging for Settlement and Integration (DMSI) project is all about connecting newcomers with the information they need to successfully settle in Canada, when and where they need it.

Immigrant and Refugee-serving Digital Messaging Summit presentations (webinar recording)
Refugee 613's 2021 Digital Messaging Summit was a dynamic interactive gathering bringing practitioners together to share and learn practical strategies and advice about managing digital messaging services by and for immigrants and refugees and build a network of people working in this area.

The State of Humanitarian and Development Cybersecurity (webinar recording)This NetHope event explored data from the report, key themes and takeaways for INGO leaders, digital teams and stakeholders in the donor and policy ecosystem. Presenters shared their reflections on cybersecurity challenges and discussed steps needed to address the growing challenge facing digital humanitarian and development actors.

Workforce Wanted: Data Talent for Social Impact (2023)
This report focuses on global data talent in the social sector. The report reviews the current landscape and offers four pathways forward for building purpose-driven data professionals.

The report is timely and useful as our sector continues to work on priorities related to human resources, upskilling, and new roles related to digital and data transformation. 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, covered this in some depth, and there are many useful resources that are sector-focused you should be aware of.


Newcomer Mental Health Matters: Bridging Gaps in Services
The Newcomer Mental Health Matters: Bridging Gaps In Services Project aims to increase understanding of the mental health needs of newcomers including refugee communities in Alberta to address gaps in mental health services. The project will create and deliver mental health-related training courses and a mental health supports audit tool that will allow settlement and integration agencies to assess the strengths and gaps in their capacities in supporting the mental health needs of their newcomer clients. The program will also promote mental health resources and referrals for coordinated service delivery, including an upgrade to the existing database hosted at 211 Alberta.

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