Blog Post

Checking assumptions about technology and sector collaboration (survey results)

Earlier this year, Jennifer Chan and I surveyed the Canadian immigrant and refugee-serving sector to find out how you are doing, both individually and organizationally. This was a follow-up from our 2020 survey. In the coming weeks I'll be posting our survey results, which we'll then compile into a report of sorts, and share the raw data.

Our original survey had 166 responses. This time around we only managed to get 103. While the number is low, the data is useful and aligns with much of what we've seen in other similar surveys and reports. I believe it is still significant and worth sharing. Many thanks to the 58 front-line workers and 45 organizational leaders who took the time to share their insights.

In today's post, we asked front-line workers and organizational leaders to agree/disagree with some statements.

  • Every front line worker is a Digital Navigator / Champion, it's part of all our jobs now
  • Newcomers are more digitally literate than service providers
  • Hybrid service delivery is either/or - Newcomers need to choose between in-person OR digital/online, not both in-person and digital/online
  • Agencies should wait for regional, provincial, and national networks to lead us moving forward with a hybrid service delivery vision & framework
  • We want to and will share, collaborate, network, and learn together if we have the space, time, and resources for it
  • We have the communities of practice or places we need to get / share information in our sector

Why these questions?

As I wrote in this article about checking our digital myths and assumptions, I feel in sessions and conversations that too much discussion is focused on anecdote. Participants usually start with something like “in my experience” that is then generalized out to all Newcomers. It’s always been a problem and even dangerous to do this in human services, whether the focus is on technology or something else. And when we know, for a fact, that most Newcomers don’t actually access formal community services, generalizing “my experience” in serving Newcomers means we’re actually neglecting a significant group who we are not reaching or serving. Is your experience important? Absolutely. Is it valid? That should always be challenged and checked.

Here's the big picture.

Big picture for front-line workers

How front-line workers ranked statements

Big picture for organizational leaders

How organizational leadership ranked statements

Below are images for each statement and my quick thoughts:

Pie chart rating statement Every front line worker is a Digital Navigator / Champion, it's part of all our jobs now
Pie chart rating statement Every front line worker is a Digital Navigator / Champion, it's part of all our jobs now

It's good to see strong agreement from both front-line workers and organizational leadership. But significant percentages are also neutral or disagree. While it’s evolving, it’s going to become part of everyone’s job description to some degree or another. There are two models we can build on and learn from. U.S.-based Digital Navigators, and UK-based Digital Champions

Pie chart rating statement Newcomers are more digitally literate than service providers
Pie chart rating statement Newcomers are more digitally literate than service providers

Alot of neutral. Most disagree.

Newcomers are, by and large, more digitally literate than our service providers. I’ve been talking and writing about this for many years. The data and evidence is clear.

Is it also nuanced? Yes.

Is there also a digital divide among Newcomers? Yes.

The word that perhaps best describes both service provider and Newcomer perspectives on hybrid service delivery and digital inclusion is nuance. Building on the idea that hybrid service delivery is both in-person and online/remote is also the idea that it is both more accessible and can create access confusion.

The nuances 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.

Pie chart ranking statement Hybrid service delivery is either/or - Newcomers need to choose between in-person OR digital/online, not both in-person and digital/online
Pie chart ranking statement Hybrid service delivery is either/or - Newcomers need to choose between in-person OR digital/online, not both in-person and digital/online

It’s both/and, meaning we’re working towards a no wrong door approach where Newcomers have choice to shift between both online and in-person, whenever they want, and will be able to access the same level of services and support regardless of their choice and how they want to flow between the digital and in-person spaces.

That is how the sector is moving forward, with an understanding that hybrid means both in-person and online/remote, with choice and accessed baked in.

Pie chart ranking statement [Agencies should wait for regional, provincial, and national networks to lead us moving forward with a hybrid service delivery vision & framework]
Pie chart ranking statement [Agencies should wait for regional, provincial, and national networks to lead us moving forward with a hybrid service delivery vision & framework]

As we saw previously, some organizations are thriving. Others are just surviving. We have much to learn and extract from their experiences to help guide each other. That information must come from the local perspective. Then it can be scaled up. No national model or plan or strategy comes from a vacuum. It comes from understanding and building off of the local experiences of Immigrant and Refugee-serving organizations. Needs & wants as well as experience & successes. 

Agencies should lead, convene, advocate, as well as work with those groups who can extend their voices up the sector hierarchy to national networks and funder ears. But there is already much to learn by convening and leading locally. The problem is, they're not. So what will it take to move things forward?

Pie chart ranking statement We want to and will share, collaborate, network, and learn together if we have the space, time, and resources for it
Pie chart ranking statement We want to and will share, collaborate, network, and learn together if we have the space, time, and resources for it

Most indicate they want to and will share, collaborate, and learn together. Sector research tells us strongly that this is a priority. We share at events, in specific times and places. That can be in person at a conference, or online in a webinar. Very rarely does the sharing and networking move past those moments. It must be resourced and invested in, with sector folks having the time as part of their work to share and mobilize knowledge. The key barrier seems to be the space, time, and resources.

Pie chart ranking statement We have the communities of practice or places we need to get / share information in our sector
Pie chart ranking statement We have the communities of practice or places we need to get / share information in our sector

It's interesting to see the high levels of neutral and disagree responses here (34% of front-line, 47.7% of organizational leadership). This suggests that folks may not know that sector communities of practice actually already exist. We have a lot of them, actually. Communities of Practice I'm aware of:

Local Immigration Partnerships and their convening could also be considered in this list. There are also many, many WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram, WeChat and other groups where sector folks interact as well.

It's curious and worth digging into this question more deeply to find out why there is such a high interest in sharing, but low awareness of where to share and learn together. I suspect it comes back to time and resources, but the spaces clearly exist.

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