Blog Post

Taking a deeper dive into Digital Transformation findings of IRCC's 2023 Settlement Outcomes Report

By: Marco Campana
February 20, 2024

This report explored the contexts in which IRCC Settlement Program services could be offered online, which newcomer clients could be best-served through remote services, and whether online services can be offered in a responsive, effective, and efficient way.

What IRCC means by remote services:

"Remote services include online services which are a high-tech form of remote service delivery, as well as via telephone, email, or text services which are considered a low-tech form delivery. Hybrid forms of services were also examined, not as a distinct format but rather as a combination of service formats."

IRCC image outlining their view of remote services

Some findings and my thoughts

IRCC's key findings:

  1. While most newcomers will be able to access online services (primarily through a mobile phone), some newcomers face barriers. Clients from one or more of the following categories are more likely to experience barriers: resettled refugees, seniors, and clients with lower education levels.
  2. Digital skills supports can benefit newcomers who face barriers to accessing remote settlement services. The sector is exploring different ways to deliver these supports.
  3. Newcomers prefer to access information about life in Canada online more than any other format. Online appears to be an effective way to deliver Information and Orientation to most clients, compared to other formats.
  4. Online Employment-related Services also had promising results from a service delivery and effectiveness perspective; however newcomers still prefer to access some interpersonal aspects in-person (e.g. employer networking).
  5. Online services have the potential for future savings (e.g. in real estate, program efficiencies), but carry significant upfront costs in software, hardware, IT infrastructure, and personnel.

Related to finding 4, Information and Orientation, IRCC expanded in Part 1 of their Settlement Outcomes document found:

"While many (if not all) of the Program’s services aim to increase knowledge, Information and Orientation services are the main information support provided to newcomers. Key findings related to this outcome are:

  • The main sources of information are similar for clients and non-clients of the program, with friends, family, and the internet being the top 3 sources. Among clients, settlement service providers were the fourth most cited sources of settlement information.
  • Clients reported improved knowledge compared to non-clients across a variety of topics, indicating that information services were needed by clients, and had an impact.
  • The vast majority of both clients and non-clients reported being able to make informed decisions about life in Canada."

Access to services and the digital reality

Interestingly, the order of sources of information for non-clients is quite different: Internet, friends, family, employers/co-workers. That is significant.

Access to services continues to be an issue. Again from Part 1:

"In 2020-21 and 2021-22, the proportion of newcomers receiving services in their year of becoming a permanent resident was 19%, a decrease from 38% pre-pandemic.

This is likely related to the reduced availability of settlement services during lockdowns, combined with a
lower need for services among recent arrivals, particularly among members of the Economic Class who were more likely to have transitioned from temporary to permanent residence and thus would already have several years’ experience living in Canada...

There are some gaps in awareness of IRCC-funded settlement services, with an awareness rate of only 68% among all newcomers. More than half of non-clients indicated they chose not to access services as they felt they were not required. Few clients reported barriers to accessing services, and the majority of clients felt that the services they received from SPOs were useful."

However, IRCC's infographic indicates that of the 32% who were not aware of services, "70% would have accessed settlement services if they had known about them, particularly females and resettled refugees or protected persons."

That's consistent with previous research on Newcomer service access. We know how important it is to both market to and persuade Newcomers in an increasingly noisy information ecosystem. The unanswered question is what is IRCC going to do about it?

The short answer, as we found out in the recent CFP process, is not quite enough. As I wrote in this earlier article there are many opportunities in the CFP for digital supports. But there are also missing pieces.

As well, there are some problematic statements made in IRCC's report that were not addressed in the CFP, but will need to be addressed in the sector. On page 15, in "The Cost of Shifting Online" IRCC writes "In other words, continuing to offer both in-person and remote options can be redundant and costly... As online and hybrid forms of service delivery become increasingly popular, it will be important for cost estimates and budget allocations to be revisited accordingly."

This is both true, but also problematic to leave statements like these just hanging. Especially considering that in the Digital Case Study Client Survey IRCC indicates that "Hybrid was not a distinct option provided due to the variability in the provision and experiences of hybrid services. The effectiveness and hybrid services are explored more in-depth in later sections of this report."

But it wasn't. Not really. And it needs to be. This is a task for the sector to embark on fully this year leading up to contract negotiations for 2025 - 2030 contribution agreements.

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