Blog Post

IRCC's engagement with our sector and Newcomers requires transparency, trust, and tenacity

By: Marco Campana
May 3, 2024

A year ago I was invited to an IRCC online focus group on "how to position Canada’s immigration system as a global leader in client service excellence." Something it is increasingly not. It was part of IRCC's consultations last year, one of their thematic consultations, and I was happy to attend and provide feedback, as well as listen and learn form other participants.

IRCC shared a background paper on service excellence with some context, current issues and challenges, and some questions. The questions were based on what IRCC called considerations, which were:

  • Holistic lens with human-centric approach
  • End-to-end service
  • Corporate culture and internal governance:
  • Balancing digital and human touch points

Here's the backgrounder (I'm not sure why I haven't shared it before. I think I thought that we might get access to some sort of summary report, etc., which never came. But it's worth sharing, so here it is):

Listening is usually the theme at a focus group. My experience of running focus groups is that you let the group comment and you listen.

I've always found this helps take the weight off of having to get to any kind of agreement, resolution, or consensus. "Thank you for sharing your perspective, does anyone have anything they'd like to add?" and making sure that everyone in attendance has an opportunity to comment tends to go a long way towards creating an objective consultation you mention.

I think it's totally feasible, but IRCC could listen, not react, justify, or even correct anyone. Turns out, not so much.

In this case, the Deputy Minister attending couldn't seem to help herself. She spoke almost as much as those of us asked to attend. She couldn't help responding and event arguing at times with things people said, instead of giving the entire time to focus group participants. The quality of the input received clearly suffered given the dynamics. The summary posted online is not comprehensive.

The entire experience makes me think of what engagement and a real relationship of trust and mutual respect could look like in our sector.

It's interesting because that same Deputy Minister (no longer at IRCC now) spoke about the importance of listening at the recent P2P conference. Her words there are great, but empty based on her actions. That's an ongoing problem with IRCC consultations I've found. And it doesn't leave me optimistic about IRCC's future consultations. You can view her complete remarks here:

There is now a National Settlement Engagement structure in place. IRCC is allegedly planning a "Council of Newcomers," advisory body to provide feedback on client service experience on what their lived experience looks like and how IRCC can "improve the way we think about future policies and programs."

I have questions.

Will it happen? Will these "engagements" be useful? Will they be inclusive (including consulting beyond a digital approach)? Will they be performative? Who knows.

We should all know what IRCC is up to, and how they proposed to partner with, consult, "engage" the sector. This isn't our first rodeo. I thought it would be interesting to look at some recent history that brought us to where we are with sector and IRCC engagement.

These are very recent history. But they represent a conversation, data, and information that flows from the sector and Newcomers to IRCC all the time. In the 2019 Situational Analysis I did for the Settlement 2.0 report this theme came up again and again:

"One of the critical themes which emerges from interviews and literature is a sense that this conversation repeats itself every few years without moving innovation forward in a consistent or structured way. As one interviewee put it: 'Tell the funder to read the reports we’ve already sent them. Every report that we do, from professional development results, from conferences, we do needs assessments, we do final reports, they have all the information. Tell them to go back to their existing reports, read our recommendations… provided year after year.'"

Below are three presentations that I think will be of interest. Again, I'm not sure why I haven't shared them before. But they give some insight into how IRCC has approached sector consultations and the relationship previously. I'm hopeful this time around will be different.

The first is a 2018 IRCC presentation that proposes a "reset" in the IRCC-sector relationship. As far as I can tell, it never went anywhere or was practically implemented. What was outlined in 2018 was significant, a culture change in the design, delivery, and management of how IRCC develops and implements Contribution Agreements and how they’re managed. This includes improved and collaborative communication, including information sharing, a focus on outcomes and meeting client needs, and building mutual trust between Program Officers and the service providers they manage.

The next presentation is from another proposed reset in 2022. This one seems to have been implemented. You're probably wondering why you've never seen these slides before. It seems that a sector consultation never really happened widely. At least not that I'm aware of. It's worth reviewing what IRCC proposed and, in the next document, what was implemented.

The implementation came in the form of a National Sector Engagement model.

According to speaker notes in the presentation below "The Settlement and Integration Engagement Model was updated in 2023-24 based on discussions with the settlement sector leaders from IRCC-funded organizations to explore ways to facilitate collaborative and regular two-way dialogue between IRCC and the settlement sector and to instill a governance structure to support those objectives. This update resulted in the creation of two new committees: SISDC and SIPPC."

That's the Settlement and Integration Service Delivery Committee (SISDC) and Settlement and Integration Policy and Program Committee (SIPPC). Read on for more details.

One thing I think is interesting to pay attention to is the similar language from 2018 and today. In 2018, this slide was important:

I think it's fair to say none of that really happened. And this is the similar slide from 2022:

Let's hope this approach will happen.

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