Promising Practice

Using Digital Messaging to Support Newcomer Communities - A Toolkit for Individuals and Organizations

Posted on: March 5, 2021

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. As a communications and mobilization organization, the team at Refugee 613 knew that traditional means of communicating information (websites, brochures) often don’t reach those most in need, which pushed us to explore new and better ways of sharing information. The DMSI project was a three year exploration of new ways to connect with newcomers using inexpensive, popular digital messaging platforms. The core principle of this project was to ‘go where the audience is’ to reach community members in places where they are already communicating and sharing information.

It started on WhatsApp with the Refugee 613 Welcomes You to Ottawa project.

Background

The goals of Refugee 613 Welcomes You to Ottawa are to provide accurate settlement information in a timely manner, to correct misinformation circulating through social media, to empower and support newcomers in their settlement and integration journey, and to assist newcomers in navigating Canadian systems.

Refugee 613 Welcomes You to Ottawa assists Arabic-speaking refugees in navigating settlement services by bringing high-quality information and referrals through two WhatsApp groups (WhatsApp allows a maximum of 256 members per group). Using smartphones, newcomers can ask questions, obtain referrals to local agencies, and learn about settlement-related workshops and events. Posts are also shared about cultural subjects, emergency alerts (e.g., school bus cancellations, services following major storms), and requests for research participants or community volunteers. The WhatsApp groups have a full-time expert moderator, who is online five days a week from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Questions are answered by the moderator or group members (with the moderator verifying and, if needed, correcting or adding to responses). Members can ask a question at any time of the day and are promised a reliable answer within 24 hours.

Evolution and growth

The project has since moved over to Telegram, which more robust group admin functionality, as well as capacity for larger groups (WhatsApp limits groups to 256 members). Refugee613 received funding to evaluate their approach, work with other settlement organizations to pilot innovative approaches to using digital messaging in service delivery, and to share their learning. The Digital Messaging for Settlement and Integration (DMSI) project recently hosted a national conference to share and continue the learning.

As part of that conference, they released a toolkit: Using Digital Messaging to Support Newcomer Communities - A Toolkit for Individuals and Organizations.

This toolkit provides information about how to use digital messaging to help newcomers settle a new country. The work has taken in place in Canada, but many of these lessons learned are applicable anywhere that immigrants are arriving.

When we talk about digital messaging, we mean using apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Slack, WeChat and SMS or text messaging. Easy to use and usually with no fees, these can be powerful tools for creating communities and delivering services. They can make it possible to bring together people who have things in common, like their home country, their new city, their work, sports or social life. Digital messaging tools can connect people who are new to the country with other people who understand what they are going through, and what support is available. With digital messaging, information can be shared quickly and easily to connect people to support they need as they move through stages of integration. It can also be useful to people and organizations who
support newcomers to collaborate with one another or deliver their services in innovative ways. The toolkit has tools and tips for effectively using digital messaging for settlement and integration.

Useful information in the toolkit includes:

  • How digital messaging can support newcomers
  • Tips for using digital messaging successfully
  • Stages and steps to follow, including selecting your platform, guidelines for organizing and running a digital messaging service, and evaluating how well it is working
  • Real-world examples of digital messaging in settlement and integration

The toolkit also provides sample checklists, policies, guidelines and tools that can help you set up and run your service with confidence.

Read a full promising practice overview of this project from Pathways to Prosperity Canada.

Summary

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.
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