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From Silos to Solutions: Toward Sustainable and Equitable Hybrid Service Delivery in the Immigrant & Refugee-Serving Sector in Canada

Posted on:
May 27, 2021

What is this research about?

This report presents findings, insights, and recommendations generated through a comprehensive exploration of hybrid service delivery over 6 months in the immigrant settlement sector in Canada. The report analyzes the unique experiment in digital service delivery created by the pandemic and reviews sector innovation and collaboration while providing a roadmap for the sector and its largest funder, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) towards a hybrid service delivery model.

What do you need to know?

The Settlement Sector and Technology Task Group was tasked to discover, examine, and learn about the Settlement sector’s needs to successfully implement digital and hybrid service delivery models. The themes outlined in this report were identified through direct consultation with the settlement sector and beyond. Exploration of those themes was built upon through secondary research including an extensive survey of reports, evaluations, and publications produced by a variety of public, private, and third sector initiatives; universities; and other relevant academic research.

Recommendations for IRCC and the sector are ambitious. However, in order to move an entire sector together towards a hybrid service delivery model, they are also practical. What is outlined in our recommendations is not unique to the sector. These recommendations are centred in both the sector perspective, as well as promising practices, evidence, evaluations, frameworks, and models active already in our sector and beyond.

It is both tempting and difficult to provide a recommendation of particular technologies. What makes the most sense is to identify baseline competencies and capabilities for SPOs in all areas such as critical literacies, capacity, skills, infrastructure, leadership, technical development, organizational models, technical choices, etc. Throughout this report the authors identify existing baselines, as well as promising models that the sector should explore to adopt or adapt.

What did the researchers do?

The Task Group's work had two phases.

Interviews and focus groups were carried out between October 2020 and March 2021 using Zoom and then transcribed verbatim before being thematically analyzed. In the first phase of work (October - December 2020), the Task Group sought to gain an understanding of the sector’s experiences, challenges, and promising practices related to digital service delivery. A national bilingual survey, interviews, and other submissions provided narratives of settlement practitioners’ interactions with digital technologies and adaptation of remote/digital service delivery. For management, findings emphasize organizational difficulties and successes in digital transformation, institutional evaluation and measurement of digital transformation, as well as needed training and support in future settlement work.

In the second phase of our work (January - March 2021), the Task Group moved from challenges to solutions. They confirmed that their preliminary report themes were comprehensive and reflected the sector’s experience. They probed for information, themes, successes, and challenges we had not yet identified. Most importantly, they sought sector input on what needs to come next. They conducted 17 1.5 hour focus groups with 166 participants representing stakeholder groups from across the country. Secondary research included an extensive survey of reports, evaluations, and publications produced by a variety of public, private, third sector initiatives, universities, and other relevant academic research.

What did the researchers find?

A number of key themes that emerged to guide the creation of a hybrid service delivery model. Our themes are organized into three broad categories: Digital Inclusion, Institutional and Sector Resilience, and Baseline vs Technology Recommendations. In each key theme, the authors provide an introduction, sector perspectives (from interviews and focus groups), a number of useful tools and practices we have found to help guide their recommendations to help the sector and IRCC develop the themes into practice, and then a list of specific recommendations that are relevant to the theme.

Six core recommendations were made:

  1. Develop a roadmap to support organizational digital transformation
  2. Establish a common and sector-wide vision for digital literacy
  3. Establish a hybrid service delivery lead at IRCC
  4. Establish baseline sector competencies
  5. Establish a national sector capacity-building approach
  6. Ensure sector nuances are taken into account

Each has a number of sub-recommendations categorized in a Now, Next, Later framework. Now means work should begin immediately, within the next 6 months. Next suggests a medium-term focus (6 months to 2 years). Later means longer-term (2 years up to the next IRCC CFP), intense and evidence-based work such as that generated by upcoming IRCC Service Delivery Improvement-funded projects) is likely required, which will take more time. It is essential that the Now short-term steps be taken immediately.

How can you use this research?

The report can be used as a basis for discussion between IRCC and the sector. IRCC needs to show the sector that it has listened and is taking action. The sector must also centre this conversation in a future-focused, collaborative, inclusive strategic process.

  • To build a hybrid service vision and capacity, the sector needs resources, support, different funding structures and relationships, trust, space, and time.
  • Agencies have to be able to re- or up-skill their workforce as well as hire new types of roles and staff in order to move forward.
  • The lack of standardized professional development/competency frameworks across the sector and at all levels in organizations (from front-line to senior leadership) is a huge issue. The sector digital divide will only get bigger if not addressed immediately.
  • Designing digital services should incorporate human-centred design, ensure security and privacy, have curated, authenticated, and collaborative information-gathering and provision, be
    accessible to clients, be sustainable, involve newcomers in design and iteration, and be aligned with organizational service goals and mission.
  • Organizations should not rely on any one specific technology, but create multi-platform, multi-channel communications strategies rooted in the actual use of technology by clients.
  • People, not technology, should be at the centre of the strategy. It is essential to develop a set of guiding principles that starts with a response to the needs of clients and the technologies they are using to ensure that any service solutions meet their identified needs, preferences, technology access and literacy.

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Summary

This report presents findings, insights, and recommendations generated through a comprehensive exploration of hybrid service delivery over 6 months in the immigrant settlement sector in Canada. The report analyzes the unique experiment in digital service delivery created by the pandemic and reviews sector innovation and collaboration while providing a roadmap for the sector and its largest funder, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) towards a hybrid service delivery model.
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