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Study of Innovative and Promising Practices Within the Immigrant Settlement Sector

Posted on:
June 22, 2012

The settlement sector, across much of Canada, delivers programs on a fee-for-service basis financed by government. This arrangement has resulted in chronic underinvestment by the sector in intellectual activities such as program research, analysis and evaluation. Service provider agencies generally lack the fiscal room to conduct detailed analyses of their actions, much less to compare those actions to those of other agencies across the country. The result is that excellent local initiatives suffer from ‘locked-in syndrome,’ and the sector as a whole lacks an effective strategy for sharing information efficiently and for learning from each other. Both this study and an earlier companion piece maintain that there exists a shared interest by governments and by settlement organizations in strengthening the sector through investments in its capacity to analyze and innovate. This study develops a methodology for achieving this goal and for creating a sector-led innovation strategy.

The core of this report is based on a detailed analysis of nineteen case studies of settlement initiatives from across Canada. The aim was to identify excellent practices and a process for replicating them. The nineteen initiatives,which span a range of service areas and client groups,were chosen in consultation with provincial umbrella settlement associations; regional and national federal officials; and provincial representatives. Detailed face-to-face interviews were then conducted with senior agency officials responsible for the initiatives using a specially developed interview guide that focused on the underlying features that contributed to the effectiveness of these initiatives. The study sought to determine whether those features could be replicated in other locations, for different target groups, different areas of service and at different operational scales. A sharp distinction exists between this approach and the more usual methods that merely seek to identify promising practices without regard to the internal (within the organization) and external (environmental) factors that ‘explain’ their success.

A key part of the study had to do with developing and confirming the effectiveness of a methodology for eliciting information about key features of promising practices. These are the practices that would need to be transferred to other organizations or locales in order to replicate success. Consequently, assessing the effectiveness of the case study interview guide and interview process were vital to the study’s aims. Both were found to be highly effective in allowing projects to be disaggregated into their essential components so that judgments could be made about the transferability of key features.

The study also confirmed a second, essential premise. To develop a sector-led innovation strategy, the reserve of promising initiatives within the sector must be sufficiently large to support a process of continual intake and examination of case studies by an appropriate research body. On this point, the study concluded that the range, geographic spread, quality, and quantity of promising practices are sufficiently large to guarantee an adequate ‘supply’ of cases to feed the proposed innovation model. The study team was impressed not only by the quality of projects and practices, but also by the quality of leadership within the sector. Ultimately, it is the quality of this leadership that generates the ideas that the innovation engine needs in order to function.

In addition to examining specific practices associated with individual initiatives, the study also identified a number of pervasive themes that were repeatedly found at the core of innovative cases. These themes can be characterized as: Developing and benefiting from social capital; Forming effective partnerships; Developing spin-offs based on experience and experimentation; Integrating service delivery and programs so they appear seamless to clients; Combining and repurposing programs; Creating flexibility through relations with multiple funders; Developing new institutional markets for settlement services; and Investing in initial research and planning. The themes are reflective of the primary dimensions –forms of organization, assets and opportunities –that were associated with inventiveness and success.

To promote inventiveness and to drive innovation within the settlement sector, the study proposes an annual innovation cycle. This cycle is eminently achievable and well within the capacities of the four stakeholder groups that need to be engaged. These are: CISSA-ACSEI and the provincial or regional settlement umbrella organizations; immigrant service provider organizations (as individual entities); governments; and an independent research body.

A key idea underpinning this study and the recommendation to institutionalize innovation is the premise of shared interest by the settlement sector and by government agencies in developing the sector’s capacity. Based on this, in addition to supporting the creation of an innovation cycle, the study also recommends government action to create the ‘winning conditions’ that are needed to foster creativity and continual improvement within the settlement sector.



This paper reportson a pan-Canadian study to examine innovative and promising practices by settlement service provider organizations.