What is this research about?
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) contracted Open North to conduct a small study to better understand the needs of existing and potential users of open data as released by IRCC on open.canada.ca, and to inform ongoing efforts to unlock the potential applications of open data to support newcomer settlement and integration in Canada.
What do you need to know?
This is a small scale study. But it is one of the only studies that looks at this question in the Canadian immigrant and refugee-serving sector. While it would be impossible to extrapolate Open North's findings to the entire sector, there are a number of useful findings and recommendations that the sector should review with its largest funder, IRCC.
What did the researchers do?
Open North designed and shared a data user survey with 48 questions for fifteen stakeholders (e.g. employers, settlement service providers, academia, government) provided by IRCC.
The survey completion guidelines encouraged stakeholders to consult individuals within their respective organizations who are responsible for compiling research, inputting data into data management systems, writing reports, creating online tools and services, or who are involved in the use and management of data and information.
Eight completed surveys were collected, including two submissions by different individuals from the same organization. Seven agreed to be listed as participants in the study:
What did the researchers find?
All stakeholders view data as essential (fairly important, or very important) in carrying out their mission and work, and all have several staff members dedicated to collecting, assembling and analyzing data. Wervice providers were interested in qualitative data as a complementary source of information that helps contextualize quantitative datasets and their analysis, as well as the experience of service users.
There is very limited knowledge about open data itself among stakeholders. Many also found IRCC's open data online catalogue difficult to navigate.
There is a lack of usable provincial and municipal data, either produced by these orders of government, or available by breakdown at the provincial and municipal levels. Data granularity is also problematic in some parts of the country, like the Atlantic provinces, where labour force and immigration survey data are lumped together. Enabling settlement organizations to track the movement of populations through the analysis of data sources on the demand for services is also problematic.
Navigating open data is cumbersome, as is communications around them. Survey participants suggested a forum be created with IRCC in order to increase collaboration between the research community, stakeholder organizations and IRCC. There are successful examples. The example of how IRCC tracked the arrival of Syrian refugees was praised, especially by settlement organizations. The access to frequently updated data such as the plane number, arrival schedules, number of passengers on each plane, which was presented on an interactive map, helped stakeholders plan their responses. However, as one stakeholder observed, it has become difficult to track the whereabouts of refugees after they arrive. This is especially the case for privately sponsored refugees.
The sector's literacy with regards to the legal and technical aspects of open data is low. Organizations are unaware of the licensing issues around open data. When it comes to technical literacy, most have difficulty forming an opinion on data encoding and data formats, so much so that most cannot seem to identify specific challenges regarding these issues. However, one thing is clear: most are seeking a better standardization process and a more user-friendly interface.
How can you use this research?
This study provides a useful starting point for sector organizations to look at publicly available data that can be incorporated into their work, including funding applications. Open North made a number of useful and practical recommendations for IRCC to increase and improve sector access to and literacy with open data. This includes investments in data literacy programs (including open data principles, and technical skills and knowledge) for front-line organizations, as long as it doesn’t pull them away from service delivery. Investments should be made to increase capacity, not try to do more with less.
This report fits into a broader sector conversation about improving data, how it is collected, as well as used, by sector organizations with the explicit goal of improving newcomer outcomes. Increasing sector literacy and capacity in accessing not only government data, but their own client and community data is essential to ensuring and measuring service effectiveness.