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Understanding the Digital Capacity of Newcomer Settlement Organizations - research findings

Posted on:
May 30, 2017

Conducted in 2017, this research project conducted for IRCC was designed to gain a deeper understanding of the digital capacity and needs of service provider organizations that serve newcomers in Canada and inform support recommendations for the sector. OpenNorth collected the input of 261 newcomer settlement organizations with a primary data collection tool and presented its findings in a French and English webinar (the report is simply a presentation deck of their survey findings).

Watch the English webinar recording:


  1. Gain a deeper understanding of the digital capacity and needs of service provider organizations (SPOs) that serve newcomers in Canada
  2. Help to inform and recommend options for future consideration to support the digital capacity of the settlement sector
  3. Help to fill a gap in evidence significant to policy development in the digital capacity area
  4. Support improvements to digital capacity among SPOs

Digital Capacity: IRCC’s Definition

“The ability to use digital tools within an organization to enhance service delivery, communication, and coordination. The digital capacity of an organization may be the function of skills and training (e.g. staff digital literacy), infrastructure (e.g. accessible internet, mobile hardware), applications (e.g. software, cloud computing) and processes (e.g. data analytics, data management, social media use).“


Digital capacity has an important role according to agencies, even in the face of additional support needs and priorities. They recognize that they need to build capacity, and that IRCC has a role to play to support that.

  • 86% rated digital capacity (tools, skills, training, infrastructure, applications, processes) as important to accomplish their mission and work.
  • 40.7% have digital strategy, but what a “strategy”
  • Email remains the predominant method that SPOs communicate internally, although there is significant use of cloud storage tools to manage most internal tasks; some concerns around sharing information, especially around privacy of client data.
  • Social media, mainly Facebook, and communication tools usually applied for external communication purposes, like newsletters, also serve to manage staff (e.g. staff and volunteers) and build awareness of services
  • Notable use of video (41.8%) for organizational learning and development
  • The majority of SPOs use their digital capacity to communicate externally to advertise events (90.7%), educate the public (89.5%), and recruit volunteers (71.4%
  • While video is frequently used to communicate externally, there is a limited use of more technical applications of digital capacity, such as crowdsourcing, data visualization, mapping, or mobile apps.
  • Although SPOs are extremely concerned with data quality, they are interestingly not as concerned with digital literacy of staff. This may be attributed to strength of contextual knowledge
  • SPOs understand their digital capacity needs but find it challenging to evaluate the impact of digital capacity

Agency comments suggest that their digital capacity needs improvement:

“We lack sufficient human and financial resources to implement the necessary improvements in order to keep pace with the current expectation, for example we have 4 servers and one is about 7 years old that need to be replaced.”

“Shortage of funds results in ad-hoc approaches to formulating, implementing and managing the digital responses”

“With no one on staff identified as our digital management specialist and no funding for such a position, it means that we rely on whoever has the capacity and knowledge. It also means that we do not assess up front or evaluate impact. The tendency is to be reactive, not proactive.”

“Need training!”

“It all comes down to having the resources (financial, human) to do what needs to be done. Digital solutions will be key to our organization's growth in the coming years, but all dependent on having the ability to advance digital.”

“This is an area that is often left to "When we have time." Our capacity and workload means that time is at a premium.”

“We are not really knowledgeable enough with the technologies available to have them work for us. Often we are unaware of how we can utilize existing in house technologies to serve our work. We do not have the resources (time or human) to get up to speed, learn develop and implement many would-be strategies.”

At the same time, some agencies are able to detail innovative ways they're using technology:

“We have recently used Skype conferencing to deliver English lessons to outlying areas. In doing so we have been able to engage several clients that would have otherwise had no access to ESL.”

“As a practice, we use all social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, MailChimp, YouTube) to promote our programs and services among our clients, partners and stakeholders. We also connect with them through a weekly digital newsletter. For internal communication and planning, we use Google calendar, google docs which work well and is a free tool to be used for this purpose.”

“We are developing online learning platforms for training, a online recruiting platform for our region (i.e. like, digitizing client surveys and assessments”

“Creating a system to support efficiency for students/families. We developed an electronic data collection system that allows us to track ISW (Intercultural Support Worker) staff interventions for all EAL students - this was part in response to having to report UCI numbers to IRCC. This e-system has cut down our reporting time significantly and allows us to now analyze data more effectively and efficiently and helps us inform our practices or allocate appropriate resources.”

“We recently developed and launched an online talent portal that connects refugee job seekers with BC employers. BC Refugees JobConnect is an easy to use web-based platform that allows job seekers to create profiles showcasing their skills and experience. Employers registered for the program can login and do a keyword search for candidates based on their skills requirements.”

“Our agency JUST provided us, in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, with Blackberries that can download the app for Video Relay Services. This is HUGE! :)”

“One of our programs is at 1000 Voices, a community space that supports over 50 agencies to support the community. we share computers, laptops, printers, fax, and general IT support when needed”

“[…] we have a collective of about five agencies that provide support services in schools. These agencies meet once a month to discuss collaboration with Edmonton School Districts as well as coordination of service delivery in schools. We have been sharing our capacities electronically (through emails).”

“Allowing settlement agencies to use library facilities to meet clients, train program participants and give presentations using library wifi, computers and printers”

“We collaborate with local settlement agency, Adult Language and Learning by mutually promoting each other's resources for newcomer settlement. The Chatham-Kent Welcome Network is a branding program to promote access to both the and as settlement support services. Promotional materials include the Municipality of Chatham-Kent's LivingCK logo, CK Local Immigration Partnership logo, and the Adult Language and Learning logo for cross promotion.”

“We have developed a client management system that helps us keep track of our statistical and service data, fulfil reporting requirements to our funders, and analyze trends/gaps. We are actually now in the process of sharing this with another settlement organization of similar size.”

Some innovative practices shared:


This research project conducted for IRCC was designed to gain a deeper understanding of the digital capacity and needs of service provider organizations that serve newcomers in Canada and inform support recommendations for the sector.