A vision for online settlement services


There are already great examples of innovative agencies offering online and hybrid services across the country:

The private immigrant serving sector is even further ahead of us in using technology and social media to provide services.

We have the starting knowledge and models to work from to create a cross-canada, sector wide training program to get agencies up and running on technology-mediated human services. In 2010, CIC Ontario Region funded a fantastic Information & Referral training project run by the sector in partnership with Findhelp Information Services.

Settlement workers across the province were oriented and trained in becoming better provides of Information and Referral services. The resulting Settlement Information and Referral Training Manual (PDF) – Findhelp – 2010, still available, is an incredible resource you should still be referring to.

In-person training and the logistics coordination to make it happen is an expensive venture. I propose a hybrid model where we combine online with some offline training and peer-support events. This should be done together with nonprofit, government and private/business organizations.

We have the technology. CIC has piloted and will be expanding pre-arrival settlement services in the coming years. They’re in the midst of choosing organizations that responded to a CFP last year to deliver pre-arrival services, which will definitely include online service provision.

Those organizations can be cornerstones to share the learning for all organizations to better serve their clients. Forget about your turf, competition and fear of being overshadowed by another organization. Newcomers barely access settlement services (some estimates run at 30% of newcomers accessing settlement services in Canada), but you’re all already overworked and busy.

The point is that offering online service models won’t mean that another agency will suddenly poach your clients. Let’s face it, online services aren’t for every client. At the same time, let’s face it, you’re already using technology in your service delivery.

Movement of clients to other organizations won’t happen en masse. If it happens a little bit (it’s probably already happening), it just means you’re not offering a client the service they need in the way they want to access it. At the end of the day, moving online will enhance your service delivery, not detract from it.

Let’s model it to create the type of training and orientation that rivals the I&R training that happened a few years ago.

The CIC CFP eligible applicants list is tailor made for this project:

Settlement Program:

  • Businesses
  • Canadian not-for-profit organizations
  • Educational and other Public Institutions
  • Individuals
  • International organizations
  • Provincial, territorial, municipal or regional governments

Heck, I even thought about submitting a proposal. But, I’m only working part-time right now and don’t have the time and capacity to lead something like this. I’d love to be involved.

Who should be involved?

OCASI should lead this project. They’ve got serious technology capacity and experience with the Settlement.Org family of sites. They already have an online learning system up and running with Learn At Work. It’s a great space to host the learning and courses and community of practice. Combined with Settlement At Work, a knowledge hub for the settlement sector in Ontario, and you’ve got the right combination of places to learn, along with space to explore and share the learning.

Because it’s online, it can be national (and beyond) in scope. That means CCR, Pathways to Prosperity (and their useful “Agency of the Future” research) need to be involved. Other provincial settlement sector hubs like AMSSA and AAISA need to be involved. They’re already way ahead of some jurisdictions looking at settlement practitioner accreditation. They’re doing neat things online. Let’s get everyone at the table and do something for all settlement workers across the country.

Private sector? Their experience and connections abound. From their use of technology, connections overseas and connections with newcomers who might not access sector services, the possibilities abound.

What’s needed?

Year 1:

  • Consultation with those using technology innovatively in the sector.
  • Consulting with those in other sectors (including private sector) to see what’s being done.
  • Creation of policies such as confidentiality, security, best practice, ethics in online service delivery, etc. There are good models of all of these already out there, including in the sector.
  • Consulting with the sector to see what they need and want to make this happen (it’s not just about technology, but management, HR, skills development, redefining jobs and a typical day, etc.).
  • Connecting with experts to get them involved, helping with course/content development and delivery.

Year 2:

  • Content and course content development.
  • Outreach and marketing to get people involved.
  • Train the trainers to deliver the content.
  • Creating the online learning system.
  • Creating a forum/system for workers/managers/EDs to support each other and create communities of practice (could be existing resources like LinkedIn Groups, Meetup groups, or something new. Whatever works).
  • Vision a complementary system of in-person events, training, meetups, where workers can connect with each other in their cities/regions. Could be part of existing conferences, and models like OCASI’s #CdnImm workshops.

Year 3:

  • Implement, evaluate and learn!

So, what’s next? Who’s up for a collaborative conversation where we can create a proposal to enhance online service delivery in the sector?


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