Reflecting on my work and the work to come

I want to write more and be more reflective about my work here. That may or may not be of interest to anyone but me, but I think it might be interesting. At the very least it will help me get my head around where I’m at in my work, how and where I can be helpful and make connections with people, ideas, projects and resources that will be useful to my work, but hopefully yours as well.

I realized late last year that my consulting work isn’t really so much focusing on technology in human services, broadly, but really technology and innovation in immigrant and refugee-serving services. That kind of makes sense, since that’s the sector where I’ve spent my professional like and the sector I love (and where I have a strong, awesome network). We have much to learn from each other cross-sector in human services. But each sector has its own niches, neuroses and nuances.

So, while I will continue to try to make those cross-sector connections, especially around idea replication, sharing and inspiration, my work is really focused on the immigrant and refugee-serving sector. I think I’ll speak more specifically to that sector in my writing here, in any models or ideas I come up with or am inspired by, as well as in discussing my client work.

On that note, last year was a truly interesting year for my consulting work. I:

  • wrote articles for Hire Immigrants and Cities of Migration,
  • helped kickstart an online portal project at OCISO, and managed their Twitter account
  • continued doing digital visioning work with NYCH (who have really taken on the Nonprofit Service Canvas in their work),
  • conducted an environmental scan for Refugee 613’s Digital Messaging in Settlement and Integration,
  • helped Findhelp Information Services create, launch and manage an online Information and Referral Course for Settlement Workers, and ran a short-term social media marketing campaign for their Spark volunteer site
  • worked with Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre launch their online networking site for internationally trained researchers
  • worked with the York U Bridging program to improve their marketing and outreach
  • facilitated a number of workshops for clients like Humber College, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, Toronto East Quadrant and Toronto South Local Immigration Partnerships, YMCA Toronto’s pre-arrival team, and AMSSA

It’s been a variety of really interesting work with amazing organizations who truly make a difference with their clients and in their communities.

The common thread there should be obvious. Working with immigrant and refugee-serving sector organizations. While some of my ideas and writing, and approaches, have tried to be broadly focused (like the Nonprofit Service Canvas), the reality is that I am working and implementing with immigrant and refugee-serving organizations. And, so far, that’s where this year is looking to focus as well.

I’m totally good with that.

I’m going to embrace my niche and network in my focus here on my site and in the work I pursue. There is much networking and connecting to do with other sectors, in particular Social Work, health, education, language learning (although they’re a part of Settlement as well), information/library services, and the for-profit sector. I’m going to continue to cast a wide net looking at interesting ideas, practices, models and technologies that might be relevant and could be replicated in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector.

There is much we can all learn from each other.

But, I am part of and work in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector and want to fully embrace that.

It means also casting a wider net within the sector. For example, while I’ve focused a lot of reading on emerging technology projects in the sector, I haven’t focused as much on the more general notion of innovation (which includes but is broader than technology alone). My environmental scan work with Refugee 613 really reminded me of how much innovation happens in the sector. Some current work I’m doing with PeaceGeeks, looking at a “Settlement 2.0” vision is continuing to remind me of that.

Every conversation I have leads me to more research, more reports, more thinking being done in the sector. Each conversation also leads to a question: “but how didn’t I know about this?” We collaborate in the sector, but don’t really share, unless it’s in a formal way – being asked by an academic, or at a conference.

And that’s truly tragic. Because there is much to learn from each other.

There is so much good thinking out there. There are so many organizations doing interesting work in so many areas. It’s also time to start figuring out a better knowledge sharing/transfer process in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector.

Take, as an example, professional development in the sector. Like too many employers, professional development, re-skilling, up-skilling, etc., is increasingly the responsibility of the worker.

And there are great sector resources that have stepped up to help fill the void, but they’re somewhat disconnected from each other:

And these are just the sector-specific professional development resources!

Do sector workers know where to start if they want sector-specific professional development?

What about professional development on other topics essential to Settlement Work?

Settlement work also requires staff to be aware of and competent in a variety of other topics, issues and sectors (i.e everything!) in order to provide good direct service, information or referral. The professional development ecosystem is vast and uncoordinated. At the same time, there has never been a higher need for re-skilling, up-skilling and establishing a baseline of competencies for workers and sector leaders.

It feels like there ins’t necessarily a lack of resources (although a gap analysis would probably be useful), but a lack of coordination.

Maybe there’s a project there?

Back to research. I’m up to a personal repository of at least 100 reports that are useful when looking at the sector from an innovation and technology lens. Once again, there doesn’t seem to be a lack of resources and research being done on the sector, but can you go to one place to find it all? No.

Maybe there’s a project there? Something as simple like the Adult Settlement Blended Language Learning: Selected Annotated Bibliography. More ambitiously, the kind of Research Snapshots that Research Impact Canada does (Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.).

That could be a fun project.

Because of the broad group of agencies I’m working, talking and interacting with in my consulting work, I see an opportunity (well, lots of opportunities) to do better sector coordination (including between the sector and its funders).

Will the emerging National Settlement Sector Community of Practice help? I’m optimistic, but only if it extends beyond “core” settlement service providers to include all the other layers and actors doing work in the field (i.e. Not just funded agencies, or members of provincial umbrella groups).


Because increasingly innovation, ideas, projects and services come from “unusual” settlement and integration actors (see Cities of Migration for a notion of what that means) who are not (yet?) connected to the mainstream immigrant and refugee-serving sector.

So, part of this year is a commitment from me to try to create some semblance of a rough repository of at least what I’m finding (or supporting good ideas that are emerging). Surfacing information, interesting ideas, reports and research and people so you at least know it exists.

Like the Cities of Migration approach (which I think can be a very useful public model for this type of knowledge coordination and sharing), let’s at least start getting better at sharing those interesting ideas. People and projects in the sector who are thinking and doing out of the box. People and projects outside of the sector thinking and doing what the sector could look like as it continues to evolve. Academics researching the sector. Funder research and policy work that should be revealed to the entire sector.

Share more. We can sort it out if we commit to the values of sharing, learning, exchanging and building together. Something more permanent than on social media. Something designed for and with the sector to really expand knowledge, practice and impact.

There’s a new IRCC Call for Proposals coming out very soon. There will be some innovation. But for the next few years the sector core will remain more or less how it is now.

There are SDI funding initiatives that will emerge and reveal new ideas, provide new evidence and come up with some models that “stick” and could be replicated over the next few years (smartphones for all, anyone?).

The Federal Government is embracing how to provide digital services effectively. Their approach will mature in the next few years.

Three to Five years.

I think that’s our window to dive deeply into this thinking. Coordinate and revise. Identify the skills needed. Look at new approaches to our work (in many ways that mirror older approaches – Popular Education anyone?). Figure out how to not only listen better to our clients, but take what we learn to transform the sector (and how it’s funded, organized, coordinated, liberated to be truly client-centric).

Want some inspiration for what that can look like, check this article out – How End-User Feedback Can Become a Nonprofit’s Innovation Engine.

There’s a lot to unpack there, but, wow!

Three to Five years. It’s a long time and it’s no time at all.

I recently started musing about the future of the sector. I’ll continue thinking out loud to build on the ideas I started talking about there.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

I see my role being a small cog in the process of change in the sector. The funders and agencies have to do the heavy lifting. But I want to help make it work.

So what do you need to make it work?

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