WTF (What’s the Future) of Settlement Work – the first edition

Welcome to WTF (What’s the Future) of Settlement Work!

I’ve started an e-newsletter! You can subscribed over in the side bar or by clicking here.

A few days after I send out each newsletter, I’ll be posting it here.

Here’s my first edition

(Thank you so much to my first 7 awesome newsletter subscribers!! I was going to send this tomorrow, but I’m too excited (and can’t stop tinkering with it and adding stuff!), so here you go! I’ll share the newsletter in a day or so on social media, I hope you enjoy being the first to read it and thanks so much for joining me! I’d love your feedback. All you need to do is hit reply and let me know what you liked, didn’t like, what you’d like to see that’s not here, etc. I hope you find this a useful read! Marco)

Why yet another email newsletter?

I do a lot of reading and watching about technology and innovation in human services, particularly focused on the immigrant and refugee-serving sector in Canada. I share a lot of what I find on Twitter and LinkedIn (increasingly on LinkedIn, feel free to connect with me there), but I thought it would be worth creating a short summary of interesting research, tools, resources, projects and people every week.

If you work in the Canadian immigrant and refugee-serving sector, this newsletter is for you. I hope you read, like and share it. Please let me know what you think (just hit reply or send me a message via my site)!

What I’m writing or talking about

Sure, this section is a bit self-indulgent. And you can tell me to get rid of it (this newsletter is a work in progress). But I write about my work (trying that “working out loud” thing), as well as trying to tease themes together on my site. Here are a few recent posts worth your time.

This one is probably the most relevant for this newsletter – The future of settlement work – thinking out loud. In this video, I’m looking at the future of immigrant/refugee settlement work. I hope you find it interesting and useful.

Building a Newcomer-Centric Technology-Enabled Settlement Sector in Canada
I recently attended the 21st National Metropolis Conference in Halifax. I don’t get to these gatherings very often and they’re always a reminder of how much is happening in a very complex sector and how awesome and committed sector folks are. I presented a summary of some research work I’ve been doing for a client and thought I’d share my presentation notes here.

Innovative Outreach Strategies to Reach Newcomers
Many thanks to AMSSA in British Columbia for having me present this workshop to settlement and language workers across the province. I’m definitely not a marketing expert. But, like making technology, or any service choices, it all comes down to being strategic and knowing/understanding your client. That’s the key message, take-away, lesson, whatever you want to call it. Understand your client, and the right channel and approach to reach out/market to them will reveal itself. 

Deep Dive: Interesting reads on AI

In conversations I’ve had with front-line workers, Artificial Intelligence (AI) worries many of them. They’re concerned AI is a threat to their work. The Robot Overlord Test will help you feel better about AI in settlement work.

For now…

What if AI becomes capable of performing creative tasks? The Canadian Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship is asking this and many other questions in a report and new series Employment in 2030. Give this article a read and then dive into the report: Turn and Face the Strange: Changes impacting the future of employment in Canada.

Sunil Johal at the Mowat Centre has been researching and presenting about automation, including how it may impact immigration and settlement. I recommend watching his 2018 Pathways to Prosperity presentation on Immigration in the Age of Automation

Part of what I like about the potential of AI is how it could take away some of the more mundane daily tasks settlement workers do, freeing them up to do more customized, personalized and in-depth service delivery with their clients. Doesn’t that sound good?

Here are some more useful reads on AI:

Existential technology thinking

I focus a lot on the practical use of technology in settlement work. And that’s probably mostly what I’ll share in this newsletter and in my work. But I also read a lot of incredibly interesting deep thinkers who look at technology and social media from a broad theoretical and critical viewpoint. I think if we’re going to be using technology more and more in our work with newcomer clients, we do need to be asking the “big questions” and dive into some of the critical discourse. In this section, I’ll share longer-form articles and research or discussions I’ve found online that I think everyone in the sector, from front-line to leadership to funders, should be pondering as they increase their use of technology.

Leaving Facebook, the struggle is real

The more we learn about Facebook’s appalling lack of respect for privacy, the surveillance capitalism we all endure, the more disingenuous apologies we hear from them followed up almost immediately with the next scandal, the more I want to “delete Facebook.” Until this week that is. After I read this, I’m wondering if I need to stick around… <ugh, sigh>

“As we become more connected we should not be cutting out social media, instead we should be using them in smarter ways so that we are sensemaking beyond the outrage. Don’t teach people how to fish. Teach people to learn for themselves how to fish and then they can learn anything else for a lifetime — citizen sensemaking. Filter failure is human failure. It means we are not connected to trusted communities that have the cognitive diversity we need to make important decisions. We need sensemaking skills.”  

While this article is mainly is an argument for saving our democracy (OK, that seems important enough), developing critical information and technology literacies is essential in settlement work as well. Fake news, fraudulent information that scams newcomers (an increasing reality), and the challenges of system navigation and information overload plague our sector. Every settlement worker needs to become a more effective sensemaker and knowledge catalyst for yourself, your organizations and, most importantly, your clients. Give the article a read and let me know what you think.

Here are a couple of great examples of a current sensemaking community research project in the sector and moving from research to creating a board game for workshop brainstorming.

Learn, learn, learn

Like too many employers, professional development, re-skilling, up-skilling, etc., is increasingly the responsibility of the worker. But it’s hard to find and decide if something is right for you, the settlement worker, as well as how and when to access training (and how to pay for it with, given the state of wages in the sector…). 

The good news is that there are some really great free resources you can access, in the sector and beyond.

I’ll share interesting workshops, courses and webinars I come across (including links to recordings of previous sessions). To get you started, here are great sector resources that have stepped up to help fill the void. While they’re somewhat disconnected from each other, here are a bunch of links where you can go learn some stuff:

For very specific skills training, such as Social media marketing on Facebook, and things like that, I recommend starting with It’s been bought by LinkedIn and being rebranded as LinkedIn Learning. And, sure, you could pay to access it there. Or, you can use your amazing library card. In Toronto, at least, I can sign up and take as many courses (and, when I say courses, really it’s short 3-4 hour micro learning courses) as I want through the Toronto Public Library website. I can access, Safari and Cisco technology & job skills courses and programs. Thousands of courses. For free. With my library card. How cool is that?!?

If you’re outside of Toronto, you should totally check out what your library offers. Search for or e-learning and see what you find (or, you know, ask a librarian!).

The interview

Whey listen to me when you can listen to much, much smarter people, right?
Lawrence Murphy, a pioneer in cyber counselling in Canada. In ths interview, I explored the foundations of cyber counselling, what an organization really needs to think about before moving into this space, why it’s just as effective for clients (but, not all clients), and some future trends in online counselling/services.

If you’re wondering if this whole online services, e-counselling thing is new, maybe kind of a fad, you’ll want to listen to Lawrence. He and his colleagues bring over twenty years of experience in online counselling to our conversation.

Yeah, you read that right.

Over. 20. Years.

E-counselling and online services are far from new.

His perspective is practical and grounding. It’s useful if you’re already providing online services (You are. Yes. You. You already are. Even if you think you’re not. Deal with it. Seriously, it’s time to deal with it.), or if you’re thinking of setting up more formal online services.

Research Snapshots

The immigrant and refugee-serving sector and newcomers are  heavily “researched on.” While community-based and ethnographic research is becoming more popular, the focus of research in the sector has traditionally been mainly on academic research that can be useful for the sector but generally doesn’t consider the sector its primary audience. Research reports are inaccessible in a number of ways (whether in language, or actual paywalls) and it feels like much research is conducted, released, then shelved along with so many other reports. 

But there is a treasure trove of information and intelligence out there for the sector. In this section I’m planning to provide snapshots of research from 3 different perspectives: academic, community/ethnographic, tech/innovation-focused (which will be a mix of the first two types, but with a specific topic focus).

Sector research

Evaluating Refugee Programs
“This website helps build the evaluation capacity of the refugee sector across Canada in order to improve supports and outcomes for newcomers who came as refugees.” 

This is a two-for-the-price-of-one link. Research, and a way for you to implement it in your work (really, what all researchers should provide us with…). The resources on the site can help build your general evaluation capacity. They’re not focused only on evaluating refugee programs. The site is worth visiting if you’re curious or want to learn more about evaluation approaches and techniques in your work. 

Who is this for (I love that they included this on the site, it seems like a small thing but gives you an immediate sense if this is for you)?

  • For individuals, organizations and groups that run refugee programs
  • For groups working with one or more streams of refugee arrivals:
    • refugee claimants
    • government-assisted refugees (GARs)
    • privately sponsored refugees (PSRs)
    • blended visa office-referred (BVOR) & joint assistance sponsorship (JAS)
  • For other settlement organizations that may adapt these tools & resources for other newcomers

Take a look, it’s new and might be useful for you.

Ethnographic/Community-based research

School Halls & Strip Malls

InWithForward, a “social design organization that makes human services more human” is doing some IRCC-funded work with Options Community Services in Surrey and North York Community House in Toronto. Their work with these immigrant and refugee-serving agencies takes an ethnographic approach to help make evidence and experimentation a core function of their organizations.

This research snapshot outlines their ethnographic “dive into what life is like for Filipino teens of Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) families — and the lives they aspire to. When Filipino teens come to Canada, they aren’t just navigating a new culture but new familial relationships. Most families we met navigated solo. Social services weren’t on their radar and don’t operate on their schedules. 

“So we spent time where they were: church, buses, work, home. We embarked on a Quick Dive with North York Community House to understand the experience of migration, reunification, and acculturation for Filipino youth to Canada, especially to North York, Toronto, ON.”

Tech and innovation research

You’ll want to watch this video summary of the 12th annual Tech Trends Report, to the end (it’s an hour long, and it’s an hour well spent), then download the massive report. I’m still working through it, but the Future Today Instituteshould really be on your radar. 

Why? This year’s report provides:

  • 315 emerging Tech and Science Trends that will impact your work and life
  • 48 Scenarios
  • 9 Toolkits and Frameworks: practical foresight tools and frameworks that can be implemented by your organization to advance your strategic thinking on these trends.
  • 5 Primers: They are intended for executive leadership and management and cover Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Transportation, Mixed Reality, Genetic Editing and Blockchain.
  • 3 Glossaries: key terms to help teams get up to speed quickly. They include blockchain, cybersecurity and mixed reality

OK, I think that’s it for now. This is pretty much the format I’m thinking about – some of my writing, a deep dive into a specific topic (in this newsletter, AI), and sharing learning, an interesting interview, some research and other useful sector resources.

I hope you like it. Reply and let me know if this is useful for you! Thanks for reading

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