TiHS Episode 40: Agnes Thomas – focus on the humanity behind digital transformation

Welcome to episode 40 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this episode, I speak with Agnes Thomas, Executive Director of Catholic Crosscultural Services. Agnes has led Catholic Crosscultural through a digital transformation that started before, but certainly accelerated during the pandemic. 

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That isn’t a new story. But her democratic approach as a leader and insights about how the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector can and should be working collaboratively to serve all Newcomers are refreshing. 

And for some, it will seem new. It shouldn’t be that way. We should be following Agnes’ lead to move our sector towards an ecosystem mindset and approach that puts the humans we’re serving first in our minds. And to be fearless and intentional in our community work. In our advocacy work. In the work we do to ensure that our sector has the resources and leadership needed to move forward.

As I start this year with a bit of cautious optimism, this is a great conversation to reflect on and energize me, to be boldly, but not blindly optimistic, about what we can do and achieve as a sector. Hybrid service delivery is here. That doesn’t mean making a choice of either digital or in-person, but as Agnes so eloquently puts it, looking at how to build tech capacity to serve people while recognizing the equal need to serve Newcomers in person. It’s all about making service accessible for all, whether their preference is to be served remotely or if they want to walk in through your doors, or both.

I really enjoyed this conversation, and I hope it sparks some optimism and energy in you as well.

Some questions we discussed:

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and the digital transformation work you’re doing at Catholic Crosscultural Services?
  • In your presentation last year at the Digital Literacy in the Immigrant Refugee Serving Sector – Increasing Collaboration event you spoke about CCS’ approach to digital transformation. Can you give us a high-level overview of that work?
  • Your plan included several steps that started with cyber security. Can you tell me about the guidelines you established and the steps you took to assess your organization’s cyber security and staff training?
  • How did you go about assessing your technology capacity and the staff’s digital capacity? What was that process like?
  • How did you address your client’s needs and capacity to access digital and hybrid services? How have you worked to help address the digital divide among your Newcomer clients and communities?
  • Where are you now on your digital transformation journey? What have you learned and what are your plans?
  • What good ideas and promising practices can you share with the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector?
  • What leadership do you think is needed in the sector, from funders, and within organizations to ensure that the future of hybrid service delivery moves in the right direction?

Additional resources:

Agnes presented at an event last year that you might find of interest: Digital Literacy in the Immigrant Refugee Serving Sector – Increasing Collaboration

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript of our conversation using Otter.ai. The transcript has not been edited. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.

Marco Campana 0:00
Welcome to Episode 40 of the technology and human services podcast. In this episode, I speak with Agnes Thomas, Executive Director of Catholic cross cultural services. Agnes is led Catholic cross cultural through a digital transformation that started before but certainly accelerated during the pandemic. That isn’t a new story. But her democratic approach is a leader and insights about how the immigrant and refugee serving sector can and should be working collaboratively to serve all newcomers are refreshing. And for some, it will seem new. It shouldn’t be that way. Though. We should be following agonises lead to move our sector towards an ecosystem mindset and approach that puts the humans we’re serving first in our minds, and to be fearless and intentional in our community work in our advocacy work in the work we do to ensure that our sector has the resources and leadership to move forward. As I start this year, with a bit of cautious optimism, this is a great conversation to reflect on and energize me to be boldly but not blindly optimistic about what we can do and achieve as a sector. Hybrid service delivery is here. That doesn’t mean making a choice of either digital or in person. But as Agnes so eloquently puts it, looking at how to build tech capacity to serve people, while recognizing the equal need to serve newcomers in person. It’s all about making service accessible for all, whether their preference is to be served remotely. Or if they want to walk in through your doors, or both. I really enjoyed this conversation. And I hope it sparks some optimism and energy in you as well.

Agnes Thomas 1:39
Good morning, Marco, how wonderful to see you again. And I am so excited to have this discussion with you today. As you mentioned, my name is Agnes Thomas. And I lead the Catholic cross cultural services. We are an organization that has been in existence since 1954, serving newcomers and refugees in the GTA, and we do have staff presence across the country, providing refugee sponsorship training. So good to be with you today. Thank you. Yeah, no, of course, I forgot that you’re actually a national organization in that respect. So that time, and that’s a great example of where digital can play a really important role, obviously, so very true. And you know, that is what we are seeing like how the whole pandemic really helped us to pivot into that space of what is possible. And what is possible when we imagine possibilities, or when we are imagining possibilities. In terms of technology and tools, I would say that we are in an exciting space as a result of a problem.

Marco Campana 1:25
Welcome to the technology and human services podcast. Agnes, thank you so much for joining me, I’m gonna let you start by introducing yourself, your background, and start talking about some of the digital transformation work that you’re doing at Catholic cross cultural services.

Agnes Thomas 2:45
Because it is making us to think new ways of engaging new ways of delivering services, new ways of thinking about security and privacy and data. Yeah, yeah,

Marco Campana 2:57
I’m sorry. So for you go ahead.

Agnes Thomas 2:59
No, for me, I was thinking that this is the next step. You know, like how, when people start talking about AI, how much there was fear. But then slowly, I think this is opening a new door for us to look into the future.

Marco Campana 3:14
That’s so interesting. And I mean, you brought up kind of your foundational stuff in last year, we had a digital literacy in the sector collaboration events. And you spoke about your approach to digital transformation at Catholic cross cultural. And so today, I really want to talk a bit about kind of that grounding and what you’ve been doing, but also where you’re looking. And it sounds like overcoming fear and anxiety is a big part of doing that work.

Agnes Thomas 3:39
Yes, I think so. Because we as you know, we all kind of got into that space. I still remember March 2020. That scary space and scary conversation, you know, people should believe right now, what are we going to do? What are we going to do about the clients? What struck me? Was that that question, what are we going to do about our community members? Who is going to walk through our door? How do we ensure that they receive the service they need? And I think for us, that was the conversation that led us to what we have in place. It is like that all biblical story of files of five loaves of bread and two piece of fish. Like, you know, we looked into, but we have, so how we approached from that conversation of like we saw the need, we saw the need in the community. And yes, there was here. But we also wanted to look at what we had and where we needed to go. And that was quick. One thing that helped us I think that this may be an important piece for me to mention. Our culture was agile. Our culture was open and transparent and everyone came together regardless of so this is something I think of when I look back so proudly that regardless of the roles and titles people gathered, and so we gathered a group of people who were well versed in the technological space, and then we made our blueprint out of those conversations. And I think I would put that into three steps. When I look back into what we have done. One was that we had to look at our technology capacity, equipment wise, as well as user, like the consumer versus, you know, what we had in place, hardware software, as well as skill set. And so we did a resource assessment, then we went to the staff to kind of learn a staff baseline. So that would allow us to look into what kind of training we needed to get on board and the capacity. Then we looked at the gathering of the whole resources together into one space, our ID team, which was actually one person, and we had like an external person watching either our cloud space and our internal team, that IT team came together, or the committee came together to propose number of trainings based on the data. So those were the three immediate steps that we did. And the question of privacy, confidentiality, all that also got addressed in the process of developing that roadmap. So it was actually we were building the plane as we were going, right, like

Marco Campana 6:31
everybody else at the time, I guess, too, but it sounds like you were already sort of in a in a different place because of that agile approach. And, and, and again, I think I’ve had some interesting conversations with organizations where they didn’t all come together in at that moment. And it was kind of more of a top down. So one of my favorite examples is talking to people who do pre arrival services, who weren’t part of a conversation about moving to hybrid. And that kind of shocked me, because they’ve been doing online services for many years. But maybe the culture of the organization was that they just didn’t think that they needed to reach into the teams, they had to do it from the top down. There’s even that fear of getting it wrong from a management perspective. But it sounds like having that Democritus sort of more democratized approach is made all the difference.

Agnes Thomas 7:15
I think so I think for for us, maybe that was also another factor. There was nobody afraid in the sense of if I’m going to say this, how is this going to be taken, in fact, everybody was looking for those, okay, this person knows how to run zoom. Well, and this person knows how to do things or WhatsApp. And so everybody maximize their capacity, like I would say, our staff, frontline staff and our leadership team, they were true champions. Like, it was such a thing to watch, you know, when people come together for a, with a unified friend to serve. And that’s why we are here. Right, and, and while dealing with their personal fears and challenges that came with a global pandemic. And, I mean, that is why maybe I mentioned that cultural, organizational cultural piece. That’s a big, yes, we were actually, you know, you mentioned, yes, we were prepared for it, maybe because it was a blessing in disguise, where we were looking into how can we improve our technological presence and our tools and our capacities to serve people beyond? Because there are people who need you know, we all know, and probably you are seeing that in the sector, there are people who need to be served in person, and they do require a lot more time than maybe some others. And so how do we serve both population? And how do we make our current so before the pandemic, one of the conversation here was, how do we make our services accessible for people who want it to just digitally served and people who wanted to walk through our door, and so maybe we were actually just, you know, like, pushed into that maybe if it was not for the pandemic, maybe this journey was going to be slower, at three to five years, probably what we were we were going to be three years from now, where we reached into data and D. So now where we are right where we should be in the next five years to 10 years, because that is the roadmap we are making, which I will discuss a little bit. So you asked about the cybersecurity.

Marco Campana 9:28
Yeah, cuz I mean, one of the things I noticed in your presentation, and you talked about it here as well around privacy and security that and we’re hearing a lot about cybersecurity is so important as we move forward in digital and hybrid service delivery. But not a lot of organizations feel like they can figure it out. And it sounds like you’ve done a lot of work in that area. So I’m curious what that looks like from a settlement perspective.

Agnes Thomas 9:50
Yeah. So one thing that we are so acutely aware was when we are so much in online like how many hackers and fishers and all kinds of have, you know, like, I get at least, I’ve been $10 million on a minimum regular basis. And also, like all kinds of banks and people are contacting, and so we wanted to send out, or an idea of where we are at in terms of a threat, if somebody tried to hack into your system, how well established we are because we are doing so much on the other space of being delivering services virtual and this is something I will recommend our process to anybody who would care to go that route. So our ID teams and our they survey. And what they did was they did a cybersecurity assessment, doing simulated phishing, emails, as well as other stuff to see if people would respond to and I am, you know, I’m happy to admit, we failed, we failed the test. And we knew, if we were going on that route, and also being so active in the virtual space, this was going to be a huge risk for us. And so we introduce this cybersecurity training group called no before. And so they started with a very basic, and so people and we are continuing that which also, I must say, it did in the end, after the one year of slaughter one time exercise right now, in order to also we are doing it continuing as the space is evolving. For example, I took a training last week, interestingly enough how much these people change the way they hack, just like the way we are, we have enhanced zoom features. Now we have enhanced WebEx features. Now, these people have also enhanced features in how do we how do they break into a two way security system etc. So, we are seeing that ongoing need, because new people are arriving and sometimes we kind of Oh, I know this, I have done this training. And we cannot because one is the data that we are carrying. And second is really the cost if something like that happens, there is a personal there is a human resources, there is an organization as well as the taxpayers dollars being invested. So we are so mindful of that.

Marco Campana 12:20
pressures coming from different places. Exactly. And not

Agnes Thomas 12:23
only that, like we wanted to protect, right, like, you know, we wanted to protect not only the data and the systems, because that is the best way to move forward. So I recommend cybersecurity training to anyone and everyone who is in that space serving clients.

Marco Campana 12:41
I’m curious if you’ve had this conversation with your funders, because there’s there feels like there’s sort of an information vacuum, from the big funders about what is expected of organizations when it comes to things like cybersecurity. And I know that that’s where some of the anxiety comes from from organizations because they don’t want to invest in a solution or a program, that might not be considered adequate. And there are many there are so many out there. So I I’m curious if you’ve had this conversation with your project or other officers about, hey, we’re using no before, we’re making sure everyone who we hire gets trained and we’re doing it, you know, not just one time, but we’re continuously learning. Is that something that they’re aware of? And what’s their feedback?

Agnes Thomas 13:22
This is part of our ongoing conversation with our office as well. And so far with our major funders, this has been a very positive response, right? And we put that in our report, but like, maybe this is just me approaching, we need to be proactive, I think all the time. Again, maybe we gotta be careful saying this. I would say when you have, this is the best bet, let us go for it without if we are waiting for permission, sometimes it is a little too late. And so and I’m not spending hundreds of 1000s of dollars. And we’re talking about less than $5,000 for a training, right. And so before it’s actually quite affordable isn’t to correct. Exactly. And so we are not doing like I’m not going and buying property for 50 million and putting another 50 million, that’s a different scenario. But somebody like this, these are small, well versed risk, I would say and from what I have seen from my interaction with I FCC or major funder is they have been very open to it. Yes. The onus is on us to explain why and what and how this is going to change the game. And I would say we have been in such a privileged position in that. Thankfully, these things worked out and and even if it is I think it was good that we tried.

Marco Campana 14:48
Absolutely, yeah, no, I think and I’m curious how you because I know that that’s a question that will come up from other people who might be listening is how did you decide to use no before was that something that was recommended? To you, you did some research on? How did you come to that as, as the solution or the initial step at least. So

Agnes Thomas 15:06
our I, our IT staff and their leadership team looked into number of cybersecurity training that is available. And this came up as a top top recommendation in terms of how accessible and simple the training was also how it’s cheaper, like I’m there to like it was more affordable. So that we looked at, you know, anytime when you go out for those kinds of things, we looked at different codes, and what is the best use of our money and what adds value. And so no before was elected, but after a bit of market research, and so that also, again, one of the thing that we have been doing quite well, doing market research on any product, even if nobody is telling us to do, we would still do the and so our IT team has done an amazing job.

Marco Campana 15:55
That sounds like yeah, having that internal due diligence and being proactive instead of waiting to to get permission or even be told what to do is really important, because things are so and like you said, because the the threat actors are evolving their their approaches as well constantly. That’s something that’s that’s really important, too, is that when new hires Come on, even if they say, Oh, I’ve have cybersecurity training, you bring them into your system. And so that’s a big conversation that that is happening in the sector about well, what are the kinds of skills and attitudes and knowledge that that workers need to have, as they’re coming in? But what’s the responsibility of the agency to get them to the point that they want them to get out? So you you can ensure in this case, you can say all of our staff are, you know, no, before certified, basically. And that’s, that’s a baseline in cybersecurity. Are there other things going back to some of your technology capacity, and staff digital capacity that you started to look at? Whether it was choices about technology? Because again, some organizations are like, Oh, is it zoom? or GoToMeeting? Or WebEx? Or what should we use? And then, you know, some of them say, well use whatever you want, and others say, Okay, we will all be using Zoom. And now you will get trained in zoom, and we will all become, you know, adequately baseline, if you will, in those skills. What’s the approach that you’ve taken, when it comes to the digital kind of capacity,

Agnes Thomas 17:17
I think we’ve customized it. And we are continuing to customize what we do and how we do some of the things for example, a team’s became like a big part of our internal conversations and sharing of data and sometimes meetings. And so and then, so what we have done, we looked at individual programs and the leaders and they keep them with like, Go survey your client, see what works best for them, right, like, for example, our link staff. So their need is very different from somebody who is just a basic conversation circle or settlement work. And so we customized according to the need, and then look at what can be the best technology within that, for example, one of our program that’s violent second is woman, like that program adopted soft phones, so that there was ways that it was more accessible for people who were going away from that violence situations. And so and I know, some part of the language, people who were working with people with low digital literacy, they looked at WhatsApp because some people didn’t have any other access. And so then we also worked and partnered with libraries and other organizations and small businesses, to a cube people with the right type of tools. So it’s one thing for us to say here is our some lingo. And like, you know, how do I know if you have a tablet or a computer or a high speed internet, right. And so that is, I think, something we need to be always mindful of. And so, so I think this was also again, a three way process. I’m an I’m a teacher, so that’s great. So a three way process in which one was really looking at our staff comfort and where they are at and providing that training. And it was more of a train the trainer model. People who were good at, let’s say, in a team, if there was somebody good at zooms somebody’s good at WhatsApp, managing a group, they all taught each other. So there were organizational wide training, there were program based trainings. So that was one and second was that training for the clients. So there were programs according to their need, and the nature of the program they’re delivering, they started training the clients and so then we started investing a little bit money for digital literacy person and the digital navigator. And we also started collecting as well as receiving donations. or making sure people who had a whether it is internet or the system need. So like a digital lawn? What do you call it like a technology lawn? Establish it correct? Yeah, yeah. And so one thing that we continue to do, is that an ongoing survey with the clients in terms of what are the changing needs, then something else we did. So we looked at our car, like we revamped our website in 28. And we were 2018. And we were so proud how we were doing really well. Now, right now, as we speak, we are actually revamping that, again, from a client centered approach. So from a marketing perspective, when you look at our website, it’s working fine. And like you still know how to, but then during the last few years, we know how it can be inaccessible for people who are not well versed in technology gostream. So we are changing the whole thing again. And I bet in three years from now, if you bought that rocking, I’m sure we will be again revamping it. So we wanted our website to also serve as a what we call it a shopping mall, or, or for lack of a better term, like a virtual mall where you can walk in and you can look at what are the different pieces. So that’s the current work that is happening. Right.

Marco Campana 21:23
But it’s all centered from what you’re so whether it’s technology, their digital literacy, or understanding the devices and the access that they have, it sounds like that’s really key to help guide your decisions.

Agnes Thomas 21:37
Absolutely, I think that is an ongoing thing. I don’t think none of us should ever take that for granted. Okay, now, we have done we have arrived here, because it is an evolving space. And I guess like the way our life works, you know, things are changing, and therefore we respond in order for us to be not reactive. I think we needed to be proactive.

Marco Campana 22:03
Right, looking right.

Agnes Thomas 22:05
And also looking at what are the trends that is coming up? I think one thing I know I personally do is I look at the international market space, what is changing in terms of technology, whether the banking sector or the you know, like the finance sector in general, because they usually go for this kind of things before anybody else. And sometimes it’s not only only reading the headline, and if it is interesting to that you look in look into it further, and also making it I think this is also a very key key thing. Accessibility is an important thing. It is a right, and I don’t think we should ever forget that. So are we accessible? Are we efficient? You know, are we maximizing the resources we have this is not to say that we have to be always in that austerity sense. But that is the truth, we have seen that during pandemic, who is being left behind. And so that is the other side of the picture, when we are looking at digital transformation and data. Because for me, again, those two things goes hand in hand.

Marco Campana 23:13
And I mentioned that, like you said, that’s kind of connected to the values of the sector, and also your mission as an organization, right. People so that they are not vulnerable? And potentially has to reflect that as well, I guess.

Agnes Thomas 23:25
Yeah, correct. And, you know, one of the big highlight for me, I think that probably encouraged me and inspired me quite a bit was our school settlement team did a art project with us in mannitol, in Ireland. And so they did a little gallery. And there was an exhibition, like it was such a great, wonderful project involving newcomer youth and the indigenous youth. And so here is an example or a testament of how digital technology can bring two worlds two separate worlds otherwise, you know, wouldn’t talk to together and create stories that has a virtual presence, because you definitely know that is where they wanted to play in. And so things like that, that became such a ray of hope in seeing where we are going. It’s such

Marco Campana 24:24
a great example because you see the possibilities and the connections that can be made. Because I again, I think that’s something that a lot of organizations still struggle struggle with is they get the tech and they’ve got the mechanics of it. But there’s that, that that community feeling that community development, that’s that sort of sense of engagement. And that’s a really great example of where you can you can do that across geographic boundaries and across different cultures to kind of do exactly that. So where are you looking when you think about your journey now, and I mean, you’ve been you were already on it before the pandemic as you said it accelerated like it did for everybody else, but it feels like you because you were on that journey, because you have a certain culture in the organization, you were able to harness it as not a threat but an opportunity to move forward and to do that acceleration, but to do it in a meaningful way. How has it changed your organization moving forward, when you think of your digital journey, and you think about where you’re moving to as an organization, you know, we’ve come out of sort of the purely digital part of the pandemic, and we’re now you know, seeing people in person and things like that, what impact is it having on the way you provide services now.

Agnes Thomas 25:31
So some of our programs are hybrid, and some are maybe more virtual than in person, but we are also so at least now, because again, as I said, like the space is changing so much, but we do know for sure, there are people who need to be in preferring to be in person, but then there are certain areas or pockets of the service delivery, people may prefer to be virtual. And so we are still collecting data on that. And I think, for us, maybe the baseline in that space is being open. And also in that being in that listening space. So that we Acube internal capacities in a way that can meet those needs, because it may be different, I would think, from three years from now. So I always think of times not as today. But it can be tomorrow as well. Right. And so I would think that is going to be our approach now until we see a new emerging pathway comes as a result of this, because right now, this is what is working and I know certain levels of the link classes, for example, the language instruction, they can probably do virtual, but then there are others who are due to whatever reasons because again, this is depending on the demographic, that is like you know, a woman with small children, if they are trying to manage this virtually one thing that we are already seeing is that you know, there are kids running around, and how are you going to do that. And so there are so many other factors that is in the ecosystem that we needed to consider, like, you know, if somebody is having a space to attend their classes, even if they have the equipment that is different from somebody who is sharing, like a 10 member household, sharing two bedrooms, trying to attend a virtual online platform is difficult, you can I don’t know what kind of learning can be possible. Yes, when we could in like, let’s say we’re talking about the big box stores, they all closed down during the pandemic. And we all did online. That is not because we didn’t want to drive up and go or go and look at the stuff because that was a necessity. So but that also provided us with the opportunity. So some things we don’t have to go on, stand in a call to go and buy, like, you know, this can be done, but at some other things, we want it to go and touch and feel. So those, it is two different things. And we need to be mindful of it. And so that’s how I am seeing that.

Marco Campana 28:17
Yeah, I mean, race is a really interesting conversation that I’ve been having with a few people about and because again, you’re an agile organization, because you’re you’re doing this ongoing listening with your with your clients and communities, the ability to pivot and be flexible in the way you provide services in the future. So for example, you’re describing, maybe there’s a program that’s 80%, digital 20% in person now, because that works for the cohort of clients that are going through that. But let’s say the next cohort comes, are you prepared as an organization to flip it so that maybe that cohort wants 80% in person? And 20% of virtual? And what is it like to plan around that and to have the staff have their mind shift and their skill set to be able to be responsive that way? Is that is that an opportunity? Is that a challenge? Is it both?

Agnes Thomas 29:03
I think it is both? Because like it is it is changes? One thing to say that you know, I’m someone who get so excited about change. But there are people oh my gosh, this is scary. But once how do we make it exciting? How does it make an opportunity? It is fun. It is like I think what changes the conversation and approach to is that when I tell you Marco this is how you’re going to be behaving from tomorrow onwards you may have a hard time accepting that. And but like if you’re looking at look at this Marco if you do it this way, we may be able to do this. So it changes the way that you and I having that conversation and our understanding of as a result of your behavior this way is going to happen something in a certain way, you know like so. I’m so mindful of that ongoing conversations. I would call that conversations because I was also going to say Yes, we looked into policy, we looked at process, we looked at system, and we looked at the baseline and the capacity. So all that matters, but then how you put that forward make a difference.

Marco Campana 30:15
Yeah, cuz I mean, how you manage that. And I wonder if that means you’re managing differently, not just you, but your, your, your management, your directors, sorry, your managers and directors, because to have those conversations, was that an approach that you already had in place those kinds of conversational management? Or is that something again, that accelerated because of the pandemic, and you realized, we’re in constant flux, now, change is the new normal. So we have to, we have to manage this situation differently.

Agnes Thomas 30:42
I think maybe one of our again, as I said, like we were culturally ready for it, how that happened. So I remember when I came on board in 2018, one of the biggest conversation here, for assessors, as well as our structure, and the process was looking at leadership as a collective effort, and beyond titles. And so in that collective approach to leadership, what we have created was small committees for areas like you know, whether it is now right now we have a digital transformation committee, we have a communication committee, we have a fundraising committee, we have a Innovation and Research Committee, we have a social wellness committee. So we have I think, 11 or 12 different committees, and I tell you a little bit of how that committees work. So let us say you are interested in digital literacy, digital transformation, I may not be, so how about if I’m interested in stuff well being so I get to join that committee, and you get to join the digital transformation committee. And yet a third person may be interested in doing events, so that person get to be part of the events committee. So we looked at interest, skills and capacities, to what is the need. And so we created this small ports, where people are just having a focused approach to because one of the thing I heard from staff was, I have these great ideas, but nobody’s listening to me, I don’t know where to take it. So we established so many different systems and approaches in how that no voice is being enhanced within our capacity. So of course, there are capacities and how far we can go on with something and then a certain things I need to sign, but not everything I had to sign on. And so we approach the whole approach to system view, as intrapreneurial. And also, we do make mistakes, and that is okay. You know, like it is not going to be you’re going to be punished and disciplined for one thing. But like, again, do I have a process and a system in place that will help you make the right choices and doing the right thing? So for me, I think maybe I’m investing energy on that. And that is helping the other pieces of work, for example, the digital transformation, I say, Hey, this is what I’m seeing from the report. And what do you guys think. And that is actually with another committee si here, and we talk about it in the leadership team, but the committee actually make recommendations how conversation with the external parties we are in conversation with so it is I’m trying to be make it as much as a flat approach so that the best can be built out of it. Because I don’t want to pretend I know all of it. I’m even when I’m talking to you, I feel I’m representing many voices from the organization, right? I just happen to be in that privileged position of having this conversation with you. But I am carrying the voices of my IT team, my senior team and the frontline staff who invested time and energy. So I think that whole approach is based on that principle that you want, I have something tangible to contribute, whether it is digital transformation, or social transformation, that commitment and the passion. And I think that came through and that is continuing to serve as well.

Marco Campana 34:08
So clearly, it’s important that sounds like to create that space where people can focus on what’s really of interest to them, and what they might be really good at. And then they’ll gain the knowledge from the other groups of similar people who are knowledgeable in other areas. And so across the board, then, I mean, it certainly feels like it would increase morale and engagement in the organization to to feel that their perspective is valued. You don’t have to be an expert in that other thing, because we’ll get you up to speed on it. But feel free to contribute what you’re passionate about over here. Exactly. That’s great. It sounds like a really promising practice for others to think about as well. I’m curious, this is such a rich conversation. I feel like we could go in so many directions. But one of the things that we see in the sector a lot is is the question of leadership around digital transformation. It needs to come from the sector, from funders from within organizations. There’s you know, as you said, you’re looking outside of the sector to see trends in other places, which I think is so valuable. You know, why reinvent the wheel? Why replicate when we can borrow? And, and and, you know, create a version of our own. When you look at that leadership, what do you think is needed for our sector to move forward with a hybrid service delivery model? And you know, and I’ll even put like a timeline on it, right? We’re, we’re less than two years away from the next big national call for proposals where, in theory, some of these are going to be funded based, like talking about baselining. And, you know, what leadership do we need to get to that conversation with our funders.

Agnes Thomas 35:31
So one thing that I forgot, or I omitted in well, something that we have done probably that also is probably important was last year that we hired a consultant group to look at digital transformation from a system perspective. So for example, because you mentioned the next CFD 2025, this may be very good for all of us to think I think it was in your report also, like, you know, how many systems and how many reporting systems we have in place, and how that is actually not creating efficiencies in how we, you know, utilize and how much time we invest. So, it was a problem that we have been looking at. And I know it is not, we are not isolated in that. So we hired this group, they looked into all of our systems, our policies, our procedures, our the whole structure, and they produced a report and also provide the recommendation. So right now, our committee is looking into prioritizing, which part of that can be implemented right away, what could be two years from now and what kind of money is being added? And so that leads to your final question about what we need to do and what leaders should be or funding should be thinking about, in my humble view, we need to be open, we need to be flexible, because whether I want it or not, the ecosystem is changing. And I’m part of the ecosystem. Right. And I also wanted to talk a little bit about the ecosystem, I think we need to pay attention to what is happening in the ecosystem. Right? And, yeah, so that would help us to move the needle a little bit, and then be productive. Because often we create policies or processes ones, when something is falling apart. Why are we looking at something that is working and say, you know, okay, is this good enough? Can we do something different with it. And so something new gets created and invest resources, I don’t think we talk I mean, there is so much about we need money, it’s like when we when I talk about resources, it is people, it is monetary stuff, it also added stuff that is again in the ecosystem. So I think investing and having the time allocated for that is also going to be very important and

Marco Campana 37:55
love that time is such a luxury that it should that it needs not to be anymore. Isn’t that true?

Agnes Thomas 38:00
Exactly, exactly. And so because we have conflicting priorities, this may fall into the bottom, because we are like, you know, many of us are so passionate about what needs to get done, how many people we need to serve, and there are people who need this and that. But if you don’t have a house with a roof, when it rain and snow, your house is gone. So I think that when we look at digital technology or any type of infrastructure, if you don’t invest and secure it, you can go and those good people that you want it to serve. And for me that is the same principle ITIL here internally also, if you are not well, you cannot help other person to be well. And so whether it is technology or policy, it has to be approached that way. Right? When you

Marco Campana 38:53
look at that ecosystem approach, then what is that? What does that looking like for you, it’s based on on well being, it’s based on that sort of foundation, having the foundations in place,

Agnes Thomas 39:03
I think that our foundations needs to be in place. And there are things that we are seeing from the current the past two years, like you know, as we mentioned, cybersecurity, I believe it’s a must and I think it should be mandatory for everybody to go through that process so that we are protecting like we are far over firewalling ourselves is I think that’s the language they use. And while hybrid model models are great, I think we need to find out what are the technological needs still there for each of the individual programs or specific programs and services and develop and plan according to those needs. Where it says you know, again, how this is how CTS is going to go, but that that may not be the case for air settlement team that is working in the peripheries you know like so there are various pieces to it and as I already mentioned, communication is key. Go back and forth internal and external not system Receiving one side of it is not going to be making it an equal space. And and I think we can expand our efficiencies and effectiveness by partnering and collaborating with other organizations and groups. And I think that is something we should all encourage more partnerships, more outcomes, and and then, you know, how do we become impactful in what we do? It’s not that we are not impactful, this is not a criticism at all, I think the sector is doing a great job. But what else can be done? I think that asking that question, Martin is right. And one thing that is a serious lack, I find is, we don’t have a best practice repository yet. So we needed to have a best practice repository for all aspects of settlement and integration. Even maybe it begins with what is settlement, what are the definitional outcomes of settlement and integration for individuals and groups and communities, I think that would change how we look at the whole system as going back to your ecosystem Goldston. As you can see, I’m so excited about it, I think it is space for transformation,

Marco Campana 41:15
for sure. And I really feel like it’s important that you’re bringing the digital together with the rest of our approach our foundations, you know, that ecosystem, it’s not that here, we’re doing settlement in here, we’re doing digital settlement, because that, that’s such a dangerous conversation of like, not seeing how they’re connected completely. And it sounds like you’re recognizing, and you’ve been living that this is it’s not, we do settlement, and then we do digital settlement, we do settlement, and it incorporates digital in person, you know, hybrid, whatever you want to define it as. And it’s just one, one approach to how we deliver service, we still need to be grounded in our communities, we still need to have that privacy and security perspective, we still need to go back and look at the foundations of why we do this kind of work and understand what can be.

Agnes Thomas 42:00
Exactly. And also you know that it’s maybe one other component, this is me wearing my research hat is that how much data we receive and collect? And what do we do with them? Right. And so I think an increased efficiency, then capacities within the system approach, like in a digital world, would help us to uncover some of this data. Either it is aggregated data, or disaggregated data will help us to lead into program development and design in such a way that responding to the current need. And so, I think there is much deeper, this is laid, and this is multifaceted.

Marco Campana 42:41
Absolutely. And what an interesting point too, because you can ask people, and that’s so important to do your serving and your consultation with with with your your communities and your staff. But the data can also reveal other trends and themes and outliers that they may not themselves have recognized. So I think that whole combination of of being able to be actively having those conversations, but also really like you say mining the data for trends and themes is also important.

Agnes Thomas 43:09
Can I like you know, I’m there are interesting things happening in BC, and in Nova Scotia, but three different landscape, three different type of geographical areas. And so how do we collect that data unless you go into a conference, and if you get a 10 minutes of a glimpse, do we have a system and efficiencies that we can actually pull down all these three, and look at Oh, my gosh, this is what they’re seeing there. I mean, that is not individual data, individual data may be important when we are looking at, you know, the scheme of things from a programmatic or a policy perspective, but like a national wide for that looks at different emerging trends or themes, I think would change the way we look at and understand. You’ve got my

Marco Campana 43:55
heart there. I mean, that’s part of that bone knowledge mobilization repository, and that approach is that the more we know about each other’s work, the more we’ll recognize some of the similarities and themes, and how we can build things together collectively, but also some of the uniqueness of some of the solutions that need to happen. But a rural solution in in, in Halifax in Nova Scotia might be just as legitimate in a rural spot in Ontario or in BC. Correct. Right. And so wouldn’t it be great to understand that and then, as you mentioned earlier, have the time to actually do the analysis, the integration to see oh, what could I take from this these kinds of things? So it’s Yeah, knowledge mobilization, the resources for it, the culture of doing it, and building data into that are just, I think those are really, really important for this ecosystem as well for us to in a meaningful way.

Agnes Thomas 44:44
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, and that is when we become so intentional in how we write.

Marco Campana 44:51
Yeah, what a great way Oh, I love it. Oh, it’s such a rich conversation. I always answer I always end with is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you want that you want to finish with or let people know either about the work that you’re doing or ideas that are that are floating in your head put you to forget you’ve had the teacher how you’ve had the IDI how you’ve had the researcher hat. Are there any other hats that you wear that you want to make? Sure we understand? No, I

Agnes Thomas 45:13
think we are serving humans. And I think that human element and the humanity and so when we are looking at humanity as a whole, it is a collective approach. It’s not one of us, it just all of us, right. And I think when we approach things, systems and processes and policies, that is a collective approach. And I think we are better and richer when we do that. And I think when we are less afraid of there is not what is there to lose. When we are less afraid of those power relations, I think we will be able to serve the humanity better as a whole. And I think for me, that is my kind of deep desire, even, you know, any conversation. This is not I’m an expert, I’m not an expert. Yet, what helps me stay on course is that our desire and our common goal of serving the humanity first. And so that comes from a collective intentional, fearless peace.

Marco Campana 46:14
I love it. That’s so inspiring. Thank you so much for this conversation. I imagine we’re gonna have more in the future. But I really appreciate you sharing your experience in your organization’s experience and perspective, I think there’s so much value for people to hear that who may not be on the same path yet that you are, to know that this is a place that they can get to, and how you’re approaching it is really also really, really useful and inspiring for folks. So thank you, Agnes, for taking the time today. Really,

Agnes Thomas 46:39
thank you what a privilege Marco. And you know, I tell you, that you what you’re doing is the right thing. You’re asking the right questions. I think we need enough people who are asking the question so things can move. And so great work, kudos to you. And let us know how we can support you in that as well.

Marco Campana 46:56
Absolutely. Thank you so much again, thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you and your work. You can find more podcast episodes, wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my site at marcopolis.org I appreciate you listening and if you have any tips, suggestions, ideas or want to be interviewed or know someone who wants to be interviewed, please drop me a line through my website, or marco@marcopolis.org Thanks again.

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