Reflection 2015: Brainstorming Settlement Solutions

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“There must be a better way!”

Building on the successes and lessons learned from our inaugural 2014 event, Datafest Ottawa returned on March 26, 2015 for a one-day problem mapping workshop. We set out to create an environment of collaboration, interaction and learning between subject matter expertise in immigration and settlement issues, first-hand users of Canada’s immigration and settlement system and locals with design, data, development and communication skills.

With the support of Citizenship and Immigration Canada and generous hosting by Adobe Canada, an intense and enriching workshop unfolded whereby eight teams explored how new technology can make various aspects of immigration and settlement easier.

In addition to the group-based problem mapping exercise (guided by a template we designed), the event included a secondary capacity-building track. This aspect of the day was very popular, especially among the subject matter experts who were curious to explore what sorts of online tools and trends could be applied to their work. In addition to structured introductory talks we engaged with several coaches who circulated the room to provide guidance and answer group questions on the fly.

This year as organizers we gained a deeper knowledge of the thrills and challenges associated with designing and executing innovation challenges. Our main lessons learned (which we are happy to share!) include:

  1. Strong Wifi is paramount. When dozens of users are connecting their devices for VoIP, dta migration etc. the network will need to be at its best performance.
  2. Virtual participation can be a real value-add but it has its challenges. We succeeded in including a virtual audience via Youtube Livestream for kick-off and closing presentations/demos. However, trying to match and organize team members to join physical teams in the room was not a good idea. The two virtual teams who succeeded were those whereby the entire team participated in the same remote space. We were able to livestream their pitch and demo, and offer light support throughout the day while they worked independently.
  3. The barriers to collaboration and networking between community organization service providers and the tech/design community are exacerbated by simple time and space constraints. Social sector providers work tirelessly to meet their mandates for the most part during the work week, whereas the type of enthusiastic tech/design participants are more available over evenings and weekends. This year we decided to forego hands-on hackers to prioritize problem-mapping by the social sector service providers and newcomers (users) themselves.

Here is a listing of the problem statements and a summary of what was achieved for each:

1: Employment while you wait

Pitched by: Laith Ahmed, a resettled refugee who arrived in Canada 8 months ago from Egypt. Laith has data and technical expertise in systems engineering and SAAS deployment consultancy and has worked as a cultural interpreter.

Problem: Before moving to Canada there is a time of waiting, which for immigrants could be around 2 to 4 months, and for refugees 1 year to infinity. I believe immigrants and refugees would have better employment outcomes if they could access employment support programming (such as Maple Mentoring, ITO 2.0, In-TAC, etc.) before they arrive. Let’s develop something online to meet this need.

Team feedback: Build a CIC-supported platform to centralize all programs that are being provided by SPOs. CIC leadership could consolidate information about service providers, then digitize it to share with newcomers pre-arrival to help them build their networks and find jobs.

2: Canadian Workplace Culture

Pitched by: Wesam (Sam) Halwani, performance excellence & transformation strategist with Cantactics and newcomer to Canada.

Problem: Canada recruits PITs (Professional International Talents) that happen to come from the same international markets that small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may be interested in targeting to grow their business. PITs bring worthwhile expertise and experience that could significantly contribute to the SMEs competitive edge and growth on different fronts (locally, nationally and internationally).

Yet PITs may not have easy access to SMEs and employment in Canada, and in many cases may end up unemployed or underemployed, which has a negative impact on the PITs as well as on national economic performance at different levels (under-utilized talent, etc). At the same time, SMEs are less likely to have comprehensive internal onboarding and outreach resources and programs that could support a PITs orientation to Canadian workplace culture.

This lack of infrastructure for SMEs may result in risk-aversion from hiring PITs, or unsuccessful hiring/onboarding of PITs which will impact future hiring decisions. Using a technical solution, might we develop a mechanism that could proactively provide this onboarding to Canadian workplace culture for PITs?

Team feedback: Create a collaborative platform where SMEs can talk to professional international talents in a free flow of information – with the emphasis on information and advice, not job interviews. SMEs can learn about how things work abroad, PITs can learn about Canadian work places. It would be a safe environment of mutual mentorship, with no pressure on participating employers to hire. SMEs might benefit from knowledge exchange to come up with good ideas for bringing their products or services to international markets and PITs could improve their job-readiness. Would need support and/or partnership from Statistics Canada, Industry Canada and CIC.

3: Location matters

Pitched by: Lara Hill, Metropolis Professional Development (MPD), a training program for managing international migration and its effects on societies.

Problem: In their local landscape, immigrants need quick, reliable and comprehensive information on services to help them settle and succeed. At the same time, service providers and funders need clear information on where services are needed most and can have the greatest impact. While several models of service and client mapping exist, they are piecemeal, divided in their offerings across search platforms and lines of service provision (three levels of government, non-profit organizations, etc.). Service providers, funders and immigrants must expend resources to research this information individually. Can we curate and present service needs and service mapping in a more comprehensive, user-friendly and efficient way?

Team feedback: Don’t try to turn government into a tech company. Instead, empower people with the data they need. Use the growing open-data movement to share existing information in new ways at low (or no) cost to CIC. CIC has the data (service providers and programs) and could use it more strategically. Take its database of who offers services, share it as common format, make it available on the CIC web site as an Excel file. Link it to Treasury Board’s open data strategy. Open it up to the appdom, independent coders who love to use open data to create nimble, easily-shared and user-friendly platforms. Investigate initiatives like Open Referral, which is developing data standards and open platforms that make it easy to share and find information about community resources.

4: Interview Practice, Online?

Pitched by: Isabella Marchese: Isabella, Education Coordinator with the Immigrant Women’s Centre of Hamilton

Problem: Newcomers have overwhelmingly stated that they want to improve their chances of getting a job in Canada. They need opportunities to practice interview skills, first in their home country then here in Canada as part of their LINC studies. Distant as well as face-to-face instructors are instrumental in assessing and evaluating the efforts made by learners during the interview practice activities.

How can we make the interview process easily accessible and user-friendly while connecting the international and newcomer learners to the LINC instructors here in Canada?

 (Pitch was withdrawn prior to the event)

5: No services?

Pitched by: Jorge Salazar, project manager of Fresh Voices Grants & Community Initiatives with the Vancouver Foundation

Problem: Citizens and permanent residents of Canada are afforded access to services that support their well-being in Canada – public health and education, as well as settlement and employment services for newcomers to Canada. However, many people who call Canada their home are not eligible for such services due to being neither citizens nor permanent residents. The pathways to permanency in Canada are complex: Who are the ‘ineligibles’ in Canada, and how can we ensure that future permanent residents and citizens have access to services that will support them to become healthy, skilled and successfully settled members of our community regardless of their immigration background?

Team feedback: This team was only able to work for the morning, so the feedback is less developed. The plan was to investigate web- and mobile-based access to community sources and peer-to-peer support for ‘ineligible’ youth, to find ways to ensure accurate information can be delivered in a safe and useful manner that does not threaten the user’s status.

6: Young adults supporting families navigating Canadian systems

Pitched by: Nada El Masry, member of the Youth Advisory Team Member of the Vancouver Foundation

Problem: Newcomer youth across Canada often find themselves playing a central role in their family’s Canadian immigration story, acting as translators, brokers and/or key income-earners. This responsibility can be a conduit to settlement success, yet may present the youth with additional pressure, stress and vulnerability, sometimes at the expense of their own development and education. How can we empower and support newcomer youth who find themselves in this position? Can tech simplify bringing together people who have a need with people who have the right service?

Team feedback: Create a platform (web site or app) to connect both children and parents to referral services, so that both understand what needs to be done. For example, if a parent has a medical specialist appointment, consulting the web site or app could answer the parent’s questions about how to get to the appointment and connect them with volunteers for assistance with logistics or transportation. The young people may be the ones referring parents to the tool, as well as settlement agencies, so the child can say “You don’t need me, you can be independent.” Would require developing a network of trained volunteers to become part of the referral network, to relieve children of full responsibility. Could have impact both pre- and post-arrival.

7: It’s Always Sunny in Hamilton

Pitched by: Ines Rios, Executive Director of the Immigrant Women’s Centre of Hamilton

Problem: Hamilton needs to attract New Canadians because they bring new sources of revenue for the city in the form of taxes and business. Yet Hamilton is challenged by a transitional labour market, moving from manufacturing to services. These realities, along with lack of awareness, may deter prospective New Canadians. Is there a way for us to effectively communicate the benefits of choosing Hamilton to prospective newcomers via technology, in order to attract more New Canadians to our city?

Team feedback: Brainstorming helped us decide where to start – and we decided we need to start by knowing more about who is already in Hamilton. We want to build a database to collect important information on the newcomers to our city, to map services and needs. We want to engage a local partner to help us research existing data resources, help with the mapping, then analyze the data and share it with the public. We hope this will help us to have a clear picture of the city, better understand who is already coming to Hamilton and guide our service delivery.

8: Increasing access to information for newcomers

Pitched by: Victoria Esses and Sonali Advani of Pathways to Prosperity, an alliance of university, community, and government partners dedicated to fostering welcoming communities and promoting the integration of immigrants and minorities across Canada

Problem: The Welcome to Canada guide provides valuable information to newcomers. This includes things they need to know and do before and after arriving in Canada, housing, working in Canada, Canadian laws, the health care system, the education system and other crucial information. It is a CIC product, and the Pathways to Prosperity Partnership was involved in its initial development. The Guide is currently available in English and French, in print and online, as a PDF and ePub.

It could be reaching many more newcomers than it currently is in a faster and easy-to-use way. How can we make the experience of accessing, interpreting and acting upon this information more accessible and interactive for newcomers in order to generate better settlement outcomes?

Team feedback: Create an app or mobile-friendly web site that’s engaging, interactive and intuitive. Incorporate with web site. It should be easily personalizable according to age, occupation, region, etc. Would incorporate provincial and local information in addition to national information. This data exists but needs to be enhanced to be more easily accessible. Make evidence-based choice of most appropriate platform for this purpose and build in a strategy to ensure the content is maintained for freshness, accuracy and relevance. This would be useful pre- and post-arrival, across age groups and demographics.

9: First Peoples and New Canadians

Pitched by: Leah Snyder, designer, writer, photographer.

Problem: New Canadians are often unaware of both the historical and current relationship Canada has with First Peoples, yet the presence of Indigenous cultures across the country are a part of the larger story of what diversity means in contemporary Canada. Using the Urban Indigenous/New Canadian context in Ottawa as a starting point, how can we inform and orient New Canadians to Indigenous narratives in our city?

Team feedback: Immigrants need to understand the land they’re on. Feeling grounded in a place is important, and traditional custodians of this land can help with that process. But unless you actively seek out the history of Canada prior to colonization, it’s very difficult to find. Share the Indigenous culture and history through a storytelling project such as a Google map of important sites, responsive on tablets and phones. For example, the Ottawa River is an important place, having long been a route and meeting place for trade and cultural sharing. Mapping locations on the river, sharing historical and current content about each one, brings newcomers in closer contact with the history of the country they’ve adopted.

10: Information overload

Pitched by: Kelly McGahey, Hire Immigrants Ottawa.

Problem: Newcomers are often unsure of where to turn for information once they arrive – and even before they arrive – for everything from where to get various documents to where to find the best places to eat and what supports exist to help look for work.  The issue is not that the information doesn’t exist, there are a variety of portals and inventories and agencies in many communities. In fact, there are almost too many websites/portals/inventories – and their information is quickly outdated and information needs vary greatly by individual.

Team feedback: Many newcomers use their mobile devices for much of their connectivity. Consolidate all of that information into a mobile app that enables users to look for services and for what’s going on in their community. Events, local resources, restaurants, services would all be included. Similar to, but the buttons would be jobs, education, school, health, volunteering and voting. It would be a content management web site, sending you to other sources online, although the local event information would be crowdsourced and voted on (for example, where’s the best roti in town?). The challenge to implementation is to make sure it assists people who are web savvy and others who are not, and addresses the different content desired by different constituencies. This could have impact from pre-arrival to post-arrival.

-Lisa Deacon



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