TiHS Episode 28: Whitney Loewen – Newcomer Introduction to Classes Online (NICO)
Welcome to episode 28 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this episode, I’m chatting with Whitney Loewen the manager of E learning and special projects at The Immigrant Education Society (TIES) in Calgary. I reached out to Whitney after discovering their Newcomer Introduction to Classes Online project, or NICO. NICO is an online course designed to help newcomers overcome barriers to online learning. It offers a flexible, self-paced curriculum that can be accessed online at any time. Upon completion of NICO, participants will possess the digital literacy skills required to undertake online language studies. That sounds great, and is needed. But what particularly got me excited was that they created NICO to be an open digital literacy educational resource, free for other agencies to use. If you’re using Moodle as your Learning Management System, you can get the full NICO curriculum to use with your clients. I had a great discussion with Whitney, and discovered even more innovative work The Immigrant Education Society is doing. I hope you find this as interesting and useful a discussion as I did. If you’re interested in transferring the course materials to your own Moodle LMS, contact WhitneyLoewen@immigrant-education.ca. 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 0:03Welcome to the technology and Human Services podcast. Can you start maybe by telling me a little bit about yourself and the immigrant education society? Whitney Loewen 0:31Yeah, sure. So my name is Whitney Loewen. And I’m the manager of E learning and special projects at the immigrant education society. We’re otherwise known as ties and we’re a newcomer serving agency in Calgary, Alberta. We were founded in 1988. by Mr. Swenson do and he was an immigrant from Pakistan at the time. And so he noticed, even at that time that immigrants were having a very difficult time accessing English language training, never mind getting their credentials recognized. He was an engineer himself. And so he wanted to help other people have a slightly smoother transition into Canada. And so he founded our first our first location and Forest Lawn, which is in the southeast quadrant of Calgary. And today, we have three locations, actually, throughout the northeast and southeast. So these are really vibrant communities. They’re very multicultural, most people don’t speak English at home work may not be their first language. So I don’t think it really fits the stereotype that a lot of people have, but what Calgary is from the outside, they’re beautiful communities to work in. Marco Campana 1:31That’s great. Yeah, no, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, I think people when people think of Calgary, they don’t think of the same kind of multiculturalism that exists in Toronto, or Vancouver or Montreal, but, but it is a vibrant, thriving, multicultural community. So it’s really great to kind of place the organization in that space. Thank you for for doing that. And I find these conversations are useful, even just for that kind of, you know, awakening, like, Hey, we’re all over the country, you know, the services exist, there’s a need for them. And, and, you know, there’s tremendous amounts of newcomers Atlanta in different cities everywhere, even though we may have our preconceived notions of where those are. So the thing that attracted me to to ties in that I found was the newcomer introduction to classes online project. So I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about that, and why it came about and what was sort of the main problem or the main issue it was trying to address? Whitney Loewen 2:18Yeah, so it’s an interesting project, and that it’s been in the works for quite a long time, it’s not to something that we decided on, in reaction to the pandemic. We’ve been involved with elearning. For quite some time, we’ve had a number of programs developed over the years, but our sort of granddaddy program was link home study, which we still offer. That’s a really excellent program, I know that there, it’s offered right across the country at different organizations. And for context, it is 30 minutes, one on one with the teacher and the student every week, just for one day. So that’s just a half an hour every week, and the rest of the time, you would be doing homework on the learning management system. So normally, this works really well achieve as the umbrella organization that oversees it, and they do a really good job of keeping things up to date and running smoothly. But because the program is for CLB, three to CLB, eight, we noticed that the majority of our students who are dropping out of the program early for undisclosed reasons were CLB, three, MC lb four. So our earliest learners, and then we took a look at our waiting list, which at the time was very long, because it is such a popular program, and 60% of the people waiting for class were CLB, three and sealed before so we said oh my gosh, you know, because something we really want to look into a little bit further and see what’s actually happening. So we started observing the classes, and we started talking to the instructors, and they said, you know, we’re spending 20 to 25% of every class just going over how to find where their homework is on the LMS. You know, they they’re having issues with opening a Word doc or saving a PDF or doing relatively simple tasks in certain websites that we direct them to outside of the LMS as well. And you know, the eating up a lot of our class time. And so obviously, that’s not ideal. You don’t have enough time to address what you’re actually there to do, which is learn English. And so we really realized that there was a need for a baseline level of digital literacy training before you even got into the English language training. So that’s where nuco came about. So So I guess maybe to describe what it is Nico is self driven digital literacy training, and it can be offered in the class or completely independently. teacher can help you walk through it, or you can do it on your own. There’s all sorts of ways to do it. Marco Campana 4:27And yeah, I mean, I think you raised another really interesting point. This was the pre pandemic project. And in fact, online learning around ESL has been around for for longer than a decade in a lot of ways. And I think that’s an interesting point to to raise in this conversation, too, is that this is not something that’s new in our sector. You know, the the links at home study online learning because like you said, You’ve been doing elearning for some time has been around for a while. So I think that’s a really important point as well. I noticed that the that I went through the research survey because you did some research to kind of set the stage to this Figure out what would be what would work I guess for Nico and, and, and one of the things that are some of the we’ve seen this in some of the project work we’ve done around the technology task group and other other research as well, is that even though this this is this online and blended learning has existed for a while there has been amongst some providers, a predisposition against online learning, you know, a preference of face to face. And, and it came out in the research, I think one of the researchers noted that students with low benchmarks, so probably three, four and below, were discouraged from entering online programs, and encouraged to come into classrooms first before taking elearning. So it was Nico, kind of a response in some ways to say, well, maybe we can figure that out online. And for some learners, they won’t have to go physically into a classroom, but that they could do some of this online and continue online, if that’s their preference. Whitney Loewen 5:52Yeah, I certainly think so, like we did want to offer it initially is something that students could do while they’re waiting for further classes. So our intent wasn’t to disrupt elearning that was already in progress. Or it was just to, you know, at the time, our waitlist for link home study was over a year, which is a huge amount of time and, and you can really kind of get kind of despairing when you’re on a waitlist that long, you know, I’m kind of treading water here. What am I doing. And so first and foremost, we wanted to address that we wanted to give people hope that hey, we are acknowledging you there is something for you to do. And this is going to help you once you do get into learning. So I know that not all programs are fortunate or unfortunate to have a waitlist that length, but it is something that’s really good as a preface to before you get into your regular elearning class. Of course, during the pandemic, we haven’t had the luxury of of that prep time. So it’s been really cool to see the different ways that teachers have been using it, they’ve been taking pieces of, you know, certain units and bringing it into their pre existing classes, or they’re directing students to just a very specific video, a specific URL. So rather than just going through it from beginning to end independently, there’s a lot of different ways you can use it. And I think that because teachers are able to do that it helps them with scaffolding their students into elearning, a little bit better. And that has been like a huge need that we’ve seen throughout this pandemic. You know, for instance, at our school, we started off with our classes who are normally in class, starting just a one on one conversation on WhatsApp, because that’s a universal tool, it seemed to be among our students anyways, they talked to their families a lot on it, they’re comfortable with it. And then from there, we get everybody into a zoom class together. And we’re just talking and we’re getting used to having 12 people in a room looking at each other, figuring out all the audio issues and the internet issues. And from there, we add the LMS. So for a lot of students, that’s Google classrooms. In other programs, that might be something else. So you have to work people up to that final iteration of what you want your elearning program to look like. And I think because Nico can be used to help to do that, I think it can help a lot of organizations who might be hesitant, who might not be sure where to start or how to keep going with this elearning thing, because maybe they just need a little bit of helping hand to help scaffold their students into that ideal elearning program. Marco Campana 8:03That’s really a really important point, because at first glance, it looks like here’s an elearning package that a student could take and go through module one to module four, or five. And sort of but what you’re describing is, is it can be really customized based on the the learner and the organization and the teacher are the the frontline worker and how they they assess the the individual client, and how they can they get what they need, I guess so there’s pieces that maybe they just need a bit of a module to get over a certain kind of hump before they move on to the next piece. Whitney Loewen 8:35Yeah, certainly it can be used in a multiple multitude of different ways. So it’s been really rewarding to see people sort of take it apart, use it however they would like. And we encourage people even to edit it to a certain degree, there are some things that you cannot change. But if you want to optimize it, and maybe take it one step further than what the curriculum has had, we would love for people to do it. Because we want this to be sort of a living, breathing program that continues on beyond the scope of our initial research. I think there’s a lot of danger that these cool pilot projects kind of wither on the vine after the funding dries up. But we want it to keep on going. We’re not you know, we’re not continuing with developing it right this minute. But we we hope that other people will for us as well. Marco Campana 9:12Yeah, that’s that’s a thank you for bringing that up. Because that was another thing that really attracted to me when when I when I found the web page, and I saw you’re making it available to people who who also use Moodle to be able to literally, you know, copy and paste and make use of it in their learning management system. How and why did you decide to do that to make it available to other service providers? If they’re using Moodle? I think that’s again, I think that’s the future for our sector is that kind of curriculum and content sharing, but but you’re an early adopter in that space. I’m curious how that happened. Whitney Loewen 9:42Yeah, I have to give a lot of the credit to our provincial government funder honestly, because we’ve been working with them with some of our earliest elearning projects. And so we’ve done that for quite a few years. And very early on, they, we were working together and they really recommended that we make that available broadly as soon as the project was in was complete. It’d be just for that reason, because a lot of these pilot projects, they kind of lose momentum after the funding runs out. Maybe the original organization that put in so many hours and so much time into creating this beautiful curriculum now doesn’t have an independent source of funding that can keep paying instructors to keep it going. But if you’re disseminating this curriculum, and you’re giving it to other organizations, it continues to, to live, and it continues to benefit others. And I think also, just from the provincial government standpoint, they’ve always been big proponents of getting settlement services in rural areas going to the same degree that they were in urban centers, a lot of those smaller service providers can’t afford the same sort of program development, or they haven’t got the capacity to offer the same level of programming that they do in the city. So if we can give them access to this curriculum that they can use in any which way they would like, they can become a full step closer to what you know what we’re achieving the city. So there shouldn’t be that disparity of services. Marco Campana 10:53I think that’s, that’s really important, especially as we’ve discovered during the pandemic, with the digital divide, and digital inclusion, and access issues, I think, have really kind of come to the fore. So the idea of, of creating something and like you said, having all this investment in a pilot project, and then and then it just kind of just languishes Well, now you’ve put it back out to the community. And, and you mentioned even people being able to edit it and update it themselves. And I noticed like, again, I came to you, in part to get the curriculum for one of my clients. And when we’ve implemented it in our LMS, it’s obvious that there are spaces where you could make additions or edits or changes and even maybe customize something to make it more local or those kinds of things. Are you encouraging people to reshare? What they might customize back into sort of the community in some way? Because it’s something that could evolve over time? Whitney Loewen 11:39I think so yeah, I think all that we ask is that people sort of give original attribution to the shell of the program back to ties, because we are closely related to our funder who helped us through this program. It’s ircc, of course. So we want people to know that they had a really big helping hand and getting this off the program or off the off this. I’ll start, I’ll start over for that one. Marco Campana 12:03No problem. Whitney Loewen 12:04Yeah, I really would like people to disseminate this as far as they can and share their edits with other with other service providers, I think as long as they give attribution for the core content of the curriculum to ties, and just acknowledge that ircc was instrumental in getting the project off the ground in the beginning, and then maybe take their own attribution for the edits that they have made. So that it’s, it’s clear who has done what I think sky’s the limit, it’d be really cool to see what people come up with. Marco Campana 12:30Yeah, I agree. I think it’s, I think it’s the sort of the future of content creation. I mean, if if one organization has created something that’s foundationally really useful, then why should I RCC fund other organizations to do basically replicate that, but maybe they can find them to add to it, right. So if someone could take Nico and build in more specialized kind of E learning or more, if different technology tools or things like that, and just kind of keep it up to date with technology trends and things like that. So I’m, I’m curious as well, how ircc itself reacted, because I think this idea of content sharing and reuse is sort of new to them, although it sounds like it’s not new to the province. What was their reaction to this idea of your project? Whitney Loewen 13:09I wasn’t heavily involved at that point. But I think that they were quite favorable, because this STI was all about innovation and trying new things. Even before the pandemic before everyone was fully on the elearning bandwagon. I think that they saw the potential in that. I know that ircc is all funders, as you sort of alluded to, are really big on not duplicating services, because that’s just redundancy, right? Or duplicating funding. So if we can work together more closely across the sector, I think you’re going to be much stronger, and more effective and more efficient than if we were all working in our own little silos. Marco Campana 13:40I love that. I completely agree. So just to shift a little bit to the outcomes now, because of course, we want to know, what’s the impact then, of the program on newcomers, but so let’s, I’m going to also find out about what what kind of uptake you’ve had among service providers. But But in terms of newcomers, um, you created this to meet a particular need? How has it impacted their digital literacy or their ability to access online learning and online services more effectively? Whitney Loewen 14:06Yeah, sure. So we don’t have a lot of empirical data. Unfortunately, I just because the scope of the project sort of expired as soon as we released it out into the world. And we said, here’s, here’s our baby, please take good care of it. And please, we hope that it helps a lot of people. But we do have a lot of anecdotal evidence. And we do have what we’ve observed. It’s been quite popular during the pandemic, of course, there’s a lot of people who are going through the materials, and they’re coming back to repeat certain units, or they’re using it almost as a reference guide. So it’s really cool to see that it can be used as this sort of, you know, perpetual reference that someone can keep coming back to that will really support them. We’re seeing that the majority of people who are enrolling are older adults, which is sort of in line what we see with the rest of our elearning project. You know, the base age for a lot of our learners is 35. And they tend to be older than the than that. That’s not so very old, of course, but in terms of like who we’re serving, that is That is sort of towards the middle of the pack. And they tend to be women, of course, because women have a lot more barriers to accessing in class service than maybe they’re supposed to do if they’re the primary breadwinner. And it’s emphasized more that they need to get into ESL classes a little bit faster, or on a bigger timeframe. So it’s been really cool to see who’s accessing it. But it’s also kind of shown, you know, just once the pandemic has started, that you can empower anybody with a certain amount of digital literacy ourselves included, but there’s still going to be those acute issues that crop up from time to time that you cannot be having someone beside you, either on a zoom call, or in the classroom, helping walk you through it, you know, maybe your internet connection blows up, or there’s some catastrophic printer failure, there’s only so many things that we can address. So I kind of hope that we can use that research to sort of spur funding organizations to realize that there needs to be a broader level of support for eLearning departments, you know, you can empower your clients to sort of self navigate their way through the LMS and learn online effectively, but there still needs to be someone available to help, there still needs to be that support. You know, we had a lot of people spending many hours on the phone with our, with our students, when they were first moving to online learning, since the pandemic started helping them you know, get back onto their zoom class, or how to turn your camera on that sort of thing. And there isn’t a lot of funding to continue that in between classes, because everybody is funded on a project by project basis. But that also means that you can’t you haven’t got the resources to continue improving something like Nico, in between funding periods. So I hope that that sort of like the next, the future frontier, where we’re going with funding is that we look at things from a sector wide perspective. And we start funding those support services that maybe don’t seem so important initially, but they’re hugely important on the back end. Marco Campana 16:47That’s it, those are really important advocacy points. I mean, I think we saw this a lot in in during the pandemic is the the sort of evolution of the digital navigator, which is exactly what you’re describing. And in some cases, that it’s the teacher themselves, or a settlement worker who is giving that kind of extra support over and above the the the coursework or the the education, but to get them connected to the technology. In some cases, we’ve seen short term funding for, you know, a halftime position or a shift in someone’s position so that they can do that kind of onboarding and be that support, not just for, for newcomers, but also for the for the workers who for whom this might be also sort of new teaching in a in an online environment, even if they’ve done a little bit of the before in a blended way, doing it purely online is it can be quite different. So I think I think that that makes it a lot of sense and having. I mean, I think we’re moving towards a hybrid service delivery model in the future. And again, you the ESL experiences, that you’ve already had that kind of blended model. But it’s interesting that those supports have never been in place before. And now we see the need for them much more acutely. Whitney Loewen 17:49Yeah, actually, we had a sort of interesting experience last year in the middle of the pandemic. So traditionally, like I mentioned that we work with the province quite often on establishing new elearning initiatives, and they’ve been sort of a champion, but just like any funding organization, and just like many of our service providing organizations, you know, not everybody was online or drinking the elearning Kool Aid, they didn’t really see the potential or the need for it when everything was humming along just perfectly in class, right? It’s a really effective model. We’ve honed this over decades, you know, why are we messing with the good thing. And so we would propose the audio learning project, and you kind of got into the habit of asking for the bare minimum that you could get through the bare minimum in terms of instructional prep hours, the bare minimum in terms of curriculum development, or subject matter experts. And that was how your project would get approved, if you could just barely sweep by right. So we were preparing another elearning proposal last year in the middle of the pandemic, after everyone had shifted online. Again, it was for the province. And I had asked for what I’m used to asking for, which is not much for everything, you know, daydreaming about a better world where I can ask for enough for everything. And to their credit, the funder came back to us and they said, Look, we really like this idea, we would like to prove it. However, we would like you to ask us for more money so that we can do this along with you learning best practices, we want you to ask us for more prep time and more curriculum development. And I think my jaw just about hit the floor, because it’s it never happened before. But I was so pleased to be able to work with them on this. So we went back and forth a few times until we finally reached a really beautiful model where our curriculum developers are fully supported, and they’ve got enough time to develop these resources. And this was a first for me and I think for the for the for the funder, if I recall correctly. So it’s been really cool to work with them on that. Marco Campana 19:32That’s huge. I mean that. I’d love to explore that a little bit more because I think you’re right, we get we get we put ourselves into a funding box, especially if it’s project based. Where Yeah, we’re, we were low balling ourselves a lot of the time to say, Well, if they don’t see it as priority, maybe we’ll ask for something so at least we get it and then we’ll we’ll at least be able to deliver what we know is in need, for example. So it’s really heartening to hear that the funders themselves are looking at the data and looking at the reality and again I think there’s there’s a sea change that’s happened because of the pandemic, where we’re all sort of starting to realize where technology can be a tool where it can be useful, but also what the resources are required to make it work. So you know, not just digital navigation, but these curriculum and, and instructional designers, you know, they’re, they’re kind of in the back background, you don’t see them, but their work is so essential to creating something that’s seamless and usable and accessible. And that can evolve over time as well. And then obviously, the importance of good pedagogical training for people who are doing that the providing the services online, because that’s, again, different than in a classroom. So I wonder if is that a conversation that you find is happening with other colleagues in the sector as well around looking at, like, we need to ask for what we really need. We need to have this conversation that, you know, technology and online can create efficiencies, but it’s not, you know, resource agnostic, it requires investments of human resources, and even in some cases, technology itself. Whitney Loewen 20:54Yeah, I, I wish I could say that we were having that conversation with more people, I think that it’s still early days yet in terms of some organizations to start asking for money for eLearning projects outside of their usual link programming. I think that a lot of organizations haven’t even contemplated yet developing something that may be career specific, or a different skill specific or something that steps outside of link, I think a lot of people were really overwhelmed. If they weren’t doing it already, with just getting their link classes online, or their regular ESL classes online. And they’re sort of taking your breath now and then stepping back and thinking, Okay, now we’re thinking about reopening, you know, it wasn’t gonna look exactly the same as it did before or some of these, some of these tools that we’ve developed over the last year and a half going to stay, you know, for instance, our organization did a really cool hybrid pilot, where part of the class is at home, coming in through zoom, and part of the class is in the classroom with the teacher, and she’s teaching to both of them at the same time. And ircc made a tremendous investment in that setup, and I can’t see them saying, okay, you know, great, we serve everybody, good research outcomes, you know, we’re going to go back to the classroom exactly the way it was, and we’re going to let all this technology languish, I really don’t see that happening. So I think organizations should be having that conversation, as you say, like, what does it look like going forward now? Are there some standards across our sector that we should impose? How can we help each other build on what we’ve learned during the pandemic? Maybe we don’t have to just work in our little silos, maybe we can do this together and become really strong? Marco Campana 22:25Yeah, I think that’s, that’s essential. And again, a lot of the research we’ve been doing like in the task group bears that out, people want to know what’s happening. They want to share best practices, they want knowledge mobilization, but half the time it’s not even, it’s knowing what who’s doing what. So for example, the blended model that you just described, or the hybrid model of it, I’m curious what that was what that was like, because that could be incredibly challenging as a model to be you’re teaching literally two different spaces at the same time. And I mean, there’s, there’s technology challenges, there’s internet lag, there’s, you know, audio challenges, there’s different just so many different needs and and potential issues that could crop up in that what was that experience? Like, for the for the instructors? And what did it require as a baseline to get there in terms of not just skill, but also even technology and infrastructure? Whitney Loewen 23:12Sure. So I wasn’t terribly closely involved with the initial Infineon implant left. Okay. I wasn’t terribly closely involved with the initial implementation of the project, which is unfortunate, but I have had the chance to observe some of the classes and it’s pretty cool to see them in action. I know that, you know, when we’re deep into the pandemic, the programs that were really suffering were literacy classes. So where adults are learning to read and write and speak at a very basic level, and they haven’t got those study skills developed, even in their home country, because they have limited or no formal schooling. So the greatest challenge was that they couldn’t see their teacher effectively to read their lips or interact physically in the classroom, because it’s a very kinetic class, in our literacy program, you’re moving around a lot, you know, you’re, you’re interacting very heavily with the teacher, and a lot of that has been lost when you move on to zoom. And so those learners were really frustrated. And they were some of the first to really wanted to come back into the class. But of course, you know, paying attention to social distancing and protocols during the pandemic, it just wasn’t possible up to a certain point. But we want to prepare for that eventuality. We wanted them to be the first programs who could come back to the school when we weren’t able to offer that. So we started working with ircc. And we reorganize some of our funding to, to develop these hybrid programs. And it’s been really cool to see, you know, the first teachers who were involved with it are, they tend to be innovators anyways, they tend to be very excited about technology and adopting new approach. And so they’ve been really optimistic and really, you know, forward looking and innovative during this whole thing. So they were really ideal to get going first on this. We didn’t throw anyone in there who wasn’t comfortable with the idea of it. And yeah, there were some bumps that I’m aware of that happened at the beginning. You really have to kind of hold each other’s hands and like take a deep breath sometimes and think, okay, we can do this especially when maybe your learner’s at home aren’t able to connect into the class or, you know, your students in the classroom are feeling a little bit neglected, because you’ve turned your back on them to address the screen for a little bit of time, it takes a while to develop a cadence, I think for teaching in two directions at once. But from what I’ve observed, it works really well. And it allows the students who aren’t comfortable with coming to the class yet, or who don’t have access to transportation, or any of those other usual barriers, to be comfortable and learn at home. And those who are really excited to get back and socialize with their peers and see the teacher to be there in person. So we love the model, it’s working really well. And we’d love to keep doing it. Marco Campana 25:34I mean, yeah, some of those barriers and challenges would aren’t going to go away just because if we get past COVID, people who might still have transportation or childcare or timing issues, and things like that. So it makes sense on a lot of levels to increase x accessibility by offering those kinds of different options. And that one sounds really interesting and curious, when it comes to knowledge mobilization, because, again, your your organization sounds like it’s doing some real, real innovating. Are you able to, and this is another issue around resources? Are you able to find the time to share some of these learnings to even do your own case studies? Or is ircc trying to figure out some learning from this perspective as well? Because I mean, again, they’re funding something that is quite unique, but maybe happening in other places in the country? I mean, we don’t even know, you know, is there is there an idea to share this kind of learning the sector, based on your experiences? Whitney Loewen 26:24Well, I don’t know if there is a larger sort of umbrella project to take all of these different funded hybrid experiences are different innovative practices, and turn them into one large research study, that would be sort of beyond what I’m aware of. But I know that our teachers have been really, really good at sharing their practices with one another. Just here in Alberta, we have a tesl, Alberta Teachers of English as a second language. And they have a really great conference every year, where people share what they’ve been up to, for the last year best practices, innovations. And they’re always stuffed to the gills with really cool workshops. And so I think we’re going to see a lot of that in the coming HSL workshop, I think it’s going to be really interesting to see, of course, those things that Tesla Canada and different organizations across the country, four different provinces, that I think will, you’ll probably see the same, I think there’s going to be a lot of sharing and a lot of talking about it. Even just from a stress relief standpoint, you know, You’ll never believe what I’ve just been through. But there’s a lot of potential for what we’ve just done. You know, I I’m, I’m really optimistic about that. And I know that just within our own intersectoral work and conversations, people are starting to talk about it already. So I don’t know if it’s formalized. But I know that there is a lot of talk just informally. Marco Campana 27:34Now, that’s great. It’s great to know about those venues too, because I mean, increasingly, that those those conferences are happening online, so theoretically, they’ll be recordings and they’ll be there’ll be materials that can be available to a broader audience outside of Alberta, even for example, this is this is completely unrelated to why I initially contacted you. So feel free to say I can’t answer it. But I’m curious about because we’re talking about English language talking about elearning. How much of that has transferred over to some of your settlement sites, in terms of what you’ve been learning around around online services around preparing students? So for example, you could is Nico useful for someone who may not need the language side of things, but may need the digital side of the literacy in a settlement context, for example, is has that been happening that kind of crossover? Whitney Loewen 28:22That’s interesting. We haven’t done that in our own organization. I haven’t heard of that specifically happening. But I was looking at the research that you had conducted as well with some of your teammates, and you had mentioned the potential for a digital literacy benchmark. I think that’s an awesome idea. I think that that’s super if there’s a way to build that into the assessment when someone is coming to the referral center, and they’re saying, look, I need these services, what can you do to help me and then they’re assigned to either an educational referral specialist or the the benchmark referral person for language services, if we can give them a digital literacies benchmarking at the same time, maybe then we that could lead to, you know, programs like Nico being built out for the entire sector that would we can be like, okay, you have this benchmark, before you get into these programs that we’re going to recommend to you, we really recommend that you go through this avenue to sort of brush up your skills or become familiar with what you’re going to need before you start learning. Or, you know, hey, you’ve come to us for employment training. This is what’s required in a modern office, right? Because a lot of us organizations have individually, you know, say clerical training or administrative training or old computer classes, but none of them are working together. And even when students, you know, migrate between programs, I would say, even within our own organization, they’re going to be required to use a different learning management system or a different sort of online learning interface than they have even in that previous program. In the same organization. They may have to go from the link home study Canada learning management system, over to Moodle and then over to Google classroom and then maybe just to a class that only uses zoom, but they rely really heavily on like Kahoot quizzes or something. So there’s a lot of literacy that needs to be developed and a certain amount of troubleshooting that a student can conduct on their own to figure it out very quickly, even if they haven’t been formally trained in it. Marco Campana 30:14That’s great. First of all, thank you for reading the report. I appreciate that. Um, secondly, that idea actually came out of those consultations, in particular with ESL and FSL. Teachers, because I think they’re so attuned to the benchmark idea. And, and what we’ve seen is that you could have someone who’s maybe a CLB, three, but they could be, you know, digital, their digital literacy could be incredibly high. And we see a lot of that, like you mentioned, with WhatsApp, for example, a lot of folks are very digitally literate about their smartphones, because it’s been a lifeline during migration, for example, and they use it every day, in you know, to connect with friends and family as as part of their settlement journey. So this, this idea of those those, those nuances, and again, I go back to the sort of the research where people thought, Well, if you’ve got little benchmarks, you might have trouble with E learning. And it might be the opposite. For example, they might be very competent with the digital, and just, it can help them get over the hump, but but it’s their language skills that are that are that are more that are lower, but bringing the two together might actually help bring the language skills up, because they’re comfortable already in the in the digital space, for example. So I agree, I think it’s a really fun idea. And when people people brought it up, I thought who I mean, that’s something that it makes a lot of sense, especially from saving time. And, you know, from the settlement side, and just to let you know, in terms of for Nico, I’m the organization I’m looking at implementing it with, we’re looking at it for a broad dissemination of bringing through settlement clients as well, because I think that the content and the curriculum is so is broad enough that it can help prepare for all of the things that you just mentioned, for example, like it’s, you know, and again, I love that each module has a little test, do you need to take this module, for example, I love that it’s not you must go through and you mentioned it earlier, as well, the idea of, you know, as a frontline worker, I can say, Oh, you know, what, I think you should just watch this video or read through the six, the six chapters or something like that, rather than having to go through the entire elearning system, the flexibility of that, that you’ve built in that design is really useful as well. So so just to let you know, I think it’s got, it’s got applications beyond language learning already. And I can see it being used in that way in, in settlement organizations. So, so well done in the design, for sure. So speaking of organizations, what kind of uptake and response Have you been getting from organizations to reuse Nico in their own spaces, Whitney Loewen 32:28it’s been pretty popular, honestly, we’ve been really happy to see how many people have been requesting the materials. I don’t have exact numbers, but it’s been fairly consistent, especially during the pandemic, I think, now as we’re coming out of it, and people can take, take a step back and breathe and think, okay, you know, we just dealt with this very acute problem, but how do we prepare people in the future? How do we, you know, take some time to get them up to where they need to be. And Nico can really fill that that gap, I think, I know that there are some sector initiatives, or at least some interest from umbrella organizations and sector organizations in developing further elearning programs. Because of course, they’re not all going to necessarily look like Nico, because that’s, that’s for one type of learner. But there are other types that need to be supported, particularly for like literacy learners or lower, lower English levels, or for very high level learners as well. And you know, that’s a potential. So there’s a lot of different directions to go. And we’ve been really pleased with what Nico has been able to do during the pandemic. But I think there’s a lot of research that can still come out of that. Marco Campana 33:28And are there plans that ties to do to build on Nico? I mean, you, you mentioned you already doing other elearning projects, you’ve gotten some provincial funding during the pandemic? Were you looking to take what you’ve learned from Nico, in the future? Whitney Loewen 33:43Yeah, that’s a great question. We don’t have anything formalized right now. But I mean, as we were just talking about, there’s all sorts of directions that you could take it in, I think that that would be a really great option for further innovative practices. We are working on some other elearning projects in the background, those that’s never far from our minds. And I think that you raised a good point about looking into what are other sectors are doing, you know, what are our employment instructors doing? What are our peer settlement assessors doing? And and how can we sort of draw them into the fold and have one big elearning strategy for everybody so that we may be working on our own individual platforms and on slightly different things, but how do we have this common thread and this common vision that we can work towards? I think that’s probably what we’re going to be aiming for in the future. Marco Campana 34:23Yeah, that’s great. I mean, it’s good to hear that because I think that’s something we learned during the task group as well is that we brought together the what are in some way siloed parts of settlement or ircc, funding the settlement with language learning, and we found there were so many things that could be learned both ways, especially given the common experience of the last year, but in particular, because you know, the language sector is so much further ahead when it comes to E learning and blended learning and as you’re describing even this classroom, plus people at home. I haven’t heard many examples of that. So the the innovation that you’re building on would be really useful to continue to kind of learn from and capture, but across the sector. You know, a As you mentioned, there’s there’s housing workers, there’s employment workers, there’s healthcare workers, there’s settlement workers, there’s so many other organizational colleagues and you know, many silos within organizations that could benefit from this kind of learning. So I’m hoping to share that out to people and show them that this isn’t just an ESL project, this isn’t just the language project, but that the applications in particular, because of the flexibility you’ve built into Nico, this could be really useful for any of their clients, they just need to take the time to assess it. And the final question I have, I guess, is I noticed that students can can can access Nikko through your site. Is that just for people in your catchment area? Or is that from if a student is interested from anywhere in Canada? Whitney Loewen 35:40Anyone or anywhere? Yeah, anyone from anywhere would be welcome to come into our website, it’s immigrant dash education.ca. And they’re welcome to sign themselves up if they would like or their teacher can sign themselves up, or you can just shoot me an email, we can include that later, I think, and I’d be happy to send out the course materials, and you could install it on your own Moodle, whether it’s just a few pieces, or whether it’s the whole thing, sky’s the limit. And we’ve as we’ve been saying, so we’d love if other people are using it, Marco Campana 36:07for sure. But it sounds like if let’s say I’m I’m a newcomer and the organization I’m working with doesn’t have an LMS or isn’t that technologically advanced, I could still access these materials through your website as a learner. Whitney Loewen 36:17Certainly, yeah, we hope everybody does, regardless of where they are, we’d be happy to welcome anybody into the program. So they can make a request at any time. And we were happy to hook them up. Marco Campana 36:26That’s fantastic. And I think, again, that’s part of what we are learning over the last year is the accessibility of technology, so that someone in St. John’s can access this information, even though they might not have the service locally, or the local organization has an installed Niko, they can still get access to this and learn and improve their skills to be able to take something that might be local in the end. Whitney Loewen 36:45Absolutely. And I think that one of the big plus sides of everything that’s happened in the pandemic has been flexibility. And that’s when we really excelled. I know that you also mentioned that your research is one of the findings is when our funders have worked with us, and they’ve listened to what we’re saying about what the needs of our students are or where we’ve identified, okay, you know, we can still offer this program, but we just want to tweak it a little bit, because we think it’ll be even better or it’ll be more effective. When we’ve had the freedom to do that when they’ve given us a license to do that. I think that’s when you’re really seeing the gains and the really interesting new learning that’s come up during this pandemic. So I hope and and things that such as sharing the course material broadly, right, not just being restricted to permanent residence and refugees in Calgary, but to people learning in Charlottetown, or Winnipeg, or anywhere, right. We hope that everybody can access it. So when that flexibility is there, then that’s when we’re at our best, I think that it should be like the the catch word for eLearning going forward. Marco Campana 37:41I think that’s a great a great note to end on. Because I got I mean, I completely agree, I think you’ve built a model that does exactly that. And it sounds like both your provincial and federal funders are looking at this and saying, oh, there is perhaps something interesting here. So maybe we can continue this learning this this type of model of effectiveness, efficiency, but also accessibility well beyond the pandemic is something that could become foundational for the sector itself. Whitney Loewen 38:04Certainly, yeah. Yeah. I hope that’s the way that we’re going in the future. I’m optimistic. But we’ll have to see. Absolutely, no, Marco Campana 38:11I am as well. But I mean, it’s I feel like they’re listening in a way that perhaps they have an impact, because we’re all going through this together. There’s a shared experience. Now they’re working from home as well, there’s suddenly a realization of things that can be done. There are also realizations of the challenges that are there that we can build, build support for. But those all require resources. So I want to thank you. But I also want to ask you, is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you want to share about the project or about where you’re headed, or what ties is doing around innovation and technology? Whitney Loewen 38:39I don’t have anything specific. But I really, I hope that there will be a little bit more emphasis on people working together on sharing knowledge, intersect orally, and and even within the sector. I hope that we can really come together in some ways. I know that there have been efforts to do you do that. But I think that some organizations, especially smaller ones, may have been left behind from time to time. So I hope that we can figure out a way that we can all be in constant communication when we would like to be about what we’re doing. Because I do think that that’s the way forward. I think that’s the only way that we can do this effectively. I think our funders have, you know, they’ve definitely noticed the elephant in the room. There’s no ignoring elearning right now. And so I think there’s a lot of promise. But it can only really happen if we’re all sharing ideas with one another and being in constant communication. Marco Campana 39:22I completely agree. And I think that’s a wonderful note to end on. So thank you so much for sharing beyond Nico. As it turns out the the really interesting work that you’re doing at times and and for being an innovator in that what you just described in terms of sharing, and being open to providing the resources that you’ve created to a broader audience. I think I agree. I think that’s the future of the sector and a lot of ways and I think you’ve built something that will hopefully, I mean, it sounds like it’s very popular already, but will resonate with people not just because of the content, but also the model and the way that you’re sharing it. So I really appreciate you taking the time to, to kind of share this with me and my audience. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Awesome. All right. And and recording. Thank you so much. That was Transcribed by https://otter.ai
12 Jul 2021
TiHS Episode 27: Somerset West Community Health Centre – digital equity & virtual care
Welcome to episode 27 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this episode, I’m chatting with a few folks from the Somerset West Community Health Centre in Ottawa about their experiences with digital equity and virtual care. On the line with me are Sue Merrill, Manager of Quality Improvement, Planning and Evaluation, Lisa Vadeboncoeur, Digital Equity and Virtual Progamming Project Assistant, Magda Osman, Community Health Promoter. I connected with Sue late in the Fall of 2020 after I saw their request for proposals for a Digital Equity and Virtual Programming Capacity Building Project. Digital equity is something that has come to everyone’s attention during the pandemic as a huge issue and challenge in newcomer communities. It was exciting to see an organization formally tackling the issue in our sector and I wanted to learn more. Fast forward to June 2021 and we have all learned a lot. It seemed like a good time to find out Somerset West Community Health Centre’s experience with their project, and what we can all learn from them. As you’ll hear, they’re still learning, but what they have implemented with a little bit of funding is valuable for us all. I hope you enjoy the conversation. You can learn more about their project in the Settlement Sector & Technology Task Group AMSSA Lecture webinar recording. 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 0:00Welcome to Episode 27 of the technology and Human Services podcast. In this episode, I’m chatting with a few folks from the Somerset West Community Health Center in Ottawa, about their experiences with digital equity in virtual care. on the line with me, we’re Sue Merrill, manager of quality improvement planning and evaluation, Lisa van debunker, digital equity and virtual programming project assistant, and Magda Osman community health promoter. I connected with Sue late in the fall of 2020, after I saw their request for proposals for a digital equity and virtual programming capacity building project. Digital equity is something that has come to everyone’s attention during the pandemic as a huge issue and challenge in many communities, including newcomer communities, it was exciting to see an organization formally tackling the issue in our sector. And I wanted to learn more. Fast forward to June 2021. And we have all learned a lot, it seemed like a good time to find out Somerset West Community Health Center’s experience with their project. And while we can all learn from them, as you’ll hear, they’re still learning. But what would they have implemented with a little bit of funding is valuable for us all. I hope you enjoy the conversation. Marco Campana 1:03Welcome, Sue. And Lisa to the technology and Human Services podcast, I’ll let you both introduce yourselves, the organization you’re with and the work that you’re doing, and then we’ll kind of dive in. Sue Merrill 1:13I’m Sue Merrill. I’m the manager of quality improvement planning and evaluation at Somerset West Community Health Center. Lisa Vadeboncoeur 1:22I’m Lisa Vadeboncoeur, and I’m the project assistance for the digital equity project that we are currently running. Great, thank you both for joining me. And this all sort of came about because of an RFP that I came across, I think, on charity village probably almost a year ago, where you were really looking to it and this was, you know, after we’ve all pivoted, we’re all working digitally working remotely. And you put out an RFP for a digital equity and virtual program, capacity building project, which really caught my eye because as we were doing some work, even before the the settlement sector technology task group, Marco Campana 2:01the idea of digital equity and digital inclusion and the digital divide had really started to come to the fore in our sector. And I think in a way that perhaps it hadn’t in the past, we were all kind of aware of it. But I think with with the complete pivot remotely, it was something that all of a sudden, we were all faced with both within our organizations as well as in communities. And so I’d really love to maybe you can give us kind of an overview of where that came from and how it started and, and why. Sue Merrill 2:30Sure. So when like everyone else, when COVID hit, and we had to pivot non essential in person services to something virtual, we just did what everyone else did, we tried our best and some stuff kind of picked it up really quick, Trevor had a gift for it, other people had no clue. And so we just we, we started with what I call our first phase, which was just jumping in and doing the best we could with what we had, which wasn’t a lot, no dedicated staffing, no funding, no specialists. And we just gathered the people who seem to be good at it in a kind of cross team community of practice to share tips. And we volunteered to put down in writing little cheat sheets for those staff who were struggling and trying to like, just help each other, build our capacity from whoever knew the most already and spread that out. But it was clear that there was a lot more that needed to be done, especially when it came to supporting clients. And we knew right away that there was one thing to get our our services pivoted and get the staff trained to do it virtually. But there were a whole bunch of clients who wouldn’t be able to participate because they didn’t have the device or the knowledge or whatnot. So we knew we had some donations early on of devices. And we thought, Okay, great, we’ll get these out. And that’ll solve all our problems. And we learned really quickly that having devices did not solve our problems. It just showed us how much work it would take to bring real equity around technology that it wasn’t just about a device, it wasn’t just about a how to sheet, it wasn’t just about helping a client learn to use zoom, it was a really complex piece of work. And because we are focused on removing barriers to people who are vulnerable, we do it in all kinds of other ways. This became very quickly a priority for us to figure it out how to how to build equity. With this new technology when none of us, none of us were experts, we really hadn’t thought about it before. So that led us to this idea. We had a small grant that we had we could use for whatever we wanted from TELUS and we thought this would be a great way to learn more. It wasn’t enough to buy devices at that point or not more than a few devices. So we thought we would use it instead. to hire someone to really help us get our act together and build our own internal capacity, learn more and to really map out what the barriers were around equity for for different client groups because no one was the same. Some people needed a phone some people had a phone but that was too small. If you’re a Chinese senior, you’re needs are very different than someone who’s living in a rooming house. So we use the the RFP in this project to really map out the different barriers, the different needs and the different types of pathways that would help different client groups get closer to an equitable digital participation. And at the same time, we recognize that our staff, many of our staff represent the clients we serve. They’re working from home, some of them had the same barriers, I had some of the same barriers, I didn’t know how to use a lot of the technology I, we didn’t have the best broadband at home. So we also had to work at internally, building our skills and figuring out our own technological challenges. So that was phase two. And through that whole time, we knew we needed more devices. But we also knew that we needed staff support to really work that whole complex process. So we wrote some, we wrote a series of different proposals, and we were lucky to get to funded, which allowed us to hire what I call a digital equity and virtual programming team, project manager and client support folks, three people who really have spearheaded this thing. And that’s when we saw some really big changes and really big impacts because they can support the staff, they can match and do much more detailed needs assessments, they can do the procuring and the researching and the trial and error and problem solve and monitor the use and provide support to the clients. So that’s where we’re at now. Marco Campana 6:36So I mean, it sounds like there’s, there’s there’s so much to unpack below the surface of what went into it, but but even just the investment, so a team of three people to help support both staff as well as clients. We’re hearing a lot from from other organizations that they’ve either had to repurpose staff, or get a short term amount of money, whether it’s from a foundation or even from, from a main funder to create digital navigators to create other kinds of roles. And, and so I wonder if we can step back a little bit to look at when you brought in the consultants, what that what that process was like, and what it what it did for you, because I know that a lot of organizations are even a year into this are still trying to figure out how to get it right. You know, what, what are the what’s the right way to build a foundation, we’re all just kind of doing, and we want to be able to evaluate it, we want to be able to figure out moving forward, this isn’t going away, you know, we eventually we won’t be fully digital, and some already aren’t, but will be hybrid, we’ll be using technology more and more. So I’m curious about the value of having somebody come in and work through a process with you and your staff, and what that looks like, Sue Merrill 7:36the very first step, when we hired the consultant, what the first thing that that meant was, I could oversee the direction, which was around equity and quality service, which I know about. But I didn’t have the expertise to lead a project about this, I was one of the people who needed training. So that already helped me right away, because then I could focus on what I’m good at the strategy and getting people engaged across the organization, looking for funds, looking at partnerships, that’s my role. And the consultant became a subject matter expert who could really drill down meet with the teams figure out what they needed, make suggestions that they might not have thought of come up with some responses. They also, you know, through talking to the teams realize that a lot of people were ready for a little more training on engagement that like using the tool is one thing, but using the tool effectively. So having a screen of people who don’t talk and nobody says anything. You know, we wanted to get to that place. Now. We’ve got people on But now what do we do with them? So so she did a we called them? Marco Campana 8:41I think you told me they were the digital cafes. Sue Merrill 8:43Yeah, digital cafes. So we wanted staff to have like an informal interactive approach to training not like we know, there’s a million Google like there’s a million YouTube videos where people if they were really wanting to, but it’s always the early adopters who do that stuff that we’re working with the people who aren’t going to do that I’m not going to Google a tutorial, and we’ll go through it. So we did it. So as interactive groups where we could practice stuff, and she could show us how things work, she talked about things like turning off the camera because it leads to zoom fatigue, and that that’s okay gave some good strategies for how to engage people using the like buttons and the emotional because the research has shown that if you don’t engage them quickly, they tune out or they multitask. So lots of good tips and tricks that was really one of the first cafes we did. And then through all that we also did a design lab on how to really like come up, we came up with sort of profiles of clients and the type of barriers they would face and made it real and then really talk through what would be the steps overcome those barriers to the digital divide and the inequity. And that helped us really understand the complexity more and point to solutions. So that by the time we got money for devices, we could jump to the what I call the phase three, which was building the capacity of clients to be able to access a device that worked for them to have Access the service that they wanted to access. Unknown Speaker 10:03So in many ways, you’re playing an entirely new role as an organization as a technology mediator, facilitator and supporter, which is a huge learning curve. And so it sounds like it was helpful to go through that process, but also then to get some funding to create this team. So maybe we can speak a little bit to the client side of what that experience was like, because again, you serve such a diversity of people, and some more vulnerable than others, some more digitally literate than others, etc. So what that what that role that was kind of looked like and what it’s been, what it’s been like, since you’ve been able to implement it, and in particular with the team, Magda, do you feel comfortable just even giving some examples of the kinds of supports or different things the difference it made for clients off the cuff? Well, yeah, absolutely. Hey, hi, everyone. Welcome. Thank you for joining us. Magda Osman 10:51Thank you. So I am a health promoter at Somerset West. So I work with within community development. So a lot of the Magda Osman 11:01community members that received the the devices were mainly people in need of laptops. So we didn’t distribute any cell phones, flip phones, smartphones, or, or tablets. Because they were predominantly families. And it was a lot of people in one house, usually just one device. And that device was offered through the school. And then when lockdown wasn’t happening, I’m not 100% sure if they were required to return it or not. So there was just a lot of questions about what was happening with the devices from the schools. We were hearing incidences of like mothers who were doing schooling online, virtually through their cell phones, doing all their courseworks, you know, project work everything, writing essays, everything off their cell phones using Google Docs on their smartphones. And we can imagine how challenging would be to write an essay on a smartphone. And that’s the kind of context they were living in working in and then trying to navigate. And then we also heard, families tell us that it would having this device would drastically improve their quality of life. Because it would allow them to connect to more services that were taking place, virtually, it would give them a level of autonomy, where instead of having to depend on others, or calling other people to get those supports, having that device would give them back a sense of control and autonomy throughout their day to day life. And then also, it would kind of mitigate some of the risks that they were being exposed to without a device. So their services were that are offered completely virtually. And in order to sometimes access it, they’d have to come into the office to connect with a staff or things like that, but if they’re able to do things virtually, they’re not having to take public transportation or things like that, they can have that virtual connection. So we did see a lot of positive impacts there. And I do know there were some other people who needed cell phones from my team. I I’m not connected to the, to those individuals, but I do know, it was distributed. And it was a really big issue that people didn’t even have cell phones to connect with people and they they couldn’t connect with neighbors they weren’t able to access Food Bank because everything you have to call in advance now. They getting access to the most basic needs was a huge barrier without that device. And the way we even found out that that was a barrier was when the income tax clinic happened. And to I see you nodding so I heard this secondhand Sue, if you have more context, please jump in. But people were like sharing their neighbor’s phones or friend’s phones. And they we book an appointment with them to try and call them back. But if they weren’t with their friend at that exact time, we couldn’t get ahold of that person anymore. So like Marco Campana 14:19old school party lines, one phone line for the entire building done a thing, right? Sue Merrill 14:24Wow. Yeah, we had it. Sorry. Go ahead. Sorry. No, please jump in. I was gonna say we’ve heard a lot of that like I don’t think we realized how many people relied on neighbors for phone communication. But back before I think it was still a barrier like you said, but it was hidden because people would just do things in person. But once you remove the option to do it in person, they are suddenly completely cut off. And so we were amazed at how many like we have we have primary healthcare as well as social services and all the all the docs are making their appointments by phone now, and so couldn’t even reach people to make their appointment. So there was a For the Ottawa, new comer Health Center, and that’s what she said she was totally relying on her neighbors to make her doctor’s appointments and to find her. And so with the lockdown, she couldn’t access any of those. So the phone was like this enormous freedom. And then she, like you said mega, then she tapped into all kinds of other things. She could join other groups. She could call her, her neighbors, she could have social things, she started learning sup to you some apps, so she wasn’t so isolated. But it started off as like, how do you how does she even reach her doctor, we also had an example of someone who, again, they were getting specialized COVID testing through us, but they didn’t have access to a phone. So we didn’t know how we would reach them. And so we gave them a phone while lent them a phone. And sure enough, they tested positive. So we were able to reach them, get them into voluntary isolation, connect them to all the wraparound supports, but like just letting people know they tested positive would have been impossible. It’s amazing. And I mean, it’s, I think it would be, it’s probably shocking to a lot of people to hear that the phone, having a phone, forget the internet, but having just a phone, and a phone line was a barrier, Marco Campana 16:07I think we have a sense that everyone at least has a phone. So you can at least make calls and things like that. But even the cost of a phone, whether it’s a landline, or a cell phone, even a basic cell phone is out of some people’s reach. So that I mean, that’s not something we heard a lot of because in the task group, for example, we heard a lot of stories of they don’t have internet, but they have a phone. So at least we’re talking to them on the phone for hours at a time to help them feel less isolated to give them that kind of service. But and Maggie, I see you shaking your head. So in this case, it was actually people who didn’t even have the device. You know, forget the device, they didn’t have a phone line, not even a landline, for example, to be able to do this so that the vote the incredible vulnerability in those situations, and your ability to identify that is it when we think about technology, we’re all kind of thinking high up. But this is like basic, basic foundational stuff that people don’t even have in the community. That’s, that’s amazing. That’s fascinating. That’s why I’m sorry, No, go ahead. Magda Osman 17:02I was gonna say even before the lockdown, a lot of community members would come into the community hosts, or community spaces and request to use their cell phone. And it was always an issue for us to get in contact with a lot of our clients, because their phones would be disconnected on and off numbers would constantly be changing, things like that. And like we would have several other relatives listed things. So there were work around, or you could just knock on their door. But then when the lockdown happened, I remember we all went into panic mode because we’re like, how are we going to get a hold of people knew their situation, kids. Already, we’re having trouble with completing homework, if it was being sent through Google Docs, with their schools, and this is before lockdown. Because they would have to come into the community house to do that, or print off their homework or access internet. So we already knew it was going to be an issue. And we went into like crisis mode advocacy right away. Because we knew people were going to fall through the cracks because this equity, digital equity was an ongoing issue. Marco Campana 18:12It was already an issue Preet predating COVID, obvious I’m wondering Magda as well, you talked about giving devices to people. But what about connectivity? So for example, in some cases, just the phone is enough, and they have the phone, but then internet an internet connection? Was that something that you were also able to offer them or, or help facilitate in some way? Magda Osman 18:32So do you want to answer that a bit more? Sue Merrill 18:35Yeah, part of what made this project so complex was trying to figure all that out. And it turns out, it’s actually really hard to get internet for people because there’s to connect them to a provider, there’s contracts, they have to have a modem or router, they don’t know how long they’re gonna have that deal. Even if you can get a good deal, they’re nervous that they’ll go over. So even though it doesn’t feel like the best long term strategy, what we ended up doing was using a variety of either data plans or and this is where at least I might be able to answer this I can’t there’s like firestick, there’s a mobile hotspot, I don’t know, we came up with different ways of getting people so that they could use the device without having to install something in their in their apartment or their home, Marco Campana 19:16right or have a long term contract that they have a year from now, there may not be able to sustain for example, right. Sue Merrill 19:22And I think this is where, you know, I’ll be taking part and hopefully our center and other people will be trying to take part in some of these more collective impact and advocacy initiatives. Because really, really, you know, we know that from an equity point of view. Free quality broadband should be a fundamental human right now, like we cannot function without it. So we’re it’s like we’re taking buckets of water to people instead of giving them plumbing. You know, it’s I feel like that’s what we’re doing. And we’re doing it because that’s the only option we have in the short term, but it’s not a sustainable practice to be buying data plans and devices for every single person like You know, that’s that’s not the way to solve this problem. Well, no one I mean, we can respond in the in the crisis. Marco Campana 20:07And that works for people who you’re serving, but there’s plenty of people who don’t take good services anywhere necessarily. So how do they access? So if it’s not fundamental, if it’s not a human, right, and and everyone has access, then it’s still, it’s still an inclusion issue, right? Because if I’m getting services from an organization that has digitally become literate, and has a program that lends you the devices and bandwidth, and I mean, the learning curve is so steep for the organization itself, and it takes away from your, in theory, from your basic kind of reason for the services that you’re offering. And even though you’ve been able to kind of deal with it, and in fact, thrive in this, it’s a it’s a massive shift in the way that you you do your work. Whereas if it was something more fundamental and baseline for everyone, then you could work with people around digital literacy, but not necessarily on digital access, for example, right. Sue Merrill 20:55actly Exactly. Which would be more our wheelhouse, I think, you know, because we do that kind of work. And it’s, uh, you know, I, as someone who writes a lot of our funding proposals and tries to find resources for all our gaps and services of the emerging needs. This is a this is a challenge for me, because every time you go, there’s a limit to how much we can ask for we just went through it with a big ask for the City of Ottawa. And do I asked for digital navigator? Or do I ask for a mental health counselor, what a choice to have to make the choice I have to make, and I can only ask for this amount of money. So in the end, you know, I didn’t actually include much around digital equity. And because I do see, it’s important, but I do feel like it’s going to be maybe one of the long games where we’re going to have to keep building our internal we’re gonna have to, I think staff will probably often have to piggyback it on their rules, or we’ll do like we did in this situation where we say we hired a digital equity team. But basically, Lisa is really great at this stuff. She was already working part time for us, we we just switched her role we redeployed her, but it’s still part time, and it’s not ongoing. So that’s not a great thing. We had someone else who works four days a week running a program for Chinese seniors who’s very tech savvy. So they spend one day a week now doing digital navigation for those clients. But that’s only because they were part time, Marco Campana 22:16when also because they had the previous technology. It’s the serendipity week, again, we hear this a lot in settlement organizations, there was an admin person who happened to be techno literate, and like teaching other people technology. So we shifted her role. And then there are organizations where they didn’t have that capacity. And so they’re still struggling with clients and with staff to deal with all of this. So that whole inconsistency across it’s based on Well, you happen to have someone who can do it on the side of their desk. And now we can formally recognize that, but that’s not sustainable at all isn’t. And then the competition for dollars if like, if you’re going to a core funder, well, eventually everyone is going to have a digital component to their job. But that requires itself baselining and training and getting people comfortable. Because not everyone certainly is comfortable with technology. But in the interim di D, what choice do you ask for a mental health professional or a digital professional and like that, that’s a terrible choice to have to be forced to make? Yeah, for sure. I Sue Merrill 23:09think if we all had, you know, in the olden days, when there was a bit more admin staff, there was a bit more infrastructure support, we could probably absorb that a lot better. But we’ve all been cut down to the bone, right? So there’s very little non direct service budget, right. So that’s like why I even took this on, because I’m one of the few managers who doesn’t have a whole huge amount of program and response. So I can look at the cross team responses. But it’s, it wasn’t part of this job prior to COVID. But I think it will be an ongoing part of this job now is to kind of keep digital equity on the on the map. And luckily Somerset West is unique in a lot of ways, and that we have a cross team equity committee. So what I’ve been doing is bringing this work to the equity committee just because we look at all kinds of other things, we work from an anti oppression framework. And this is one of many systemic barriers that that impact our clients. And so just like we do in all kinds of ways, we might give a bus tickets for a transportation barrier or hire a cultural interpreter or people with lived experience for other access. Now, we need to build in digital equity. So we need to find ways as a center to address it. But we also need to be supporting a different approach as a society so that we could do less of that and more of just the drink service, which is what we’re here for. Marco Campana 24:32Right? I wonder if you could speak a little bit though, to the internal capacity, because you did spend a bunch of time with the consultant in getting staff up to date. And I know that in some of our previous interactions, you sent me some schedules even of like, you know, with some of the Chinese seniors on zoom or on WeChat and different technologies, and what some of the successes have been around being able to pivot with those clients who you were either IE you were either either able to get up to digital literacy or they already had it and then perhaps even with just with the device or In the process of shifting your programming, how you’ve been able to continue to serve your populations? Sue Merrill 25:06Yeah, so one of the things we did in the phase one, the jumping in is, you know, we sent out a Google form to all the staff and just said, Can you fill this out? If you’re doing something virtual, because we didn’t even know how many people were doing it, we had no idea. And back then that was within the first couple of months of COVID, we found that there were 45 different activities being offered across the organization, which just blew my mind, I had no idea. They were like, you know, from Chinese line dancing on zoom to, you know, circle time, playgroups to like the Children’s Services had started a YouTube channel where they just put stories and music that people could access parents could access anytime, a real variety of neat things happening. So then we use that Google form to say, Well, what else would you need from the organization, and that’s the place to train us show us how to do this. And devices for clients. And so that’s when we did the RFP. And then through the RFP, I think we started to build this kind of community of practice, which I think has been one of the real silver linings of COVID. As an organization, we’re quite big, we’ve grown a lot. And it’s harder to keep being integrated across. We’re a one stop shop, a hub, which is a strength. But when you get too big, sometimes it becomes almost like every program can become its own little silo. Right? So I think what’s happened is this work crosses everybody. Everybody’s got a way they have to deliver whatever they did before even the docks, right. So I think what this did is it one, the consultant was able to bring us together and give real training and one on one coaching, recognizing that there was a digital divide even on our staff. And so for some, some staff, they just needed to have someone asked questions and point them in troubleshoot. I think that helped a lot that they had somebody they could go to, because before that nobody knew who would you go to. And then we had these regular meetings of people who were you could share tips and kind of identify issues and whatnot. So I think that just helped build our conversation and our knowledge base around it. We’ve been collecting a lot of tools that other groups have done, and Lisa and the consultant are, are putting this in a sort of iterative Handbook, which will have everything that staff will need. So we’re hoping that that will be the go to resource when the project’s over. If we don’t, if we’re not able to sustain hiring a specialist, whether it’s a consultant or staff that they’ll at least be a an online toolbox that really has all this. So I think in that way, we really have built our capacity. And I feel like I’ve learned a lot more to so I can kind of start building some structures. What I am worried about is the idea of the client support, I think that’s going to be an ongoing need this digital navigation as the term, I think we will need that it is a different skill set than frontline service delivery. And I don’t think it makes sense to have trained all our staff constantly to show people how to get on zoom, I think it’s almost like a, like you have an IT help desk. It’s almost like we need a client digital navigate hell. So that’s what I see is the ongoing need that I’m still not quite sure how we’re going to Marco Campana 28:11sustain. Yeah, no. And I think that’s a long term issue that I think all funders are kind of trying to deal with as well. So Lisa, you want to jump in Go ahead. Lisa Volkow 28:18I just just to add to that, I think, from what we’ve seen from clients is their family will often step in to help them which one of the, one of the teams, I was supposed to support the clients. There was 10 tablets. And we’ve, after they were delivered, that the tablets, the families were will help, will help they were mainly seniors, so we will help them. So in the end, they didn’t really need as much support as we had anticipated. So but these again, are it’s a learning experience of Oh, okay, well go within try and find the resource if you can, but if not, yes, then there might there would be a need. Marco Campana 29:04Yeah, and I mean, it sounds like you have to kind of plan for there to be a need and hope for the best. But if you don’t plan for that, and there is a need, if all of those 10 all needed your support, then you would have had to provide it in this case, it was useful because you had community members who could help or family members, but but you still have to at least anticipate, you know, the lowest level of of literacy in some ways, or else you won’t be able to serve them. Right. Sue Merrill 29:26And I think there is a role for volunteer engagement and this is just that again, in a crisis situation to it. There’s resources and time and, and work that go into finding recruiting, screening, onboarding of volunteers. And so that doesn’t happen. Like it isn’t a replacement. You know, it’s it’s a it’s a longer term strategy as well, but it, it has its own work associated with it. And I did find that challenging during the the COVID, especially during lock downs, you know, to try to find and sustain that kind of support. So that was why in the end by phase three, I was like, I need a team, I need that to be a job. This is a job. This isn’t like a nice to have this extra complement. You know, and I think there’ll be roles for volunteers. But again, I think if you’re Reliant for a service delivery, that’s not the role of a volunteer to be Unknown Speaker 30:18well, uniquely service provider. Well, you Marco Campana 30:20also need to you need consistency in that service. And you can’t, I mean, again, you either all of a sudden, you’ve got two volunteer coordinators, because you’re trying to turn people through because there’s always turnover, or you just have that money as as to hire a digital navigator or to for example, in it and sell priorities. You know, Sue Merrill 30:37there’s a lot of risk management around that too, because you’re helping, like, even if you get volunteers to set up the devices, well, like, what if there’s some kind of, you know, there’s all kinds of privacy and security issues that have to be managed? And I we don’t have the expertise to even manage? You know, it’s like, I joke about like, people would ask me, if I put controls on my teenagers, computers, it’s like my teen. And I would have to ask my teenager how to put the control on the computer, right? So we’re not even in a position to monitor a volunteer. So So again, we still need to leave, you still need subject matter experts, you still need people with technological know how and then maybe you could build your team to include some some key volunteers. So I do see that as a longer term strategy, erase. Marco Campana 31:20It does raise a really important question, though, that comes up a lot, which is in particularly because you’re in the health sector around privacy, security and confidentiality. I mean, in your case, in some cases, you’re managing personal health information. And there’s legislation about the privacy, the paida and fippa, for example, in settlement, people are still trying to figure that out. They just so many different kinds of devices, so many different kinds of technologies and channels and modalities, how have you been able to deal with that in in training staff and interacting with clients and ensuring that the tools and I remember in your RFP way back when there wasn’t a couple of technologies that we you were you were either already using or wanted to look into, which are specific to the health sector and have encryption and security baked baked into them? Is that something you’ve continued to explore? Sue Merrill 32:04Yeah, this is where another like when I think about the phases, the first phase, we did cheat sheets, we kind of asked what other people were doing. And basically what we decided was most of the platforms. For Non clinical, we cannot use zoom or any of these things for anything clinical or where private health information will be discussed, you have to use the OT n, which was very buggy at that time and not user friendly. But that was like a hard line we had to draw because of the privacy. But eventually, we migrated over to a new EMR that was electronic medical record, pa suites, which has a virtual component that’s much more user friendly. So once we had done that, which had nothing to do with COVID, we were just on track, then people that got a lot easier for the medical and clinical there were still there’s still a desire for a zoom version that is HIPAA compliant. And we’ve been in talks with zoom through some of our partners and networks. And it’s been very complicated to find out whether or not it really is football or not, is it USB? Like it’s very hard, and it’s very expensive. And we have not landed there yet. So where we have very limited tools for clinical work for non clinical work for group we’re doing what a lot. The first phase, a lot of what people did is we basically read a waiver, we said, virtual is not as secure as in person, we cannot guarantee that this will be jumping, we cannot guarantee you that, you know we can just give you and then people have to make informed consent to stay on. Marco Campana 33:34But that’s important. And being able to have that conversation and have the literacy internally to be able to talk to clients about that is that is essential, right, Sue Merrill 33:41very early on, we came up with a script that we would all share different people tweaked it. And then over time, we came up with a basic guideline for staff that said, This is what you have to do you have to read the statement out you have to and we we did subscribe to zoom Pro. And we we gave recommendations around using waiting rooms, and we had a couple of zoom bombings. And then we had like debriefs on what people could do. But still pretty much letting the staff other than the following the script not being able to do whatever. Now we’ve just heard from our sort of sector, that more stringent guidelines have come out around virtual and there will be expectations that we are now meeting a higher. So that’s actually the phase we’re in now, even even for the non clinical pieces. Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s mostly built for the clinical. It’s just that, again, we’re a health center. And you know, if we’re doing a wellness group with seniors, I think we’re getting to the place where we’re saying we really should be using. We have to balance the privacy for those groups with accessibility. So we’re Marco Campana 34:42huge, right? Yeah, Sue Merrill 34:44we have to we don’t want to create we know we can make it the most secure thing possible and no one would get on it and then that would be going against our equity lens. So we have to do this. So right now I would say there’s, we have somebody internally who’s working on our some of our policies. So we’re going Back to those policies and making sure there’s a section about virtual because we already have policies about privacy and security and informed consent. Now we have to make sure we add and then it maps to what the requirements are. So now we’re having to get a little more technical and a little more tight. And, and then we’ll have to do training with staff about that and make sure people know, okay, it was the Wild West at first, and this was good enough. And now this is the new normal and moving forward, we’re gonna have to do it like this. And so I think that’s really the phase. That’s one of the phases we’re in now and having to make some decisions organizationally about where’s the where’s the line between access and privacy? Yeah, I mean, that we feel comfortable. It’s all risk assessment, risk management, Marco Campana 35:45right. And again, I think a lot of organizations, it’s useful to hear that you’re going through that process, and that you’re, in fact, still kind of, and I think this is cyclical, too, because new technologies will present themselves new clients and the technologies they’re using will come into into our agencies, and we’ll be re reassessing risk constantly and changing it over time. So it’s like, it’s a new skill that is becoming part of your institutional kind of approach. Sue Merrill 36:07Exactly. And and that’s why I also think that there why you need somebody on your staff who can be really like be the advisor to this stuff. That’s been it’s been hard for us, we don’t have a go to we have a privacy officer, but they’re not. They don’t know about zoom. And so we so the the digital equity team has been playing that role for us, we we bring issues to them and say, Can you guys look into this, and then they talk to people, and they do some research? And they kind of, you know, come back with some recommendations. So and yeah, like you’re saying, like, the zoom came up with a new platform. So we’ve already ruled it out for clinical when they came back and said, Now we have something and we’re like, okay, let’s take a look. And then yeah, so I think it’s gonna be ongoing, you know? Yeah, I think it’ll be an ongoing. Marco Campana 36:47No, absolutely. And I mean, I think it’s great that you have the team and the subject matter experts, who have the time and space to kind of do that investigation as well. And I’m curious if you’re having conversations with other organizations, you mentioned, you’re getting some guidance from your regulatory or your, your association framework, is this something that you’re also having a conversation, you know, across with other organizations that sort of share your learning build a bigger community, for example? Sue Merrill 37:12Yeah, we’d like to be able to do that, especially because we did get funded to to really ramp some stuff up, whereas we know, some smaller organizations did not. So it’s partly why, you know, we take part in this podcast or an interviews and try to, you know, share, we were on the live call things to you. And I think, you know, at some point, we’ll probably put it out there a bit more like for the coalition of community health and resource centers and share some of the tools, especially when we get the handbook done, because the handbook we were working on, we saw a wealth, a community health center, and golf had had done one, and we really liked it. But we wanted to make it more custom to what we’re doing and what we’re learning. So I think we’ll do the same thing, try to share it out. As opportunities arise, we don’t have a sort of concrete plan at this point. But that’s kind of like I guess, phase four, is once we come up with our policies and the handbook, and we’ve really like nailed, I think we want to do a little, you know, knowledge transfer an exchange with some of the partners in the sector. And see, I think the other thing that I’m just starting to do is the Social Planning Council of Ottawa has a sort of new kind of collective impact approach in partnership with the National Capital Freenet Association, and they’re really looking at how to build, like, as a sort of planning. So I’m gonna sit on their Advisory Committee for that. So I see a lot of that kind of work sitting there. You know, we’re like one example, we’re but we’re a service provider. We’re one one group, we’re not like taking this on for everybody. But I think that that table, hopefully, I’m hoping that they’ll be having, they’ll be bringing people together convening, and giving opportunities for this type of sharing and strategy development. I know the Alliance for healthy communities, like our sort of Association of Community Health Centers, they’re developing a digital equity strategy and what they call a playbook. That will include kind of like community based response, but also advocacy and system based response. And they’re looking at also like targeted advocacy at different levels of government for different types of the strategy. So that more big picture systems piece, they’re kind of steering. So I, you know, I see us as kind of feeding into each of those. Well, sure, with your practical experience pushing it up to, you know, to help them make policy around. Yeah. And then we can try out some of the tools that other groups have and see if it works for us, you know, and because that’s always what’s frustrating with this work, we know that everyone’s struggling with the same thing, and that probably something exists somewhere that we don’t invent, but then you have to find it, you have to compile it, you have to figure it out. So sometimes Marco Campana 39:44you have to take all of that time and it may not be the right tool and the answer you’ve spent I know Yeah. It’s it’s, it’s a huge issue for sure. Because there are so many tools, right. I know that an employment or youth employment project, I think they compiled a database of 300 interesting technology tools that People were using in the sector. And it’s impossible for someone who’s just getting started to look at that and say, Well, I don’t even know, like, how do you even assess them? You know, like unique pages and interviews and documentation before you can even decide that this is the right tool. And before you dive in and spend money and time and resources, and you know, very few organizations have that capacity in terms of not just competency, but the capacity in the space and time to be able to do that, right. It’s a huge undertaking. And then of course, it all changes, right, like zoom is a great example, how much it has changed from the beginning of last year when it was the thing, and then No, it’s not secure, and now it’s encrypted. And now it’s, you know, more secure. And I mean, it’s, it’s hard, you know, even within one tool, how much it can change over a small period of time. So it’s hard to keep track of right. Sue Merrill 40:44Yeah, and maybe you might be able to speak more about this too. But the other thing we had to learn is that there are tools that communities are comfortable with. So sometimes we have to learn those tools, like WeChat is a very commonly used tool and a lot of, say different cultural groups. I don’t know, I don’t want the Chinese community. I don’t know exactly who uses what, but I know that when we got our like our community of practice together, it’s really, really interesting. Because there was some people, they’re like, Oh, yeah, no, my committee wouldn’t use zoom, we use WeChat. And I was like, Oh, I don’t even know how WeChat works. So, so a lot of it was like, What is the staff know, what is comfortable with? And let’s go out or what’s the community know, uncomfortable with? And then you know, so trying to make people you fit to yours. So that was why we opted not to be like, top down at the beginning, people were saying, Well, what are we allowed to use? What are we supposed to use, and our group met, and we’re like, well, we can’t find any significant differences, actually, between any of these, but like, they’re all they all have their, their potential risks. So we decided to go with what you’re comfortable with what your clients are comfortable with just the script and you know, do do what you can do. And again, I don’t know if you know, once we do this next level of looking at things, if we’re going to need to say, Oh, geez, some of them really have dropped down, and we can’t condone that. But I think for a lot of our groups, we can still do that. Like there’s social groups there. They’re connecting groups, they’re not highly personal. And I also thought that when we move to a hybrid model, where we can start doing some things in person that will free us up also to maybe do anything that’s a bit touchy we can do in person, and anything that’s a bit more like the extra and social connection and less risky we can do. Virtually. So Marco Campana 42:24yeah, and I think you make a really important point, there’s, there’s a lot of struggle with getting new clients and the technology they’re using, or do we make them use something we’re using, right? where a lot of organizations, for example, you know, teaching clients how to use email, because they weren’t given permission to use WhatsApp, and WeChat and Facebook and things like that. So they spent a lot of time teaching them a technology that inevitably will be useful for them down the line when they’re seeking employment, and you know, all those kinds of things, you know, an email address is different in North America than it is in some other countries in terms of importance, but in the moment, what would what would they prefer these perhaps would have been the solution to meet the clients where they’re comfortable instead of taking them out of their comfort zone in particular during a pandemic? So so that, yeah, that that that pressure? I hear a lot of that from other organizations as well. Sue Merrill 43:10Well, the other thing we learned, especially with some of the seniors, you know, when we first got this money, we thought we would, you know, we’ll we’ll get we’ll get devices into the hands of clients. And we’ll just get a zoom plan for two or three months just to see if it if they get it and they’re using it. And some of the seniors just said, Well, I’m not going to learn this new thing for two months. Like it’s not worth it. Marco Campana 43:30Right? Yeah. Fair enough. Sue Merrill 43:31First things that came back, like, expect me to do all that you might like, cut my plan or take this before like, Oh, Okay, nevermind, let’s, so the first thing that team came back to me and said, Okay, can we can we budget to get data until the summer? Like, let’s give them four days? And I was like, oh, okay, so that’s what we did. And then we bought fewer devices, but we tried to give more time for adoption. And so yeah, so I think we’re learning so many things as we go. Constantly. Yeah. So we had, we had, you know, seniors who weren’t using their device. And we finally were asking them what was happening and they were afraid of breaking it. And because it was a loaner program, they were, they were terrified that so they didn’t use it. They. So then we now we’ve ordered cases. And in fact, I just got one delivered lease, I gotta bring it in for Karen to test out. So we’re trying to like, like, meet all these different things that come up and say, that’s probably anticipate, Marco Campana 44:30how could you have anticipated something like that as a barrier until it became a barrier? And so it’s just so much in flux constantly. That’s, wow, what a great story is there? I’m aware of the time and you guys, you’ve all provided so much incredible feedback. Is there anything I haven’t asked about that? You want to make sure other people understand about the work that you’re doing to share some of what you’re learning and moving forward with that would be that you think would be useful that we haven’t touched on? Lisa Volkow 44:56I think one piece was about the trust. We build with the clients. I know, having a someone that’s helping technical technologically, often they want to work either directly with the program coordinators or the people. They’re close to that. I mean, that’s been my experience anyway, they, they feel. So really building the trust is very important, even when it comes to helping people with their devices, and that they still want to talk to someone they’re comfortable with. Marco Campana 45:29That’s it. That is a really good point. Yeah, trust and building rapport. Again, we’ve heard during the pandemic, in particular, with new clients, it’s really hard to build that initial kind of rapport and trust with someone who your own that you’ve never met, you know, face to face in person, just only virtually. So. Yeah, that raises a really important point Magda any any final thoughts or suggestions? Magda Osman 45:50Yeah, Lisa triggered my memory with the trust piece. Absolutely. So we were having clients that we couldn’t connect with. And it was really hard to connect with. And even when we would door knock, they wouldn’t open the door or answer or things like that. And then we would come around with the device, and then their whole mood changed, the whole relationship changed their trust change, because so many times like, clients have certain needs that we can’t fill or support. So we just listened. So they’re like, I’m not going to retell the same story again, or retail my needs to you, because you can’t support me effectively. So for us to actually meet that gap was was huge, even though it took a while if it really made a really big difference in that trust in that relationship building for sure. Marco Campana 46:39So being able to provide a device was kind of like the sandwich and that, that opened it up to to then being able to have those conversations to build more, more more like client supports and services with them. Magda Osman 46:51Absolutely. And I think it’s not only about that it built trust, but I think it took away a sense of hopelessness from people, that they were kind of just going to be left on their own, alienated and isolated during the pandemic, like this connection was provided to them, which lifted their spirits. And then they were more willing to engage with us in conversations, even when we would do our weekly check ins, or when we would go to drop off food or have other outreach or past talk about vaccination or other things. That door was really opened because of this device. That was really, really crucial for the quality of life. Marco Campana 47:30Thank you for sharing that. That’s that’s incredible, that the impact of a small a small piece of technology that can have on their lives, but then also on your ability to continue to provide services to them, and to help them in so many different ways. Well, thank you, all three of you, I really appreciate you taking the time, this has been an incredibly illuminating. So every time we talk, there’s something new, and I’m learning more and more. And I think I think this is a great conversation for folks in the sector to hear. So I appreciate you sharing it. And and yeah, once your your your, your your guidebook, and and other other materials are done, it would be great to sort of help push that out more broadly, even outside of the health sector. Because I think again, there’s there’s huge pieces like 80% of what you’re doing is common to any kind of social service organization. And maybe 20% is specific to the to the health but even that 20% around privacy and encryption and things like that. I think we all need to hear it. Because I speak to our organizations, I say let’s aspire to the highest levels of that, which is really in the health sector in particular and social work as well, that that speaks to those kind of regulatory frameworks. And I think what you’re doing is is very useful for everyone in the settlement sector in particular to hear about as well. So thank you all, I very much appreciate the time. It was great to chat with you. 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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks again. Transcribed by https://otter.ai
8 Jun 2021
TiHS Episode 26: Omar Yaqub – building a better intake system
Welcome to episode 26 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this episode, I’m chatting with Omar Yaqub of the Islamic Family & Social Services Association in Edmonton. Omar and his team are re-envisioning a modern intake system for the social services sector that leverages technology, including machine learning and predictive analysis. You know, the promise of tech – prompting you with questions or suggestions as you use technology. On the surface it looks like a tech project, but it is much more than that. As you’ll near Omar explain, it’s also about change. Not just organizational, but also systems change. Looking at why we do social services work, honouring the people we serve, centering them in our work and, as a result, making the work done by social service workers more meaningful and impactful. The system he’s working on is a work in progress. It’s one I think you should definitely know about, as we all search for technology solutions that will complement and humanize our work, rather than bowing to the tech bros and their pre-conceived machines… Read more about their plans and current status: “Our new intake system needs to… Move from interrogation → conversation.Prioritize mental health and holistic assessment. We need to recognize the assets clients come with, not just deficiencies and demographics. We need to identify tailored referrals based on the client’s specific circumstances. eg. skills, primary language, neighbourhood, number of kids, socialization, etc. Use a peer-reviewed approach; a systematic line of questioning to identify the goals that will have the highest impact. The LifeWorks Self-Sufficiency Matrix is something we want to build upon. Facilitate more disciplined practice of ongoing conversations with clients, including follow-ups on goals, referrals, etc. eg. Every visit to the food bank should be an opportunity to discuss progress, work on roadblocks, and move towards accomplishing goals. Goals may be as small as increasing positive socialization, a simple budget, getting employment ready, or finding affordable housing. Automate referrals to clients, and push new opportunities to clients when appropriate. eg. Pre-register a client for when a new language skills class is starting for women who speak Arabic and English at level ≤ 5 with 3+ dependents, and no prior EI claims. eg. Automatically inform clients when an application for HeadStart opensBuild solutions based on the proliferation of smartphones — the new system should allow an intake to happen anywhere someone can use their smartphone. Securely transmit client data between organizations and reduce the need for clients to repeat their story again and again.Incrementally improve, and adapt to changing circumstances nimbly.” 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 0:00Welcome to Episode 26 of the technology and Human Services podcast. In this episode, I’m chatting with Omar Yaqoob of the Islamic family and Social Services Association in Edmonton. Well, marnus team are re envisioning a modern intake system for the social services sector that leverages technology, including machine learning and predictive analysis. You know, the promise of tech prompting you with questions or suggestions as you use the tech. On the surface, it looks just like a tech project. But it is much more than that, as you’ll hear Omar explain, it’s also about change, not just organizational change, but also systems change. Looking at why we do social services work the way we do it, honoring the people we serve, centering them in our work, and as a result, making the work done by social service workers more meaningful and impactful. The system he’s working on is a work in progress. It’s one I think you should definitely know about, as we all search for technology solutions that will compliment and humanize our work rather than bowing to the tech bros and their preconceived machines. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Omar Yaqub 0:58My name is Omar Yaqub, I get to serve the the team at EFSA Islamic family and Social Services Association Islamic family that’s super short. We’re an imagine Canada accredited charity, the gold standard for charities in Canada. And the past few months, we’ve been recognized fewer different ways. We’ve been recognized by the government of Alberta with the inspiration award for combating domestic violence. And the Canadian Mental Health Association professional care awards. Were also profiled in dim, edify magazine is one of the inaugural modifiers for the city of Edmonton, and so been really, really exciting to see the organization grow in a relatively short period of time, we now serve more people in one month than we didn’t all of 2015 it’s about 5000 individuals come to us monthly for a range of supports around safety, security and growth. So includes basic food support, with domestic violence, navigating government, refugee related issues, and preventative youth programming. And it’s a it’s been wonderful seeing the organization grow my background is I did my my MBA and computing degree way, way, way back when I did some global development work in Tanzania and Nigeria came back help start the social enterprise fund was employee number two, their help start sustainable worked because the Eco retrofit Co Op did a stint with quality government organization and an Economic Development Corporation. And did did corporate consulting for a number of years where I focused on engagement based research and values based communication for a range of clients. And, you know, through a long period, more than a decade, I was on the board of EFSA, and was really passionate about the organization, the the driver bits, volunteers, the work you did, and got to see that organization scale. That’s great. I mean, what a background you bring to the to the work, it’s really it must be really interesting, having so many different perspectives. As you approach the tasks that you have like that diversity of experience sounds like it’d be really valuable. It really helps. You know, one of the things I’m really fortunate is because I’ve sat at different seats, I can empathize, right? I remember working at a social enterprise fund, and trying to get money out, right. And most people don’t think about like the struggle for grantors to get money out and how how sometimes can be very, very difficult. Sometimes you might spoon feed someone like, hey, I need you to see this, can you do like, just do things so that can get you the money? And sometimes people just don’t do it, why not? And so, you know, I learned I learned a great deal. And that experience is like how do we empathize with the needs of different parties, right? I think when you’re doing marketing, communication work, it’s all about empathy, right? Like, how do you speak to people about their needs? And then how do you know what your needs in mind, but with the needs of the user? I think that’s one of the things I really appreciate about good design is it’s not made for the designer, it’s made for the person who’s going to be using the product. And what I find often the social services sectors, we don’t spend that time designing for the end user, or even designing for frontline workers. Oftentimes, we’re designing for a funder, and we’re like, oh, let’s get like, let’s get as much information from this person as possible, even though we don’t need it. Right? Or, let’s measure these things which sound impressive, even if in our heart, we know they aren’t the right thing to measure, even if we know they’re not meaningful, you know, let’s measure outputs, rather than our outcomes, you know, The classic example we talked about with social enterprise funders. So really common to hear organizations talk about we had 300 people come through our door. Right? I just did it two minutes ago. Right. But you know, that doesn’t tell you what changes happen their life, you know, how many of those people were? Were there previously? Right? How many of those people have you helped alleviate, from poverty, that would be meaningful right? Now, instead of saying 300 people came to our doors, it’d be really powerful to say 30% of the people who come to one of our workshops, improve their income by 10% or more. Now, that tells you something, but the impact right now, you know, the challenge with that is everyone will agree with it. But implementing it is challenging, implementing it is super, super difficult. Omar Yaqub 5:54But that’s kind of what led us to what we’re here to talk about right transform, which is our approach to thinking about intake and assessment. And if we take one more step back, where it really started was, you know, when I came into this staff role with the organization after having been away for a year, one of the things we did was we we looked at our mission statement, and you know, most organizations have mission statements, and they’re not memorable, right? Like, you know, it’s questionable whether the executive director or board can recite it from memory, right, if they can’t remember what to expect. And so what we did was we went from a mission statement to a mission question. And, you know, the nice thing about a question is, as soon as, as you asked me a question, I’m thinking about how do I respond to? Right? Or I’m internalize it, because it’s like, it’s provoking. Right? And so our mission question is, you know, how do we support the whole person flourish in our community? Right, really simple question doesn’t matter if you’re a bookkeeper, or working on the front line, you’re, we’re all thinking about how to support the whole person flourish in our community, it could be our co workers could be clients could be community members, we really want to see them change in a dramatic way for the better. And so if we think about programs like the food bank, can we measure it against our mission question? Well, then we’re falling short. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we should say, this isn’t doing what we set up to do, and we have to really rethink it. So that comes back to how do we measure? How do we measure what matters? And yeah, that can be very difficult and very challenging when we think about it. Because if you have people who are coming to you for a food hamper program, or domestic violence, or what have you, what’s a meaningful metric for all of them? And what’s a way to scale that up, so that, you know, you’re not bogging your frontline workers down with, you know, doing a 30 minute survey with every client, and then having to compute all of those results? And know at the end of the day, did you actually measure something that was really important to the client, what they cared about. And so, you know, normally when we kind of get into the nuances of measurement, there’s a period where we succumb to the complexity, and go back to like, hey, let’s just measure with ease. But what was really, really wonderful is, as we were doing our research, and we were looking at what other organizations we’re doing, we we stumbled upon Bissell, which is another social service organization doing some incredible work. And they were using the lifeworks self sufficiency matrix. And for me, that was mind blowing. It was just like, wow, this is it. This is like, this is the promised land is like a wonderful systematic approach, where you’re shifting the focus to being what are the goals clients are coming with? And what’s the right way to calibrate goals? Right? So if we think about housing security, for instance, right, now, let’s put it on a spectrum of one to five, and, you know, ask some basic questions and figure out where people are in terms of housing security, right, 31 out of five, how do we move them to a two to five? Right, you can start to think about Oh, yeah, I can see how you can develop a systematic approach based on that, you know, if they’re at a one, I need to think about asking them these questions and figuring out if these are the right goals. And that’s what’s going to move them to to and now I have something that I can measure and track quantify, and something that’s driven by the person I’m serving, right? Because I’m asking them questions about, Hey, how are you doing? How’s it what’s important to you right now? Is this a goal you care about? Once you’ve identified that goal, then you can start to identify the referrals and the support team offer. And then instead of like, you know, treating, you know, like the adage, like, when you have a hammer, every problem is a nail, right? So instead of saying, Our solution to every problem the client comes to us with is a food hamper. Now we can start to say, hey, maybe what they need is actually some time from our workers, right to help them navigate a system and help them navigate a roadblock any mental health supports. And that’s what’s going to move them from a one to a two, or a two to a three, in whatever domain that they choose to focus on. So if it’s housing security, if it’s safety in the home, if it’s employment, there’s a methodology now, and they’re the ones who get to drive it. Right. And, you know, it starts to shift what we care about then, right? Because now, you know, it’s interesting when we think about some of the Omar Yaqub 10:54some of the things we inadvertently do. You know, when we think about the way we’re measuring things, so for, like, oh, we’re going to get hampers and I’m going to measure income eligibility, so that people aren’t taking advantage of this. Well, what you’re inadvertently doing is you’re telling your stuff they’re bouncers, right? Again, person? Yeah. Do we want bouncers? Or do we want guides? Right? Is this like this, like some cheesy club? Or is it a space where we’re actually trying to help people? You know, I don’t think anyone directly does this. I think there’s really good intention, right? And we want to verify income and ensure eligibility. But that isn’t our first response. It shouldn’t be right, our first response should be Hey, what can I help you with? Right? Maybe it’s, maybe it’s something else? Yeah. Maybe it’s like identifying, oh, you’re, you’re stuck at this language level. And the reason you’re stuck at this language level is because you haven’t had the support. And so you have these challenges with childcare? I mean, you know, let’s, let’s work on that. Let’s work on identifying those novel solutions, so that we can start to talk about the number of goals and we help people achieve. So that tool from Bissell was transformational and changing just even, I guess, the culture of how you were approaching clients. And you spoke earlier about the idea of outcomes versus outputs, like, it’s not about statistics, it’s about a client defined outcome of what is it they want to get to? what’s important to them in this interaction? And how did how did that start to meander its way towards technology? So as a tool to help achieve some of that in your, in your intake in particular? Yeah, that’s a fantastic question. You know, I think one of the challenges we often see in the sector is, you know, we end up generally paying top dollar for technology, right? We don’t admit it. But I’d say like, you know, when we’re paying for stuff where, you know, we might be getting some corporate discounts. But when we start to factor in staff time, and utilization, were actually fairly expensive when it comes to our technologies. And what we’re getting for our dollar is pretty subpar. Right? I look at how technology is using and generally technology is the foil to most support workers, right? Like technologies, this thing they have to like, navigate painfully after they’ve done all of their stressful work, it’s like, okay, now go and enter it. And, you know, remember to press button a while holding left mouse button and standing on one foot, otherwise the work. And you need to do that. Because if you don’t, we won’t get funding. Yeah, no, I mean, I hear that a lot. I bet the pain but also the legacy systems that are kind of, it’s like a square peg into a hole to fit in the nonprofit setting. Someone has helped choose or create the technology, or say, an off the shelf, it’s got what you need, but you just kind of have to change the way you think about what you’re doing in order to serve the technology. Right? Which is a huge challenge as well. Yeah, yeah. Precisely. You Hit it. Hit it perfectly. Like when we think about let’s use corporate CRM, right, like client relationship management. And in client relationship management, you talked about prospects and leads and customers and let’s just like change the language a little bit so that we can say, No, it doesn’t work that way. Right. It’s a totally different paradigm. You know, I think that the bigger challenge is like, Who are we designing our systems for? Right? You know, when we think about record keeping, why are we doing it? Right? Are we doing it for a funder? Probably, right? We’re doing it because we need to report to a funder or community which is totally justified. Makes sense, right? They’re the ones putting in the investment. So they should get data back. But I think that’s, that’s, that’s also our Achilles heel that’s like why we mess up with our systems, because we’re not designing one round the right thing. If we say, let’s design a round our frontline worker, let’s design a round our client. And as we do that, let’s make sure we’re getting really great data that we can report to our funder and tell them what our impact is. That’s where innovation will happen, right? Because they’re like, Oh, now I see like, I don’t really need to know, Omar Yaqub 15:36the person’s the name of every kid, if they’re just coming in for the first visit, sometimes I might just need to give them a label and help provide them some referrals. And that’s probably enough just to start, right. And, you know, if I have further engagement with them, you know, maybe I’ll ask them more questions. And I can slowly build a profile with them, and build trust, right? Even some of the ways that we we think about that design and interaction. Matter, right? Because if we have a cumbersome data requirement gathering piece, now the interaction that might lead to is, you know, my staff member is sitting behind the big monitor, typing a bunch of questions out, and the client is sitting on the other end of the big desk, going back and forth, your stuff. And I’m asking them to share a bunch of like, their personal stories, which they might have had to do for the fifth time. They’re being trumped by that. And, you know, I think what’s likely to happen in that scenario is like, people just give up. Why do I tell my story? Again, this is the fifth time we’ve had to tell it to someone, maybe even in the same organization, right? Right. Where we say, hey, let’s get the minimum amount of information, we need to start helping someone gather more information, you know, that that worker who’s collecting the data, obviously, you’ve taken a huge burden off their shoulders. And you’ve started to build trust, you know, if you start to think about how technology can change that, well, what if you take that big, clunky computer and you say, Hey, your smartphone is enough. So now, instead of like us being two people across the table, in this combative relationship, right? Because like, if you think about gameplay, you’re you’re setting people up as opponents. But if you mentioned like the bouncer the gatekeeper, for example, right? Like you can’t, you have to get past me to get help. Right? Yeah. cisely, right, which is not at all our intention, right. But like, you know, think about putting a phone and we’re sitting, sending out a phone or a tablet looking at together and we’re going through a bunch of like questions that are about your goals. It’s like, hey, let’s, let’s do this assessment. Let’s figure out what’s right for you right now. You know, we answered a few questions about housing. And now it’s asking me if, you know, if we should look at getting on the affordable housing Wait, let’s do you think that’s a good goal? Oh, hey, that’s interesting changes the changes the nature of interaction. So now we’re collaborators, both working together, trying to play this game, right? We’re on a team. And the phone is the tool that we’re, we’re using, like a simple interaction, or one of the ones that I talked about is, you know, what assessment might look like at our organization right now as you come in. And now it’s like how much income is coming to your house? Okay. Duly noted. How many kids are living in your home? Okay. Duly noted. What are the supports are getting k noted? On and on and on? Yeah. And you know, what, if you change it up a little bit, right, so it’s like, how much income is coming your home? How much are you spending on rent? Oh, Unknown Speaker 18:57boom, there’s Omar Yaqub 18:58a prompt right there. It’s like, you know, the tool is telling me you’re spending more than 30% of your income on rent. Let’s shift our conversation to focus on that. Is that something we should talk more about? Right, like now, that data collection for that frontline worker? Now, you’ve actually empowered them, right? You’ve empowered them that as they do data collection, they’re getting insights. Right? And then the tool itself is prompting them with, with those kinds of things. Yeah, which is stuff that makes total sense, right? It’s like, Oh, yeah. When you’re asking the question is when it should lead to insights. And then like, if you think about both of us asking questions, having a conversation if we’re getting insights in real time. Wow, we’re, we’re motivated now to do data collection. Right? The data is helping us write the data isn’t something that helps someone far down the line because you think about how, how we do data now. It’s like someone’s internalizing or taking a bunch of Questions. And then who knows where it goes? Right? Yeah, go system goes to a thunder. Who cares? minimum analysis? Right? No mining of the depth of the data most times? Yeah. If there is analysis, it’s retroactive. So like, right. Big whoop, right? Like, who cares? Like, why isn’t the data we’re collecting? Helping the client? right then and there and helping the social worker right then and there, right? Like, it’s like, yeah, data, moving from data collection as a chore? To data drives insights. Yeah, what you’re saying makes so much sense. But it seems to fly in the face of how most organizations are doing intake and even assessment. I mean, we hear even with technology mediated program projects, it’s sometimes an hour long interview to get every single piece of information and data about, about that client that can then go into a system that might help tease out some of that stuff. But it’s still a very huge kind of undertaking. And very administrative for the for the worker, it doesn’t have the kind of prompts empower, empowering, like hold on pause, there’s a there’s an income to rent issue here, for example, it’s just like, let’s get everything into the system, and then the system will turn. And then we might figure some stuff out. So what you’re describing is very different. Yeah. And generally, the system doesn’t turn. The system just says now habit. Right, great. Right. And I think that’s, that’s something we really need to think about, right? I think those are the conversations that we want to be having with funders and others, as we know, we’re all in it. For the same reason, we all care about clients getting out of poverty or setting goals and attaining education. Let’s measure that, right? Because everyone agrees, right? Think about some of the other stuff you kind of alluded to, right? Sometimes you might go to one organization, and they’re asking you, okay, how old are you? And you give them an answer, and another organization might ask you a date of birth. And those two systems will talk to each other. Right? If it’s like, substantively the same information, but the way the questions are asked, Are interoperable. And if you have just a bit of intelligence, not even intelligence, right, like just modicum of like good database design, then you’re like, Oh, hey, I’ve collected that information in one place. And now I can spit it out to all these places. So if I’m doing a referral for someone to another organization, and I know they’re asking age rather than date of birth, okay, I’ll spit out the right format for them. And I can send that referral, or I can have that client, unlock that referral at that other agency, and not have to go through the same same rigmarole. Marco Campana 22:48So one of the things so you’ve you’ve so getting to Bissell was a huge first step and and kind of changing the way you even just approach this, this notion of how your your your empowering clients are asking clients for information, to move towards outcomes to move towards something that that they’re setting the goals and driving the process. And, and then just looking at your website. And as part of that process, then once you’ve kind of, I mean, I would say a huge culture and change management shift within the organization, then you started looking at technology, perhaps at the same time to create a different intake system that leverages technology. So can you walk me through a little bit about what was that? Was that a parallel process? Or was it sort of, we had our mind blown by Bissell, we started doing a different thing. And then we started thinking, well, how can technology actually support this in a more meaningful way? Or was it sort of parallel at th e same time? Omar Yaqub 23:40Yeah, a bunch of parallel conversations. And we co developed our solution with Bissell because they were, they were the leaders, right? And they’ve done amazing work and gone through, you know, a ton of the heavy lifting. So Maria, from Bissell, who’s invested countless number of hours and helping us develop our solution. But it’s been interesting, because you touched on change management, right? And it’s really, really exciting. To to see that shift happen in people, right? Because you start to hear them saying, Well, if we ask that, then how will we know if they’re eligible? Or if we don’t ask them? How do we know if they’re eligible? So we don’t, but we don’t need to know that. Right? Like, what if we’re not measuring whether they need a food hamper? What if we’re measuring? What is it that they need? And if it comes, comes down to them needing a food hamper, then we ask them about, you know what the eligibility is for that, but we don’t start out with that. Right? We don’t start out with the balancer. We start out with that Kate guide is asking you what you need, right? Like think about a concierge. They might just tell you, Hey, this is what the shop has to sort of can help you with. If you need that thing, go over here, but I can make a recommendation or referral for you so that when you get It’ll be easier. You know that that’s like a different service modality. And it’s, it’s interesting just to see like, as you start to frame those questions, people’s perspectives shift about their job and how they work and how they think about what they do. And the way they frame their conversations with people. And so, so tell me a little bit about then, as that change management was happening, how you started to build a system to to, to make that easier, I guess for for both sides to make it less intimidating to to have those kinds of prompts to have the client and the worker sitting side by side. So in designing our system, we we took a co design approach, working through so bringing our frontline staff bringing in the people who had to do some of the data, we’re bringing them all together, right? bringing in people from, from academia, so people who are doing their PhD in related areas. leadership from Bissell, Maria, and we started to say, hey, let’s let’s look at this prompt together. Prior to that, even we spent a year doing Dr. Steve Petty’s predict impact, which was really fantastic learning, because it let us think about the indicators of change we want us to do. Dr. Steve Patty is behind dialogues in action. And that was a great, great curriculum and team activity for us because it let us think about what what do we want to achieve together as a team. And that led us to the inevitable step of like, hey, let’s think about how technology might help us do that. And so we developed a challenge statement, which was like the first efficient website kept incrementing. We took that challenge statement to developers. And we’re really, really fortunate, really lucky that metal add, who are like the Tom Hanks of software development, jumped on board and said they’d be willing to work with us and invested over $150,000 us in helping us develop the UX. And that was over a course of two months, we did design sprints every week where we we worked with the frontline researchers and everyone to think about what could the system look like? Now even thinking about like little simple things like motivating a frontline worker, right? Like just reminding them why they come to work. You think that that’s such a trivial and easy thing to do, but like what system does that what system reminds your support worker that you’ve helped someone achieve this many goals. So we were able to, I think, identify some some really wonderful interaction models with them. And now we’re in the process of just having hired a product manager, the product manager mentor, to help us kind of take this, the next step is start to get it in people’s hands for the summer. To start to just start to pilot or to actually start to implement, pilot, like so. They’re integrated for us, right? Because we’ll be doing real, real pilot seeing what this looks like. It’s interesting, because as we’ve like, been doing the software development, we’ve we’ve thought about our physical presence and our physical presence is changing to align wi th the software. Marco Campana 28:40And what does that look like now? Omar Yaqub 28:42So you know, presently, we have like three locations, two of which are like warehouse depot’s and have 70% of them is warehouse. 30% is for offices. So we’re totally reorienting that right. So now in a new location. It’s 30% warehouse and 70% staff, staff space and the staff spaces is about a community space where we want people to take their shoes, have tea, sit down and talk with someone and feel comfortable doing that, like feel dignified, like oh, yeah, I’m, I’m at a friend’s living room and I’m talking with someone about what’s important to me. I don’t care if it takes like 30 minutes or 40 minutes or an hour because it’s a I’m learning stuff as I do. As I do that, right? Even in the waiting, there is learning, right? Think about Costco, right? You go to Costco, wanting to buy a block of cheese and come up with a couch. Right, right. Yeah. So really, that’s intentional. That’s like that’s fantastic aside even though it can be frustrating and perplexing from a business retail perspective, they’re brilliant. When we think about the social services sector, this is sometimes where we have this like ridiculous idea that Where we want to get people in and out? And why isn’t? Do you want to get people in and out fast? Like, are they cogs? No, right? Like you actually want people coming into your organization to linger, meander, and learn about new things while they’re with you. And that should be an intentional part of your physical environment, right? So if they’re walking in, they’re sitting at a table and they’re practicing English, or they’re watching a video while they’re waiting for something. And you’ve made that a comfortable experience. Well, now you’re waiting as part of your, your theory of change. Marco Campana 30:32Part of your service. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I guess I wonder is that partially built on the idea that so many people come to a place because someone said, Oh, that’s the place, you need to go for your food hamper. But they’re not really sure what all of their needs might be. So they come and say, I need a food hamper, they get a food hamper. versus if they come and they just start having a conversation, all of a sudden, maybe there’s a housing issue, maybe there’s a violence issue or other types of things. And so you’ve changed the dynamic to again, making it about them. And then you have this tool that instead of, Okay, come over to my desk. And as you said, here’s the monitor that you’ll sit across and barely see my face. Oh, here’s a phone, let’s sit down and sort of go through some of these questions together, this is going to help guide our conversation. But it’s just sort of here as a tool. what it was, what this is about, is us having this conversation more than anything? Omar Yaqub 31:20Yeah, precisely. Right. And, you know, I was talking with Jerry, who’s the executive director of K Mental Health Association, and written really, and he’s come on board recently as a partner. And one of the things he talks about is, you know, as a sector, does our service delivery? Would it live up to the expectations of someone who’s middle class? Would they put up with it? Right? with someone put up with having like to wait the way they have to be treated the way it has to and getting the service they get? I think he’s spot on, he said something very, very challenging for the sector to admit. But I think it’s like something where we really have to think of like, you know, is our service delivery model? One where we’re expecting them to be grateful for whatever we do for them, or one where we’re thinking like, Oh, this is a person who’s coming to me for service, and I want them to feel like they’re at the apple Genius Bar, right, where they’re like, their prize for having chosen our organization. And we want to do whatever we can help them. I think everybody who works in the sector comes with that aspiration. And is working towards that goal. But we’ve we’ve set traps for ourselves. Marco Campana 32:46Yeah, and we fall into the same pits of just this is how we’ve always done things, right. So if someone’s listening on the podcast, and I’m going to share the website, where you’ve got a lot more information about the process, and where you’ve gotten to and things like that, and they’re getting excited, right? They’re not in an organization that that that is that is moving in this direction that you’ve described, they’re in a very kind of typical, hierarchical, big intake kind of what’s what’s, and they’re inspired now. But what advice do you have for folks like that to sort of start this journey? Because this is a journey that takes some years and some transformation? for your organization? Right? Omar Yaqub 33:27Yeah, that’s, that’s a fantastic question. I think the the answer to that is asking a better question. Right. And by that, I mean, like, you know, ask questions, but what are we measuring? And why are we measuring them? Do we need this? Omar Yaqub 33:41Right? And do we need this now? Or do we need this later? Right, some of those questions, but also ask the bigger questions. Like, what do we want to see happen when people come to us? How do we want people to know, what do we want people to know? But also, what do we want people to feel when they come to us? And when we start to ask some of those questions, I think the inevitable result is thinking about what we measure, and changing what we measured radical ways. Marco Campana 34:16And when it comes to the technology, you’ve mentioned, interoperability, and ease of use, and the user experience before and so another question that someone I can imagine would have is, okay, well, we’ve got some systems, they’re not that great, but we have some systems, you know, and we’re not that technologically savvy, necessarily, how can we look at the system that you’re building, and figure out how to how to operationalize it where we are eventually and make it interoperable with either existing systems we have, or, you know, how does it feed into a CRM or some sort of data collection process that we can also not just use for our own data, but also obviously report to funders, you know, the typical sort of approach? What can that look like in terms of any I imagine? You’re thinking of This in a more future? Omar Yaqub 35:01Yeah. So there’s a few answers to that. Our hope is that we make our system broadly available to organizations. It it isn’t that great if it’s just us using it. Right? Our intentionality was, this has to be something that the sector uses. That’s why we ask this to co design with us. So right at the foundational level, we’re looking at two very different organizations, thinking about data and thinking about measurement, right, this all serves a very transient homeless population, we serve, you know, newcomer oriented population, if we can make it work for both of our organizations, it’s probably going to work for others. And so we’re also very open at this stage to bring on additional partners and taking you through some of our some of our assumptions and making sure that they’re validated by other users. I think for organizations for going about this journey, if thinking about their data is important, like, what do they want to get out of it? And what did their funders need? Like having that conversation with their funder? Now? It’s like, Hey, I know you’re asking this. But what if they can use this instead? Wouldn’t that be more meaningful? If thinking through some of the ways that we can clean up datasets? So for instance, like, date of birth versus age, those are the same question. Can we ask those questions in standard ways, and have them move from place to place? So if I’m helping someone with housing referral and helping someone with an Alberta works, thing, like, Okay, I know I can like, just ask this question once and then have the system kind of put in both places in the right format. Marco Campana 36:57And that that would require them both places using the same system in order to have that. Okay, so because that’s another question that comes up, right, because you mentioned earlier, like, the fifth time someone’s being asked the same questions, even within the same organization, but certainly, between organizations. So how can how were you working to sort of, I guess, work on that warm referral? Or the data sharing, obviously, with lots of privacy and confidentiality built in? Omar Yaqub 37:21Yeah, you know, I think you touched on privacy, and I think we ask them use privacy as, as a barrier in the sector, it’s like, okay, we can’t share data. Hence, we can’t talk Hence, we can’t do things. Right? big, giant, 10 foot bear. I think, you know, maybe if we start conceptualizing data slightly differently, and so we’re not thinking about it as a barrier to organizations talking to each other, but we start thinking about who does the data belong to? The data belongs to the individual, right? data belongs to the community member has come to us. And we want them to be able to take that data, as many places as possible. That’s insensitive, it doesn’t sound like I’m saying anything different. But conceptually, Omar Yaqub 38:11sounds fundamentally different. To be honest, you know, I think it is very different. Right? So like, if you if you’re the possessor of the data, and then you go from, you know, if sort of Bissell and Bissell says, Hey, have you done an intake anywhere? No. Again, I did want to, oh, and maybe the person that this whole says, Hey, do you mind unlocking your profile? For me? No, you use your voice to do it, or something like that. Now, the person that Bissell has, has your data, right, to whatever degree you’ve given them ability, right, so you can say, you can see my, my basic details, and you can see my income details, but you can’t see any of the mental health stuff, you give them that level of permission. Now they have something that they can import into their system, right. And maybe they’re using a dynamic system, and you’re using a Salesforce system. But at the end of the day, it’s like just a rudimentary skeleton of data that you can unlock and export from place to place. But you’re the one who owns and authorizes different organizations to access what you deem relevant, right? And so now the data can move from place to place with you, by you just unlocking it for different people. Marco Campana 39:25So that for as I hear you speaking, I love the idea. And I feel like there’s a ton that needs to be that would need to be unpacked. So there’s two relationships between the organizations who have made some level of agreement that will will allow each other to have access to this client data. And then there’s the client literacy as well, to understand I mean, it’s such a shift in their ownership. And we exist in a world where people don’t own their data, right? It’s a huge issue with the big tech companies and with social media and all this kind of stuff is like, you don’t get to travel with your data. You don’t tend to own it. So it’s a very different perception to say, Okay, you’ve got it. It’s on your phone now and you control levels of access you control who gets what? It’s, it’s, you know, it’s portable, it goes with you in different places. So I yeah, it just sounds like it’s um, it’s, it’s, it’s where a lot of people have been talking about trying to move in terms of with social data as well. And so I love the direction, I just feel like there’s, there’s a lot to and below the surface that still needs around coordination. And but it’s a different coordination. That’s why I said it sounds fundamentally different. It’s not that we own the data anymore. We now work in a system where the client owns the data, we still need to coordinate, we still need to work together, we still need to figure out that our systems have to be interoperable with this in some meaningful way. But it’s the client who defines what gets shared. Omar Yaqub 40:44Yeah, and, you know, we’re spending less time thinking about interagency agreements for data. And we’re spending more time saying this is a client’s data, they’re taking the data from place to place. This is a format that is a common export standard, right? You think about getting a little bit geeky, but you think about CSV files or address book, right, you can take your address book from your Mac to a PC. And because the data is in this kind of commonly understood format, it’s easy to move it from place to place. So giving the client that ability saying someone’s collected the data, right, it doesn’t matter if it’s date of birth or year, not age. It’s kind of understood, it’s in this common standard. And it goes from place to place. I think that’s, that’s really exciting. Marco Campana 41:39Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it, but it still requires coordination around that common standard for organizations, you still having some sort of, of eating unnecessarily formal agreements, but this idea that we’re all going to buy into this standard or some form of it, in order to to to have the system work in that way. And to just like, the power, dynamic shifting of the client owning the data, I imagine that’s for some organizations, that’s going to be a massive shift in mentality as well. Yeah, Omar Yaqub 42:08I agree. You know, there’s been some great examples of organizations that have done it. Mind match work is one that I think has been really forward thinking and how they’ve thought about it. They’re looking at kind of the career space. And what they’ve done, which is really amazing, is put the client in charge of their data. And so I can take my employment related data with me from agency to agency. Right. And so we we’ve tried to emulate what they’re doing with our intake. Marco Campana 42:41Nice. Yeah. I mean, that’s useful to know that there’s other models that that people are we’re working on this and other sectors, even in the nonprofit field? Because it just sounds like it makes a lot of sense. It’s great. I’ve taken a ton of your time. But is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you think would be useful for people to know about the what you’re working on and where you’re where you’re heading with it? And how, you know, you’re in Alberta? But But obviously, this is something that is, is geography agnostic. And it’s, in the end? You know, if people were interested to get involved, or find out more about how they could play with something like this, what would that look like? Omar Yaqub 43:19Oh, we we’d love to build a coalition. We really open your start with an email conversation, let’s figure out how we can know how we can build common standards and approaches and how can we build the best possible and take an assessment system, right one that’s focused on, you know, focus on clients focus on frontline users. So really, really excited to to build those conversations, really open to conversations with service agencies, but also developers, right? We have some like, UX UI work that’s been done by Metalab. But also really interesting thinking about what does the back end development look like? We have some eight AI partners, machine learning partners. But a really interesting thinking through what might be some of the great ways that we can think about using technology in innovative ways, right? Whether that’s using voiceprints to unmark data for people from service agency, the service agency, you know, what might be other approaches and other novel uses of technology that makes sense here? Marco Campana 44:24Yeah, that sounds great. Actually, you raise a quote, I forgot to ask the question, what is your back end? So for example, you mentioned you might go from, you know, Salesforce to to dynamics or something like that, when the front end, as I’ll show people on your website is a really amazing looking app, and websites and looks really user friendly. What’s happening in the backend? Is that something that you guys have had to create from scratch, are you able to plug into an existing system, we’re still in the process of evaluating that back end piece we’re looking at. Omar Yaqub 44:55We want to build that as a common standard. So Microsoft Dynamics has Common Data Standards for the nonprofit sector that’s really, really promising. ISS has built out of BC has built on our dynamics platform. And so our general rule of thumb is let’s reinvent things. Let’s see what replicate and build on top of. And so that’s still still a kind of a big question, right? Like, how do we find the right, the right back end? That will put us in the right space for the future, right? Because we want to be thinking about machine learning and predictive analysis. And designing and choosing the right back end now. makes those things possible. Marco Campana 45:45Yeah, no, I think that that makes so much sense. Like building again, the game goes back to what you discussed about interoperability, working with systems that are either already exists or are emerging. And I’m familiar with the ISS of BC One. And that’s, that’s becoming something I mean, they’ve built a really comprehensive system. And this would like sit so nicely on top of it, in terms of the the more user friendly sort of aspect of it. So I love I love hearing that you’re having these conversations throughout the sector. It’s so meaningful, and important. I think, Well, listen, thank you so much for this, I really appreciate you walking me through. And I’m really looking forward to following up maybe after your pilot projects. And as you sort of build your coalition, and seeing who also, you know, is interested in this one, stay here about what you’re working on. So please do keep us in the loop. And thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it. No, thank you. I really appreciate this interview. Really appreciate the work you’re doing. Awesome. Thank you Omar Yaqub 46:44If people want to get in contact with me. There’s the website, there’s also my email address, please feel free to share those. Marco Campana 46:49Absolutely, yeah, I’ll put it in that in that in the show notes and the posts that I that I share with folks. So thank you again. And you know, best of luck. I’m looking forward to hearing how this continues to evolve. Omar Yaqub 47:00Thank you so much. Marco Campana 47:01Thanks 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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks again. Transcribed by https://otter.ai
10 May 2021
TiHS Episode 25: Anesh Daya – innovation in ESL
Welcome to Episode 25 of the Technology in Human Services Podcast. In this episode I’m chatting with Anesh Daya, Edupreneur, ESL Disruptor, and Chief Innovation Officer of On the Spot Language, an Experiential Language Learning Program that guides and coaches English as a Second language learners to become independent language learners. Anesh is a language lover who has not only taught, managed, and developed ESL programs around the world, he also spent time in Taiwan learning Mandarin and brings that experience to his approach at On the Spot language. On the Spot language has been around since 2009 and like every organization and business, pivoted to virtual over the past year during the pandemic. Anesh and I chat about innovation in newcomer services, language and beyond, from time to time, and I think you’ll really enjoy this deeper dive into one of those conversations. I hope you find our chat useful and interesting. Have a look at how it works: 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 0:00Welcome to Episode 25 of the technology and Human Services podcast. In this episode, I’m chatting with anish de edupreneurs ESL disrupter and Chief Innovation Officer of on spot language. an experiential language learning program that guides and coaches ESL is second language learners to become independent language learners, and is a language lover who has not only taught managed and developed ESL programs around the world, he also spent time in Taiwan learning Mandarin and brings that experience to his approach at on the spot language on the spot language has been around since 2009. And like every organization in business pivoted to virtual over the past year during the pandemic anishinabe chat about innovation and newcomer services language and beyond from time to time. And I think you’ll really enjoy this deeper dive into one of those conversations. I hope you find our chat useful and interesting. Welcome to the technology in Human Services podcast. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, give us an overview of your work at on the spot language and how you got there. Anesh Daya 0:56Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Margo, for having me on. And it’s a truly an honor to have gotten to know you some of your work. And in regards to myself, my name is anish dia, founder and chief innovation officer of on the spot language, which started in 2009. But it really came out of a necessity of need, like what do language learners need on a daily basis to survive and I it kind of to give you an overview and just quickly started out with a mini little story. I remember I was burnt out as a multimedia specialist working downtown Toronto, at the airport with my parents 21 years old, saying I’m going I’m going to Taiwan right and I get on the airplane wearing this I am Canadian jersey. I am Canadian commercials and when this jersey, right? I’m on the airplane feeling super confident ready to go. And suddenly panic sets in and say I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know the anything about the language, the country the food turn the guy next to me. I said Can you teach me the numbers one to 10 in Mandarin. So you just took off and went no sensitive. That’s amazing, wasn’t it? Well, I was burnt out from my job in multimedia. Right. And I’m, I’m in my I took a two year multimedia, you know, program. I love computers, my whole life been around technology. All my friends were in their second year of university, I got burnt out literally took a T cell program, which you could do like really quickly back then, you know? Yeah, I remember. Right is everyone was going you went to Taiwan, but everyone was going to South Korea, right? That was the that was the thing. Exactly. So literally, you can teach English anywhere. So I literally put my literally put my finger on the globe. No joke, close my eyes and spun it. Anesh Daya 2:52And guess where it landed Marco Campana 2:54in Taiwan, the ocean? Even better. Anesh Daya 2:58But the actual closest land to it was Taiwan. So, you know, send a bunch of resumes to least later I’m also on the airplane turns us guys I keep between numbers one to 10. It’s like Yeah, sure. He or sound Sue who will do ci by Joe shirt. I’m like, okay, could you see that again? I’m practicing with people line up in the washroom talking to the flight attendants and coach in first class. I land that I’m like, Alright, I got this. I know my numbers one to 10 I get to my baggage claim. And someone turns seems, Nisha, now the lie that I’m like, huh? Sit Nisha, now the lie that I’m like her. I’m just saying the number two I don’t know, what do the guys say? Oh, yeah, Marco Campana 3:37we’re hoping. Anesh Daya 3:39Right? And literally, he’s asking me, where are you from? And I’m wearing this huge I am Canadian jersey, right? I couldn’t even answer that. And I said, Oh, he said you From where? And I said, Oh, I it’s all Canada, Nisha Canada. And I go chana Darren, right. And that was literally at that point where I’m like, realize, okay, I need to learn language just actually functional and useful for me that I need to survive. Right and, you know, thrive in this new country. In literally every day after that, and we’ll get into it. I learned two sentences that I needed on a daily basis to new sentences. And then, you know, fast forward. You know, a year and a half later, come back to Toronto can’t get a job in multimedia the.com boom, burst, bubbles burst, right? And I’m like, Well, I know how to teach English kind of, so I applied to a school. got through two rounds of interviews. Now I’m suddenly I went from junior teacher to head teacher worked there for five years. finally done all the international students but once they stepped outside the classroom, they were still deer in headlights. Right? They couldn’t functionally use language outside the classroom. And here I thought I’m doing this amazing job in class and I was one of the the favorite teachers, students. And I’m like, Oh, my goodness. And then as head teacher, I got laid off. You know, like, what? If you’re one of the favorite teachers, and you know, and you’re hiring and firing teachers, why are you getting laid off? Right? I didn’t have a university degree. And at that time, languages Canada made it a set rule that you have to have a university degree. To be qualified as a teacher, I’m like the one of the most qualified teachers to be, you know, teaching English in the school. Long story short, I was laid off 2009, I’m like, What am I going to do? I go, Well, I kind of have a pretty good idea of how language should be learned and taught. So I started on the spot language in 2009. And ever since then, you know, I’ve been adapting and changing and innovating the program, basically, with one core principle of let’s just teach what’s useful for these learners. And that was it. And let’s just get them comfortable. Not with me, the native English speaker who can speak very clearly with, you know, no idioms or slang or, you know, let’s get them comfortable talking with people the every, you know, Tom, Dick, and Harry on the street, kind of the, you know, Marco Campana 6:20yeah, the people who aren’t going to take the time and have the patience necessarily just going on about their lives. Right, Anesh Daya 6:24right. And so, you know, now fast forward, 12 years later, our students have had over 100,000 conversations with strangers on the streets of Toronto, you know, we’ve won several awards for Best language school, and I hate the word school, right. But I’d say program, and I’m really happy to announce, right, literally today, after this meeting, I have a meeting with an awards committee from GE for the global forum for education and learning. And we’ve been voted into the to receive an award for top 50 organizations in education. Marco Campana 7:01Amazing, congratulations. Anesh Daya 7:03So you know, it’s come a long way. And I know we’re gonna get into you know, how the pandemic is, we can’t go outside anymore is that what do you do? But we Marco Campana 7:13talk a little bit about the model, though. So the model is interactions with everyday people. So So what does that actually look like? And how is that different in so many ways from being in a classroom? Anesh Daya 7:24Well, what the way I like to look at it is number one, we’re not teaching, we’re coaching. And we don’t have teachers, we have language coaches. So there’s a sense of like, you know, let’s talk about accountability. Let’s talk about Listen, we want you to become an autonomous learner. And we want you to be become responsible for your own learning. So let’s just, let’s show you the methodology. Let’s lead by example, let’s guide you through the process of how to learn a language. And we spend, actually, half of our time unlearning how they’ve traditionally learned in terms of let’s take all the education that you’ve gotten your whole life that you’ve been taught to learn English. And let’s just put a pause to that and put it aside. Imagine like, you’re in your kid again. And that, then the tricky part is like, well, we’re not children anymore. We’re adults. And so how do you work with an adult mind? So there’s a little bit of neuroscience into it in terms of how do you work with an adult? And how do you really, you know, we don’t learn things as fast or as easy as children do. And so how do we take all of the senses that we have, and use those? So for example, we may say, I’ll say may, I might say to my student, meet me in front of the read me in front of the robot’s library. You know, on day two, for example, just to give you an idea of how a day might work, we’ve already taught them the sentences excuse me, where would I find robot’s library? Is it around here? And then the follow up to that is, is this building named after anyone or anything, you know, and again, they may not understand everything you ask 100 people this, you know, you’re gonna hear several similar answers, you know, right. So the next day, they can’t use Google Maps, nothing. They can only use the language they’ve learned. Marco Campana 9:27Nice. Anesh Daya 9:28So we meet them in front of robots library. They’re like, Oh, Anna, she was 17th, Premier of Ontario. The anish, but what exactly does premier mean? And then we jumped into and that literally dives into the next part of the classes. Well, actually, we have three levels of government. We have federal now wait a minute, you know what? next task, ask people around here. I’m just curious what are the three levels of government and Jago rescues me. I’m just curious, what are in the federal prevent? How do you spell that? Could you please write that down? You know, and they’re asking university students in some of the students can’t even answer. Marco Campana 10:10Yeah. It’s fascinating. Anesh Daya 10:13And I’m like, it’s fast. Yeah. It’s fascinating. Exactly. And then the next question is, well, who’s the current leader of the party? You know, and they’re starting to learn with a leader. So they’re not they’re connecting this library that has a second largest, you know, collection of books in North America. Now, they’re learning about government, but it’s all in real time in real life. And they’re connecting all the senses and these human interactions, right. And so as an adult, we can take in all these things. And whenever they think the word library, they jump your robots jump your robots, oh, you know, and they’re connecting all these things, right. And they’re, they’re listening to cp 24. And they hear the word premier. I know that, are they here, Doug Ford, I know him, you know. So as an adult, you know, there are certain ways to to get and then to further that. We go through the same process in a different location, learning different language and different skills. So Tony Robbins said routine is the mother of skill, you know, you do something enough times, you get really good at it. Right? So our students get good at being curious. They didn’t Marco Campana 11:25ever say a confidence thing to like, being able to go up to strangers and chat with them. I mean, that’s, that’s got to be so intimidating. At first, Anesh Daya 11:33we have, I’ll tell you, almost 50% of our students cry in the first week of our program, just because they’re shaking. Marco Campana 11:44Yeah, they’re so nervous. Anesh Daya 11:46They’re like, I don’t do this in my own language. Why am I gonna do this, and this is why you’re paying me the big bucks to help you get over that hump. To say, you know, what, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. And I could share literally hundreds of stories of our students getting jobs, our students meeting their their future husbands or wives, to students getting box seats at a Raptors game. Marco Campana 12:13You know, that’s awesome. Anesh Daya 12:15You name it. I have had some Yeah, crazy stories. But so when we talk about, you know, what a language coach is, we’re here to to motivate you to guide you through the process of language learning. And then once we teach you these, these, I will say it’s like a tool belt of language skills, you know, now that you have these, it’s like, it’s just rinse and repeat. Now, you know, so all you have to do now is just keep doing what we’ve just taught you to do. It’s like, you go to a driving range, right? You just got to keep hitting balls, you know, right. And then you got to go get on the course. And just play many rounds. And that’s, I mean, there’s a lot more complexity and complexity to the actual program and how we dive into it from we have action sheets, where students are actually keeping track of how many people they talk to every day, the kinds of conversations they have, every day, they have checklists of, did I have this kind of conversation or this kind of conversation. And then the last point I’ll say to this is, when we’re talking about teaching, and coaching is everything is customizable. It’s all tailored learning, right? What Marco wants to learn and what anish wants to learn. We’re very different people, our needs are very different. Our goals are very different. And so when we have a one language coach, two, three learner ratio, we really make like a, an independent study plan, if you can say, you know, for the learner, based on their interests, their hobbies, their goals, their dreams or aspirations. I have had someone said, No, I just want to find a Canadian boyfriend. I go No. More. And it’s like, Okay, you know what? Let’s start with building your sense of humor. You know, it’s always like, okay, let’s let’s just like Yeah, I like jokes. Okay, good. Good. So I taught her three basic jokes. Then her homework then is to go ask people would you be able to teach me one simple joke in English? And sensei humor in another language or culture is one of the most difficult things right? Marco Campana 14:36Oh, yeah. Yeah. Anesh Daya 14:38And so you know, and so one of the first few jokes we teach them is in the program and it’s built into the program is why did the boy climb the tree with a hockey stick to play with the Maple Leafs? So number one, it shows culture you’re and you’re, you know, familiar with the culture sports, you know, And you’re able to deliver it with the intonation. And in a way that’s like, why did the boy climb a tree with hockey stick to play with the Maple Leafs, you know, in a way, which sounds different in different languages, you know, and how you produce anyway. So that’s just one example of, you know, a way that we encourage and motivate students in again, with that tailored, customized approach. Marco Campana 15:22That’s fascinating. So I mean, immersion, but customized immersion is kind of the big thing. The The, the the repetition within evaluation, like they’re, they’re doing the evaluation, right, they’re writing down, it’s not someone who’s testing them, which is also very different. I would want to know a little more about the coaching, though. So your role is you’re there with them out there on the street, most of the time or in an environment? Like, what’s the ratio? How many people? Are you? Are you coaching at a given time? And, and kind of what does that look like? Are you standing kind of in the background as they, as they go forth? And you’re just there’s like, if you follow, I’ll catch you, or how does it kind of play out? Anesh Daya 15:57Yeah, and again, I always encourage is, you know, what, see some of our videos and you’ll, you’ll probably be able to visually see that. But over over audio like that, let me try and paint a picture here. So we meet our, our classes maximum only two hours long, the human mind can only actually take in so much information at that point. It’s just you got to use it and use it and use it. Right, right, right. And so we spend when we meet students at the location, every day at a different location. Number one, they should have already known or gotten information about where we are from the strangers we’ve met, then we get into, okay, let’s talk about this and talk about the new learning point. Then we get into the new new skill or topic, let’s just say, you know, we’re learning about famous Canadians today, as an example, and one of those we’re on, we’re on King Street at Canada’s Walk of Fame. And now you see Terry Fox, you see Wayne Gretzky, see, you know, a whole sleazy, you know, Donald Sutherland, Russell Peters, everyone that right now, and now part of your homework is to ask people, who would you say is the most famous Canadian, past or present? And what we do as a language coach? Is we model it, we have to show them how does this work? You know, right. And so I may not be an international student, sometimes I do act as one, I put on a no spell policy. So I can eat I can put on either a French Excuse me, I don’t know. But But I’m an international student. And I’m not going to I’m not going to bastardize it. But you know, I’m an international student. I study English in Toronto, and part of my homework is to ask people blank, in this case, who would you say is the most famous Canadian past or present? their students like, oh, and they can see, you know, how my body language, my intonation, and now I’m like, okay, it’s your turn. And they Okay, first practice with me. Let’s practice with each other. Literally five minutes, we’ll do a little bit of practice, then like, I’m like, Okay. And sometimes like, No, I can’t do the introduction. But I can only remember, who would you say is the most famous Canadian, past or present? Okay, I’ll introduce it. Excuse me, my friends here. They’re international students that English and Toronto and actually, we’re in our class right now. And this is part of their homework. Would you mind answering their quick question? And most Canadians, you know, will give, you know, two to five minutes of their time. Yeah. And one of the great things about Toronto, right? Not not 20 minutes or half an hour, we all got a two to five minutes. That’s all we need. Yeah. Then the student jumps in is, who would you say, is the most famous? Canadian, past? Or president? That’s amazing. Good job. And of course, everyone’s empathetic, they get it, and they see if they can see this person is making them like, I’d say, Pierre Trudeau. They’re like, and they already know that the next student jumps in Marco is like, what’s he best known for? that’s just that’s that question. Marco Campana 19:05So you’ve got like a little routine, basically. Marco Campana 19:08No, I’m not trying to make Anesh Daya 19:10money, Python. You know, Marco Campana 19:12everybody knows what they’re gonna say next. And they continue to start a conversation, essentially. Anesh Daya 19:17That’s exactly yeah. And so they all have follow up questions. It’s not just one question. It’s like, how do we continue the conversation, which is a skill in it of itself, right. And so the person Yeah, what’s he best known for? And they’ve already also further learned, because we know most of the people are gonna say, Wayne Gretzky, Celine Dion, Pierre Trudeau know certain people in different categories. And so we’ve actually taught the sentence. When was he in office? Marco Campana 19:47Okay, so you’ve already built in some knowledge, Anesh Daya 19:50knowledge sentences Marco Campana 19:51they have to go through in their brain who they just said and what’s the correct follow up question, which is also a whole skill, right? Absolutely. And they really, Anesh Daya 20:00they’re not going to get more than 10 different. Some people say Drake, right? They say, oh, I’ve heard of him. What would you say is his most famous song? They remember that from music day? You know? Yeah. And so you know, it’s quite amazing. Because they’ll get things out of left field. You know, they’ll hear, they’ll hear something like, well, there’s, there’s no question that it should and will always be ever Levine. I’m like, that’s awesome. That’s great. And, you know, not that nothing wrong with her. I think she’s an amazing musician. But they’ll get names that maybe we wouldn’t necessarily, you know, hear but right. But it’s through all these interactions with different people. That literally, they’re gaining so much knowledge and information every day. But one of the key things and I’ll get a little bit more into the methodology is, you’ve learned 100 new things today. You choose one that you really want to learn out of all of those things. And it’s something I do with my daughter mark is, of all the things you’ve learned today and six hours of school. Let’s choose one thing that you want to choose to remember. And that’s powerful. Because people go throughout the day thinking, I don’t know, they learned. Yeah, actually don’t know. And that’s actually part of my daughter’s daily journaling is like, what’s one thing that I learned that I want to learn today. And then at the end of the week, and classes Monday to Friday, that’s five new things you’ve learned over a course of a month, a year, Marco Campana 21:49and so on. Anesh Daya 21:51And then on top of that, we humble ourselves as language coaching, we don’t know everything. Hmm. And listen, we’re on an equal playing field. As you guys, you know, we’re just guiding you on language acquisition. So actually part of the class every day, his students have to come in teach us something new. It could be from their culture, their language, it could be something they read in the newspaper, something going on in their country. But Ganesh Did you know, I know that, you know, Japan has five islands. But did you know Japan has 6852 Islands all together? And I didn’t know that. That’s good to know. And then I have three students. That’s three things I got to learn today. At the end of the week, that’s 15 things. And this is the day they test me the following Monday. All right, is Dean things. Yeah. And I do Marco Campana 22:47remember from what you learned, that’s great. It’s total exchange. So yeah, I get so that, that that notion of of being together in this, and you’re all learning something, obviously takes away that power dynamic, right? Yeah. You were just you’re doing the hands, the top down exactly exactly where you’re heading. Anesh Daya 23:06In this thing, where a teacher is always standing, and the students are sitting, whereas, you know, I have had students who are taller than me, know, they’re looking down on me. It’s, it’s this thing, we’re all in this together, I’m learning as an appoint. Last point I’ll say about this is in terms of both learning. I’ve learned more about Canada, in the city of Toronto, from all the strangers I’ve met than any textbooks or history books I’ve ever read. Marco Campana 23:35That makes so much sense. Yeah. Because you’re talking directly to people. Yeah, it’s a different experience. I love it. I mean, that’s, I’m gonna definitely check out the videos, and I’ll share some of them. So people can get a real visual sense of what that looks like. It’s fascinating. But you know, the question is coming out. So this is incredibly interpersonal, incredibly immersive. And we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and you know, the settlement sector and everyone, we’re all pivoting online. So how do you transition something like this into a digital model? And how’s that been for you? Anesh Daya 24:05And again, this is me being vulnerable. I, I won’t lie and say I didn’t have a few breakdowns when this all happened when like core value offering, let’s go talk to strangers outside. And let’s meet at different locations and what we’re being told to stay at home. Okay. You know, I really had to take a deep dive into just where we’re at what does the future look like for the business and the methodology and all the things that we’ve built up and I said, You know what? Here I am, at that time, 11 years into this business, how many students have I had, what are they doing now? Surely I can reach out to all of them and say, Do you have an hour a week to do online language coaching with me just to add Maintain your English language level or take it to the next level. Sure. And they’re like, Yeah, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And they’re like, We’re so happy that you reached out to us, because we kind of could feel it kind of going down. But now we’re excited and motivated to further learning because now they’re being required to get comfortable online. And, you know, and and talk to strangers. And how do we do this online? I’ll make this as easy. All right. And so and it’s tough, because we’re sitting down. And one of the reasons why I have this experiencial language learning program outside and this is from my, when I was a tennis pro for two years, you know, when you’re learning a rush fact, man, right? I know. Sorry, just said that in. But when you’re learning in motion, right? Hmm, blood is flowing, oxygen is going to the brain. And when you’re sitting down, traditionally, your brain is like, is it sleep time? You know? There’s no, there’s not that adrenaline is not going, you know, right. And there’s also this sense of security and safety that you have sitting behind a camera and a screen. And so, something hit me within the first month, one of my students, her name is Miho. She was a nurse, and she got sick. And it’s at the peak of COVID. And she hadn’t gotten tested yet. And the doctor said, you need to stay in the hospital in quarantine, live in the doctors residents. And then she’s like, she reached out to me said, anish, I can’t go out. I’m eating hospital food every day. I’m stuck in this room. Can you help me? I go, what do you need help with the English? She goes, I just don’t know what to do. I’m I’m having these serious thoughts of, you know, a lot of bad thoughts. And I don’t, I’m not feeling really good. And I came back to her the next day online. And I said, You know what, she really needs his mental health support. Marco Campana 27:00Right? Anesh Daya 27:01Know what how can I? What are what are things that I do on a daily basis? So I’m like, maybe she can we can start the day with gratitude. You know, let’s say what are you grateful for every day in English? Let’s do this in English. What do you you should do this in your own language? But what are you grateful for? In this, like, Oh, I’m I’m grateful to have a job to still get be getting paid while I’m in quarantine. And you know, then I’m like, like, what was the best part of your day? I know you are inside and in your room level is the best part of your day, what was the most challenging part of your day? And what are you going to do better for tomorrow. And I just developed this. And through this student, I started developing this whole new curricula that started talking about self improvement, self love, gratitude, having an attitude of gratitude, which is going to help them in their relationships, their jobs, their just their family, life, everything. But imagine if we can start implementing these daily habits in English, right? At the start of your day, at the end of your day, if you’re asking yourself and answering to yourself these questions in English, and here I am now. And again, I’m not a psychologist or therapist or anything I do not call up I’m but I’m someone who can hold you accountable for doing this. And I have students now giving themselves a score out of five every day, saying, How did I do today? Unknown Speaker 28:40Huh? Anesh Daya 28:41I was a two and that’s okay, if you felt that too. What was it that made it a two. But again, I’m having all these conversations in English and doing a cell in English. In literally all of my students after that. I have students now Marco, they’re doing daily affirmations. I’m strong enough and I’m good enough in every day, my English is getting better and better like that Tony Robbins kind of Unknown Speaker 29:07feel. Yeah, Anesh Daya 29:09but they’re doing this all Marco Campana 29:12in English. And I’ve been doing it with you. Are they recording themselves? Or is that like a boat? Anesh Daya 29:17So how do I pronounce this sentence and I have a list of like 200 affirmations and then like, choose 10 that you want to that resonate with you? Right? I record it for them. I practice it with them. And so even their pronunciation is improving through this constant daily reputation of these affirmations. And they’re feeling them to Right, Marco Campana 29:44right. It’s real. It’s not just English, right? Anesh Daya 29:47But emotions in another language more than they’re even feeling it in their own Marco Campana 29:54mind. That’s fascinating. I love that. So you’ve created a whole new model. Anesh Daya 30:00Truly has I truly have. And it’s been, I’ve been further motivated to help all of these students who aren’t currently hearing. And in the at the same time when we talk about the language and language settlement sector, as I like to call it, I thought, you know what, maybe this is the real angle that a lot of these newcomers are refugees in. And I know I understand there lots of supports out there for them. But imagine if this connectivity with English language learning and mental health and affirmations and daily gret, like what if there was this holistic program that could be offered? Not just like, this is a pen, and then everyone in this now is like, ooh, how can we use technology to to innovate and pivot and I go, what you were doing before and now using technology to continue to do what you were doing before is not going to change a thing? Marco Campana 30:58Yeah, I mean, I wanted to ask you about that, right? Because that we see a lot like, people are pivoting and you know, there’s, that’s an iteration, right? You’re doing what you did in the classroom, online, in the learning management system, or using Moodle or something like that. So you know, what could there be? So your example is one of what could happen? Are you seeing other interesting innovations, new ways of doing things because of this shift shift? Anesh Daya 31:20Well, that the closest thing I’ve seen, that has recently come to light, and something that I initially looked at about three years ago was the virtual environment. You know, how can we have the local cafe doctor’s office supermarket? virtually? Hmm. But even within that, and there are some, there’s some software and VR software out there, that you can do this. But again, that comes down to well, who’s providing this service? Who’s training people? Are they just traditional language teachers now trying to say, oh, now I’m a language coach, I can do this. Right? Are the right people guiding people on the the the psychology of actual language acquisition? Like, how do we take the on the spot methodology, that’s which is a lot there. And then combine that in the VR space as as realistically as possible, right. And that’s what I what I’m trying to navigate now. Because a lot of newcomers, they don’t have access to VR technology. And you know, there’s only so much you can really do. And again, my whole thing is, when I think about the holistic view is, I want that in person connection, that human interaction. And I know we’re going to get back to there in some way, or format, or however that looks, but this human interaction is going to come back at some point, right? And I almost want to let everyone know, hey, we were doing this before, and I get all this tech is here. But let’s also start thinking post this but still used. And we’ve always used technology as a tool, we use things like, you know, we use Quizlet. And we use YouTube videos. And we have a whole handful of tools that we use online, to further enhance whatever what what we already doing well, that students can do at home. Right, right. But to say that, tech is going to completely replace it? I don’t think so. I think there has to be a hybrid almost of both. Marco Campana 33:32Yeah, it’s complementing it, right? Like what you’ve just described, I can imagine, for example, someone that you’ve like you, you essentially are already hybrid, these are people that you did the one on one in person, and maybe now they’re back in another country, and you’re doing the virtual with them. So I want to imagine what that could look like in in Toronto, for example, which does have vast geographies where maybe, you know, the person comes to a classroom or a coaching experience, right? And then when they’re out of that coaching experience, what could they do on technology, the gratitudes, the practice, the things like that, those are things that they could continue to do, even though they’re still in the same city, because they’re at home, maybe they need that to start their day, you know, whatever works for them kind of thing. Anesh Daya 34:12So, absolutely, and, and this is why I’ve been I recently, you know, not reasonable six months ago, approached you and said, and asked for a letter of support for our language settlement program and created this center, where we could have these real life, my hands are in quotes, situations, but in a safe, welcoming environment that could be COVID friendly. And so some kind of center like that, with these different stations with with a language coach, a trained language coach, provide them and it’s also a safe place for them to go and feel comfortable. And then maybe once or twice a week, we can go outside, you know, for sure. And this is one of the reasons why I love embedding ourselves within CSI, this Center for Social Innovation is we made that our home for the last five, six years. And that was a safe place where students could come meet people talk to community join salad club, you know, and connect with other, you know, people. And so having kind of a base or Language Center that people could go to to feel safe as a home and then also get language instruction with these different stations. Yeah, I see it. I see it. Marco Campana 35:31I see the possibility. Yeah, my last question, I guess. And it’ll come up with folks when I speak to them is about to scale. Because this isn’t really resource intensive. I mean, the outcomes theory sound better, but the outcomes sound more, you know, daily life, these people are functioning literally in English much more quickly. But you know, it’s a it’s a small classroom, it’s a small space environment, how can you envision this being scaled, like for newcomers across the country in a meaningful way? Anesh Daya 35:57Well, this is why I come up with the idea of this language settlement center, if you call or English language learning ecosystem, we call it l if you want, you know, if just like you have Lions Club, or the rotary or something like in every city across the world, why couldn’t we have one of these language centers in an already Kosti or other organizations that are you know, their existing space? Right, right. But if we have the thing is because right now, we’re a for profit organization. All the people, a lot of people in the settlement industry know who we are, they’re like, Well, have you applied for grants? And that’s not an answer. There’s so much red tape. And only the organizations who have been around forever get the grants. And I don’t know about grant writing. I’m like, so if if we could connect with the right people who understand what we do and say, Hey, we want to bring you on board. Let’s Let’s co apply for a grant, you know, right. And, but I can imagine the scalability of this being like a language center that could be copy and pasted in every city across Canada. Marco Campana 37:05Nice, replicable, easily replicated? Absolutely. Anesh Daya 37:09And this is literally the first place they go when they come into the city is this language learning center where they’re, they’re given this orientation of what is language learning mean? What does it mean to be in a new country like? And I don’t think they’re really given the proper orientation of like, let’s, let’s use language as a tool to break barriers and build bridges. Marco Campana 37:32Right. Building inclusion, not just settlements. Absolutely. Yeah, that makes so much sense. And that’s that fits with the values of the sector, at least in rhetoric anyway. Yeah. Awesome. Well, listen, is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you want people to know about the work that you’re doing and how the innovation in the language settlement sector could could kickstart given what we’re learning and what we’re experiencing during COVID? Anesh Daya 38:00i, huh. Hmm. I think in terms of technology, and innovation, really get back to say, Well, how is language successfully, like just people that really think about how is language really learned for someone settling in a new country and, you know, almost getting back to the roots of thinking? human connection, human connection, and, and I would say, getting the right training in place. I have people hiring that dentists, they’re hiring volunteers left, right and center have no idea about. Some of them are traditional teachers, and they’re doing online tutoring. But again, they’re tutoring from a textbook or trying to teach conversational English, but they have no idea of the process of like language coaching, so maybe bringing the world of language coaching more into the forefront of saying no, and if and I think the government, if you look at in years later, they’re gonna save millions and millions of dollars, if they can get language settlement down, in the course of six months to a year, learn more than he would have many newcomers have been here for 15 years. Marco Campana 39:19Yeah, that would make a huge difference. You’re absolutely right. Anesh Daya 39:22So you know, kind of rethinking the approach and what it means to get effective training. And this is hopefully something I’m going to be able to offer his effective language coaching, training. A no and if on the spot language is at the forefront of this language settlement sector. You know, and I don’t want to work alone. I want to work with all of these other sectors, their their counselors, the doctor’s office, you know, because if the doctors know the language we’re using with them, you know, and knowing if we’re, if we’re the hub of all these other sectors and languages in the middle They’re gonna be able to learn English in every situation, you know? And so yeah, that’s, that’s good. Yeah, Marco Campana 40:08I love it. That’s a great dream. And I’m hoping that we can move towards it, then thank you for this. I love the work that you’re doing. It’s interesting, and congratulations on the global award. That’s always nice. And hopefully, it’ll come to something more, you know, more more real in Canada for you, as you push forward your model with with some of these sort of mainstream providers. Anesh Daya 40:30And yeah, that credibility, I hopefully will, like you said, you know, lend a hand to reaching some people or getting some more recognition. And again, you know, you’ve been a huge supporter from our initial conversation and connecting us with some amazing people. And just like, you know, my buddy, Craig Edwards, you know, you guys are great connectors, and really passionate about finding the right services for the right people. And when it comes to, you know, how can we use technology, not to take over but as a tool to help other people, you’re on a store front of that, and I appreciate all the great conversations you’ve had around that, to make people just aware of the what’s out there. Marco Campana 41:13Yeah, I appreciate that. And I mean, it’s an insatiable curiosity. So I really appreciate you taking the time to help people understand better what you’ve been able to do, not just for, you know, 11 years, but in the last year as well. So I think we’re all still trying to figure this out. So this is a great example of another approach that people need to be thinking about. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it. Anesh Daya 41:33Awesome. Thank you. Marco Campana 41:35Thanks 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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks again.
25 Apr 2021
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TiHS Episode 24: How do I know my transition to virtual service delivery is effective?
Recently I moderated a panel focused on measuring virtual service delivery for the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group, and then we had a short focus group after with participants. Manjeet Dhiman from ACCES Employment was on the panel along with Jason Shim from Pathways to Education Canada, and Lawrence Murphy from Worldwide Therapy Online. The PNSG audience was interested in perspectives from outside the sector, so I brought Jason and Lawrence together, but also thought Manjeet could provide some grounding from an org in the sector that is well ahead of most.It was a great discussion and they all provided great insights that I think are useful for all our work. Questions the panelists addressed: How do I know that my transition to virtual service delivery is effective? What did I get right? What didn’t I get right?What non-settlement sectors are delivering services virtually or in a hybrid service delivery model and are delivering these services at a high level of quality?By what standards or guidelines can I compare how my transition to virtual service delivery compares to what is considered best practice?Does a checklist for improving my virtual service delivery exist? What are the elements comprising this list through a short- and longer-term lens?How can I monitor and improve my service delivery mix moving forward? Machine-Generated Transcript What follows is an AI-generated transcript 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. 0:00Welcome to Episode 24 of the technology and Human Services podcast. This episode is recording of a panel I moderated recently focused on measuring virtual service delivery for the newcomer Strategy Group. In this podcast your host panelists man gt mon from access employment along with Jason shim from pathways to education Canada, and Lawrence Murphy from worldwide therapy online, you recognize Jason and Lawrence from previous episodes. And as usual, they provide amazing insights in this discussion. All of our panelists did a great job in helping the audience understand this complex topic. They address questions like how do I know my transition to virtual service delivery is effective? What standards or guidelines can I find are compared to help my transition to virtual service delivery? Are there checklists? or other tools that exists that I can use to improve my virtual service delivery? And how can I monitor and improve my service delivery mix moving forward? It was a really good conversation and meandering conversation that hit a lot of different pieces for people in the audience. And I think you’ll find it a really useful resource for you here. I am really excited to to bring this panel to you folks today. This is a topic I think that is, is a conversation that’s really only just beginning, in our sector in terms of measuring the experience of going digital over the last year, more or less, and what that looks like in the future. So we have three folks on the panel. Jason and Majeed, who I’ll introduce in a moment are going to be here for the entire hour. And then Lawrence Murphy will be joining us at about 130 and we’ll bring him into the conversation. So I want to introduce our first two panelists said Jason Shem. 1:34loves to consider the question how can we harness technology to make a difference in the world. He’s the director of digital strategy and transformation at pathways to education, where he leads their technology and innovation strategy. For those of you who don’t know categories is an organization dedicated to helping youth in low income communities graduate from high school and reach their full potential. 1:55Jason is an innovator with an insatiable curiosity I followed his work and have appreciated his guidance for years. And he is known across North America as a nonprofit technology Rockstar. He’s consistently helped organizations to be stay ahead of the curve. And to just give you a sense of that curve in 2013, he led pathway to become one of the first charities to issue tax receipts for Bitcoin donations. And he just most recently co authored the book, Bitcoin and the future of fundraising. So Jason is ahead of the curve in so many ways, and I look to him for for so much information and guidance and he is very, 2:32very sharing of 2:34information and knowledge. So we’re gonna, we’re gonna get a lot of great input from him. Representing the sector is man Jeevan, who is the SVP of services and strategic initiatives at access employment. In her role that access management provides leadership in areas of collaborative service delivery, community engagement, program development, digital services, as well as marketing and communications. For those of you who are who don’t know access is very much a leader in our sector when it comes to technology innovation, and most recently has launched Veera the virtual employment and resource attendant, which is an AI powered chatbot, offering employment services online 24 seven, and job search support to job seekers in the GTA and around the world. Majeed is the past president of the board of directors for O’Casey, the Ontario Council of agencies serving immigrants. And we’re very happy to have her as well on the settlement sector and technology task group where she’s providing advice and insight to our work there. So, and then Lawrence Murphy, who will join us at about 130. 3:34Outside the sector as as Jason does, he’s the founder of worldwide therapy online. So if you think that this whole technology thing is new and online counseling and online service delivery, well, Lawrence has been doing it since 1994. He is a pioneer in cyber counseling in in in Canada and an authority in that space he has he authored the first ethical code for online counseling for the national board for certified counselors. He is very committed to sharing his knowledge and helping service professionals incorporate online counseling into their practice. So for example, early on in the pandemic, in March 2020, he started offering online training to mental health professionals who were suddenly like the rest of us pivoting online. And he delivered over 42 sessions on just over two months training about 7000 mental health professionals in the techniques and and challenges and opportunities of online counseling. So we’ll get to him when he arrives. But But I wanted to start and let folks know that some you know, we’re gonna be talking the panel with the panel for about an hour. We want to leave your questions in and outs of our conversation. So please use the chat. And we’ll be monitoring that post questions. If it’s relevant to the moment we’re speaking up, I’ll bring it into the conversation, or we’ll make sure we try to get to those questions as we’re moving along. We have our own first set of questions that I’ve provided with with Manju from Angie and Jason. And we’ll kind of start with that and then we’ll we’ll go where the conversation takes us. So men 5:00Dude, I want to start with you in terms of positioning us in the conversation, so you know your organization’s experiences during the pandemic, but also pre COVID as well, because as I mentioned, you’re an innovator in this space. But how have you and your organization been pivoting, innovating upskilling supporting staff during the shift to remote in digital work? And how’s it going? 5:24Thank you so much, Marco. That’s a great question. And I know that a lot of work is happening across the sector. As you mentioned, I think one of the things that 5:36we’re I’m very thankful of accesses that we did have, and I’m sure many others did, digital services was on the horizon before the pandemic. So I think one of the things that we were doing was, we were kind of using a very phased approach, you really looking at change management, how we were going to introduce slowly the different elements of online services, and so on into into our services. And where we had started and is really important is, first of all, just with a database, where we’re switching from having, you know, paper files, and notes and things like that, and then transitioning to something that’s, that’s digital, that’s really important. And that was really important during this pandemic, because one of the first things that we needed was to make sure we have access to client files, and that we’re able to pace manage, and track the activities that we’re doing, and to be able to do that online without the paper files, and to be doing it remotely as well. So I think, you know, that’s something that again, probably many organizations were already in on that path. But it’s a it was a long process. And I think one where we were probably around, I’d seen 70% there, but there were still, you know, some staff that prefer writing, taking their notes and typing them in later and so on. And I think, again, the pandemic really pushed us forward to say, that’s kind of like, there’s none of that you don’t have your files, you got to do everything online, so, so even some of those things like those were new for some of our staff, because they weren’t, you know, fully transitioned to that other people were more comfortable doing that. But that’s kind of a core of our services. Maybe we don’t think of that as online services. But it’s it’s definitely 7:34a very, very important kind of foundational piece. And I think that, you know, we we had some experience in delivering online services from about 2016, when we first started to develop and launch our pre arrival services. And, of course, it being pre arrival and supporting immigrants before they arrived. Naturally, it’s all online, because the clients aren’t here yet. But I think as an organization, we were really kind of struggling through the, you know, how do you use technology? And do we use technology for the clients that we serve through our community? In our sites, we have seven sites in the GTA, and we’re very community based. And you know, we draw people from the local neighborhoods and so on. So so there was this kind of like a push and pull of, you know, do we do we start to move our online services to these other programs? And we had started to do that very slowly. There was different opinions about you know, if you offer it online, they won’t come in person. 8:45Does it? Does it replace your services? Does it enhance your services, all of these kinds of debates that we were having. But still, regardless of the debates moving in that direction, and slowly moving programs, 9:00not completely online, but giving them access to the different tools and systems that we have the biggest, I guess, edition or online feature that we had created before the pandemic was having our elearning sort of Portal and library. And this is where clients would have access, they would go in and they could do self directed learning, through different modules, and so on. So again, we had kind of slowly phased that into some projects. 9:31And then the pandemic really pushed us into using 9:37some more some of some other tools actually, that we needed to implement more immediately. And those are things like our phone systems being again, the fact that we can remotely call clients and access our extensions and so on. That was a really important feature that 9:55for access, we have the capacity, but we hadn’t sort of enabled those features. We still answered 10:00Got our, sorry, answered the phone at our desk. But but with the system that we have the voice system, we can now answer our phones right on our computers and extensions and so on. So we have set up a call center, so that we, you know, clients are still calling the same numbers that we have, and then they can get transferred to staff and so on. 10:23teleconferencing is, of course, a big addition. You know, a lot of meetings and workshops and things that were happening in person now had to transition to online. So just some, some of our staff were very comfortable. And already using those tools and others, it was very new, I think the main thing that we have learned is that online services is not just like a one channel, 10:51you know, we talk about it as online, it’s not just one channel, it’s, it’s, it’s a multiple different channels that need to be available. And again, much like in person services, it’s not just a workshop or one on one. It’s there’s all these different channels of communication with, with our clients and amongst our teams. And we need to translate each one of those components into into the digital realm. So really, it’s a combination again, of our phone system, course emails, but our database for case management, the teleconferencing for workshops, and webinars and meetings, but then also our E learning, where people can sort of navigate through resources and tools on their own as well. 11:42Okay, thank you for start. That’s awesome. Um, Jason, I want to I want to bring the same question to you, but with the perspective that I know, just like access, you’ve been working on this for some time at pathways, and and you also had a very ambitious start to 2020. Before before the pandemic hit, but that you were able to maintain some of that momentum. And so I wonder if you can speak a little bit to the pre and during the pandemic kind of work that you’ve been doing, not just around technology, but also around processes, because some of the things that you’ve been doing that I find really innovative and interesting include, you know, having a sounding board within your clients, for example, to make sure that the choices you’re making are the right choices when it comes to technology and communication. Yeah, for sure. So I can I can speak to some of the the context in which I entered 2020 was that part of the measurement for performance among staff, you know, already pre COVID was around innovation. And so there was a very specific mandate to come up with the ways that we can, you know, further 12:47our service delivery and impact through through innovation. And so, we were really already looking at various initiatives around scaling and extending, you know, the, what we were providing, and also looking at digital services. 13:02So some of the things that we were already exploring in the background, were some of the ideas around how do we create virtual spaces, because one of the things that we often heard in our research is that students would find it challenging to find a quiet places to study or focused kind of spaces. And this is often in reference to physical places, pre COVID, like a, you know, if, if they’re able to make it out to a library or find a quiet place in the school, you know, what other spaces can be provided. So we’d already done some prototyping around some online kind of video spaces where we would spin up 13:42some servers that students could use. And what we were doing as part of the, the testing was, you know, what if we scheduled, you know, specific times where folks could hang out and just designate You know, this is a dedicated focus time, you know, you can study, you know, whatever you like. But this is 14:02a time that you can set aside each day or each week to do. So. 14:09In the background, we had already, there were a few staff that were set up for remote work, as well, so that just to give context around some of the infrastructure. And coincidentally, we were in the midst of transitioning 14:24video conferencing platforms to zoom as well, the week before, we all went fully remote. So all these things converge in in March 2020. And 14:40one thing that has been very helpful is that over the years, we have 14:46had 14:48full time 14:51technical positions within pathways, recognizing that I am an integral part of service delivery as well as meaning you 15:00Making sure that we can supply like the the infrastructure that is really critical to all the other work that we do. So with relatively quickly, we were able to get set up 15:11to continue, you know, connecting with our service providers, or partners across the country as well as students. So one of the very immediate things that came up was, how do we ensure that that folks can stay connected. So what we did was we spun up 15:31a video server, so that, you know, folks didn’t necessarily have to use of zoom or anything else that they had just, you could just drop in a link and have like an immediate video server that was ready to go. And so we had that up within about a couple of days. And we sent that out to all of our program partners across the country, to let them know, it’s okay, if you, 15:55if you want something to use, you don’t have to worry about licensing, like, here’s something that you can run with. 16:02And 16:04we we quickly, accelerate work on a couple other initiatives as well. And what this has kind of evolved into is kind of building a suite of services, that one of the things we heard, and that we 16:22have, that has really 16:25informed our approach is meeting people where they are. So while we recognize that, you know, there was still availability to send out things via email, in such that one thing we were hearing was that a lot of students interact with, 16:41with our program via text messages. But one of the challenges that arose was the amount of time that it would take to send text messages and radio, we’re hearing stories of, you know, individually messaging, you know, many, many students every week. And so, 16:57one, one thing that we’re able to do was that we were able to build 17:03a bulk 17:05text message sender. So, you know, we’re able to do, you know, check ins and nudges and reminders of you know, events, and you just have them scheduled and automated and to send them all out. And part of the benefit is that by by rolling it in house as well, that we’re able to save on the long term costs that would otherwise be 17:24incurred there. 17:27And then the the feedback loops, that you mentioned earlier, those have been really critical for ensuring that we are being very aware of what what it is that people need. So along with sending out bulk text messages, one thing that we were hearing from folks was, 17:46you know, sometimes not being sure if a number is a landline or a mobile number. And you know, that’s pretty important. There are some folks that are still using, you know, landline numbers as well, or, you know, or to get a phone number or potentially, you know, get disconnected. So, we actually worked on a phone number verification system that will actually validate a phone number to verify, you know, whether or not it’s, it’s working. So all these kinds of things they have, 18:14we were able to do these things, because of 18:18pretty much a long term view of building the internal kind of digital team. And so this wasn’t something that grew overnight, it was very much a team that has grown steadily, you know, I think over the last, you know, 10 years or so, 18:32and but it has required a very intentional focus on recognizing that technology plays a very large role in what we do. And that is a very much an impact multiplier in that regard. And I think, you know, while reflecting on the technology piece, I think that 18:54it’s it’s also had me consider over the past year that, you know, while technology does play a large role, it really is, you know, more of a tool, and some of them, the things that we’ve been doing are really more process oriented, and how process can inform our interactions with technology. So, you know, some of the, you know, very kind of even non technical things are things like, you know, shifting from maybe a weekly team meeting to daily daily stand ups. So I think that that’s a convention that me is more frequent, frequently found in, 19:30in my familiarity in working in the tech sector, is something that, you know, having daily check ins for like 15 minutes with with the team every morning, just to make sure that everything’s on track, but also to make sure that everyone’s doing okay. 19:45I’m hopping on a quick zoom call to do that. 19:49And I think also just making sure those feedback loops are there. So again, going back to process that, you know, if 19:56if folks are can identify ways to make 20:00ways of working better that, you know, we can act very quickly upon them. So, you know, I think feedback around, you know, if if people are indicating that they are 20:07experiencing Xoom fatigue, you know that, that is something, you know, definitely to listen to, and, you know, what that has translated into is, you know, experiments with internal policies around the, you know, hard stops for meetings and an emphasis on like, no meeting blocks, where, you know, there are certain days of the week for afternoons where it’s like, it’s understood there to be no internal meetings, just to, to to try and 20:34do something different, and you’re continuing iterating on those feedback loops. 20:40So 20:42the one thing that’s been super important around that is just around communication, as well. So, you know, things around, you know, we had implemented slack A number of years ago, internally, and that has been really important for ensuring you know, clear lines of communication and setting up notification systems and such. But I’ll pause here for now, I could go on 21:03the list of, you know, various technological kind of implementation pieces, but the ones I outlined earlier have been kind of a major focus areas and making sure that people can continue to really connect with students and keep keep those important relationships going because that really, under and underlies, you know, the, the work that we do. I want to I want to stick with you for a minute on the next question, because I think when you’re talking about the the process orientation, the change management, and being intentional about the way you’re using technology, for a lot of folks in the audience, they haven’t had the luxury of being intentional, it just happened. And they’ve been making technology choices, or they’ve been going along, but they want to be able to build in the ability to to measure and I think a lot of what you’ve said, speaks to that. So communication loops, feedback loops with staff, making sure you’re in constant communication with your clients as well. And using tools that work for the team, have there been other processes or, or approaches that you’ve been able to 22:04create to help measure? Whether you’re making the right choices? And when do you need to shift and move to say, a new approach a new technology, those kinds of things? Absolutely. I think any, anytime, there is a chance to get feedback, that that is something that we are actively looking out for. And you know, not not to the point where it becomes onerous, where every time you send us an email, you’re gonna get like a feedback from like, you know, what, what did you think of the interaction, but, you know, we, part of it is trying to strike that balance between getting feedback, but not making it, you know, just either intrusive or too time consuming. So, you know, even after we have like, internal meetings, you know, one thing that we started doing for some of our internal committees was, after every meeting, evaluating how effective was that meeting, like was that was that meeting worth having, or no, or what needs to be changed, and one of the internal kind of culture, things that we’ve done is, we were piloting kind of an internal program called tiny gains. And that’s where the operating off the principle of 1% gains. So that even, you know, if, if you take, you know, one to the power of one point, or one, one multiplied by 1.1, so 1% gain, you know, accrued over the course of a year, I think, the multiplier or something like that, that’s a 37 x improvement, and really trying to communicate that to all staff. 23:32And indicating, like, no matter what it is that we’re doing internally, whether it’s, you know, technology or process or whichever, like, take a step back and think, could we even make this 1% better? And if so, you know, there’s a process for documenting that internally. And that enters into our tiny gains, tracking. So over the course of a year, that, you know, it’s it’s also a source of pride for staff to be able to look at it and be like, yeah, look at all these, like, amazing, tiny gains that we’ve made over the course of a year that have, you know, are taking us towards that, you know, 37 x, you know, improvement, assuming one is made every day. 24:07The other, it should get into more specificity is having standing meetings, for feedback sessions. So one thing that in our development of 24:20some of the tools that we’re building is having a standing weekly meeting with staff members, and as well as students across the country. 24:29to just get a sense of the key, what do you think of our latest feature that was just pushed out, or the latest thing that we did, and just really sitting back and listening, and, you know, trying to nudge things a little bit forward every week. So it’s sometimes you know, the, the feedback that comes back 24:47is very direct. Sometimes it’s a little bit more 24:51ambiguous, but underlying it, there’s always a little seed in there that, you know, has resulted in some really cool insights. 25:00Is that is that the same group of students each week like you have kind of a sounding board? Or do you kind of mix it up? When you’re getting that input? For some of the groups, it is the same group. And for others, it does change up. So it depends on availability. But one of the groups I’m thinking of in particular, that we work with in St. JOHN has been the same students. And that has been helpful because as, as they’ve been building that comfort level, and such that they also feel more comfortable, you know, sharing the work, critical feedback that is ultimately helpful. So these are the outwards kind of pieces, the tiny gains, having a data approach to do that for incremental change having these standing meetings with with clients and the students. Under the below the iceberg, there’s the making that actually impact the work that you’re doing. And what is that take as an organization around around internal processes and internal trust and relationships, and even power issues within an organization to be able to say, okay, we’re going to listen, and but we’re also going to use that in some meaningful way to make change within the organization. That’s much more than just asking and doing there’s, there’s there’s process and relationship and power issues within within that framework that imagine that you’re dealing with as well. Definitely, for sure. And I think one of the things that, you know, it’s been an evolution on on my own team has been the implementation of things, a process, 26:31blameless post mortems. So, you know, after, you know, something, you know, a project that goes on, or if there’s a, you know, a technical incident or something, that it’s really, you know, just reminding everyone of the fundamental principles where, 26:46when, when debriefing on it, that we need to be as critical as we can about it. But we also need to manage that emotional layer of like, you know, there is no blame to be assigned to you. We’re all in it as a team. But we do need to make sure that, you know, we are constantly improving as well. So, you know, that those are processes that we’re actively kind of, we’re we’re borrowing a lot from the tech side of things. In part, we have had some staff that have 27:15drawn experiences from that. And so we’re kind of cross pollinating the worlds. Yeah. Right, Lawrence, I see you there. We’ll call upon you soon. But I want to I want to direct the same question to around how you’re finding, as you’re making these these pivots, and these changes, pre COVID enduring, how are you trying to measure? You’re a large organization like like, like Jason’s, you’re in multiple locations? What kind of approaches have you been taking to try to measure the impact in the choices you’re making? 27:44So I think one of the important things is, again, technology is a tool, and a lot of our core measures remain the same, right? So we’re really looking at, you know, our intake numbers, the number of participants, are they logging on? What are like, how long do they stay? Do they complete the program? 28:06Those kinds of things we were looking at before, and we need to continue to look at that now is that changing because of the technology. And in some ways, in some ways, we are noticing that with technology, that there for some people, it’s it’s, it’s improved their access to our services. And so you know, we don’t get the same when once people if they have the technology, and I’ll speak to that if they have the technology, they have the digital skills, then you know, what, we’re actually seeing better attendance, we’re seeing strong participation, because the barrier of getting to our office and you know, childcare, and travel costs, and all of those things are being eliminated. So, so we can measure those things as well. So we can see where there is advantage and participation. We also know where there has been drop offs in in the number of clients who can participate. And and we’re asking those questions very directly through the phone and through the intake process, and trying to get a sense of how many people can’t participate because of some of the same reasons because because of childcare, that they have children at home, they they’re finding it difficult, or maybe they don’t have the technology and so on. So we’re really looking at ways of gathering both quantitative as well as qualitative 29:31data. So so that’s really an important piece. And I think, you know, even to the earlier discussion about, you know, key learnings. I think before, there was a choice not only for us as an organization about the extent to which we adopt the technology, but even for our clients, there was always the choice. So you know, if they weren’t comfortable with the online if they didn’t even sometimes they don’t even want to work on by email or phone. They want to come and talk to them. 30:00counselor in person. So and that’s fine, we have those choices. Unfortunately, under these circumstances, that lack of choice means that there’s there’s many people who are, you know, are not able to access our services. 30:15So so that’s a really important piece for us to look at in that. And I think it goes again, speaks again to that mix of services, what can they participate in. And Margo, as we’ve talked about, before about some of the things that we’ve done to offset those challenges with like loaning devices, you know, how helping people like advocate for resources around internet access, and so on. So those those all those things are really important. But in terms of measuring, again, as I said, some of the core measures stay the same. It’s participation, numbers, completion numbers. But I also do find that, you know, in some ways, having using digital services makes 30:58metrics and feedback actually much easier. So it’s not just again, conversation, it’s things are getting documented, they can be tracked, they can be, you know, data can be compiled and looked at. 31:13And then decisions can be made about what’s working, what’s not working. And that’s, that is a really important piece. And for us online services has not just been the the direct services, but we have things like for example, our EA access, which is on our website, and it’s different pieces of information, resources, videos, all of those things. And we have a lot of metrics behind that we can see which of those resources are people looking at? How long are they looking at it all of those things? And then that really gives us a sense of, Okay, what more should we create? What should we eliminate? What are people liking and not so it does in that way, we’re using a lot of the metrics, from those 32:02have to say also, even around outreach, is a really big piece, if we think about how we were engaging clients into our services, there was a lot of in person promotion and collaboration, people were seeing flyers and brochures and going to libraries and things like that. And, and we’ve lost a lot of that, or almost all of that. So we’re really relying on digital 32:28and online marketing, but also word of mouth again, so even just on the phone talking to our clients saying like, if you have anybody if you know of anybody who’s looking so that kind of encouragement of, of getting the referrals and working in collaboration is really important. Yeah, we did notice, in some of our programs, again, just looking at intake numbers were their strength. And, you know, we’re still seeing strong intake in other programs where there’s been declines and and then we have to look at ways of, of improving that. 33:03I think the key message is that the core measures remain the same is something that’s really important. You know, your your your outcomes are the choices you make are about client outcomes, or client support. And I like in our preliminary report for the task group, we got a really interesting quote from an IT director about choosing technology solutions and evaluating them. And he was very frank, he said, the only Wrong answer technologically is the one that doesn’t work. So if what you’re doing is working, and you finding out that it’s working, because you’re you’re getting that feedback from clients, you already have measures in place, or you should have, you’re going to find out very quickly whether the specific intervention, whether it’s, you know, technology or not, is actually working. And I and we’ve had this conversation on the task group as well, I think part of the challenges, we don’t always have those core capacities in place in our organizations. So we have a three legged table that isn’t totally built up yet. And we’re layering digital on top of that, and then it just kind of collapses, because we haven’t built the structures and capacities in place in order to sort of do that. So I think that’s a really important message about about core service delivery. And Laurence welcomed. I already introduced you, I promised I said nice things. And I want to better when 34:15I bring you into the conversation to to further this conversation that this piece about about measuring. One of the questions from folks, three, three workshop was, you know, what are some of the standards and guidelines that that that our sector can compare with other sectors. And I know because you’ve done a lot of work in assessing this in what’s considered best or promising practices, what you might be able to share with those kinds of standards and accepted protocols and things like that around digital or online service delivery. Right. So the first thing is, is that most people have a professional association they belong to, it’s definitely worth checking in with them. And if they don’t have something, tell them they have to have something. It’s not acceptable a year. 35:00for them not to. Anyway. 35:03So the the CRP o has some pretty good materials. The ccpa has some pretty good materials. Oh, s w has good materials bcaas W. I’ve been doing webinars, you probably told people all across the country. And I did 97 today. 35:21Oh, wow, I only told them that you’re done 42 in the first two months of 2020, so well, 97 I’ve trained 11,000 mental health professionals across the country in the last 11 months. So one of the big themes you’re hearing from those, those those folks about what they don’t know, what they’re wondering about in terms of 35:40I mean, a lot of it is, uh, you know, what platform should I use? And how do I know what the keys are for, for you know, to use for using a platform. Another thing is around clients getting to choose what they want to do. I think most people thought that this was what everybody was going to want. It turns out that a lot of young people have no interest in being on video. A lot of young people want to be on the phone, they would rather text instant message. So, so that that’s that’s one of the issues. And then the third, I mean, I’m dealing with all sorts of different kinds of agencies and populations, and so on. So there are some, you know, smaller minor themes, but the third one is around risk. 36:30People who are at risk populations who are at more risk, you know, how do we deal with that? And what do we do? And, 36:38yeah, I mean, people, you know, who are, you know, maybe they’re working with a population who, you know, a year ago, sure, there would be some yelling in the family, and there’d be storming out, and that’s not good. But that would be the extent of it. And now it’s now it’s physical violence. Now, it’s elder abuse, and you know, which, which there was yelling and insults and things. And that’s not good. But it wasn’t physical. And now it is. So it’s, 37:04yeah, and then I guess the one other thing is compassion, fatigue and burnout. So, you know, the the initial training that I was doing was around, you know, how to use video to communicate with clients, and what are, you know, how do you compensate for the absence of non verbals on the phone and things? I did one last week for the Ontario Association of Social Workers on burnout and compassion, fatigue, and there were 380 people on the call. 37:35So, so it’s an issue, obviously, it’s a huge issue. And it’s across the board. And, and yeah, so we’re a sector that’s full of acronyms soup as well. And you went really quickly through some of those associations. I’m wondering, because those are sectors that we perhaps could look at for some of these standards and promising practices. Can you just expand out the the names of those associations? Yeah, so the ccpa is the Canadian counseling and psychotherapy associations. That’s That’s mine. There’s the Ontario Association of Social Workers. There’s the British Columbia Association of Social Workers. The bc ACC, which is the British Columbia association of clinical counselors, they’re also doing some great work, Social Work associations across the country. Most of them not all, but most of them have excellent materials. 38:25And then the CRP O is the College of registered psychotherapists in Ontario. So it’s a legislative overarching body rather than, you know, a sort of a volunteer group that came together. But they also have some good information, I sent you a checklist, that it’s just a nice little checklist, nice little tool to be able to run through. Yeah. And we’ll be sharing all of that plus, in previous conversations, you’ve provided me with those links to everything you just mentioned. But we’ll make sure those go out fabulous. And what I think is useful to speak to a little bit is that those are those are professions associations that, that do this work in a regulatory framework and in the settlement sector, unless it’s very specific, like someone who is a social worker doing social work, we don’t exist in that same kind of regulatory framework. So I think it’s useful to know about where there’s interesting and replicable models that that that that sort of already hit a high standard that we can then incorporate into our work, because then we know, we’re we’re hitting that high standard, we don’t have to wonder, Is this an acceptable level of standard practice? Because someone else who’s going to get sued if they don’t meet it has established those those parameters? That’s that’s always a good bar. If the person is going to get sued, and they’re doing this, do that. 39:43Absolutely. And so you’ve mentioned there’s some checklists 39:47what what are some of the elements for people’s individual capacity to think through, I’m doing this work as a frontline worker, you know, what’s the mental checklist they need to be going through in order to 40:00To to ensure that their interventions are effective and safe. And and and that they’re measuring the outcomes of those in this space. Again, when you’re not having the body language, perhaps maybe you’re not even on video with someone, how does that change the way that you actually figure out? Whether your interventions are effective? Yes, that’s that’s a huge question. I mean, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10 months, 40:23at three and a half hours a time. So it’s the five minute version, yeah, give us the five minute version. So to distill it, 40:32so that the first thing is to, to be consciously aware and to reflect on and think about the absence of tone of voice and nonverbals. And so you know, thinking about on the phone, when you’re talking to somebody, what would you be aware of, if they were with you, all sorts of stuff. So maybe check in with them, you know, and see how they’re doing, I might be crying, you don’t know unless I tell you. And, and, and here’s one of the funny things about these environments is, people don’t actually reflect on that they don’t think to themselves, typically, oh, wait a minute, I’m on the phone, they can’t see me, this is not a thing that happens in our brain, we just pick up the phone and go Yo, what’s up. So, so being being, you know, conscious of those things, the absence of tone of voice, the nonverbals, and the degree to which they, they, they both give you information as the professional, and also allow you to communicate, to your, to your clients, to your customers. 41:31And then, in terms of that, one of the things I’d say about video, you know, I do this illustration, when I do the training, is, as soon as we get on video, we think, hey, I’ve got it, all of it. It’s all available to me here, right? Because I can see the person, our brain kind of tricks us. But you know, what am I doing with my hands? 41:50I’m wringing my hands. I’m actually quite uncomfortable with these questions. You’re asking me Marco, what am I doing with my legs? I have my legs up off the ground, I’m rubbing my ankles together, I really wish you’d stop Actually, it’s really freaking me out. But you don’t know if I can control my tone of voice. If I can control my facial expressions, you have no idea what’s happening to me. So one of the big keys in online work is to slow down, slow things down. And the second thing is check in more regularly. You know, how’s this going for you? I want to stop asking you questions if for a moment just to see how, how it’s how it’s working for you how you’re feeling here, you know, check in more regularly, because you can see me from here up and you know, I do this too, in the training. If I’m on the phone, I’m not going to do this. Hey, Marco, how’s it going? Man, I’m going to be like this. You see me from here up, everything else is absent. There’s a lot of information that comes out from the way I carry my body, the way I move my hands. It’s all absence. So. So being conscious of that when you go into the environment, reflecting on the implications of that for the work that you’re doing. And then you want to decide how much of this Do I need to question my client about how much of what I’m going through? Do I want to share? But basically, the two big things are one, slow things down. And to check in more often. What’s up? How’s it going? 43:20Thank you, Lauren. So I, I feel like the RF sector can learn a lot from other sectors around the again, the standards, but also the practices and the conversations they’re having. So I’m wondering man, Jude, and Jason as well. Have you been looking outside of your own spaces, your own networks to see how you can bring different practices in and test them and evaluate them in terms of how they might be able to impact the work that you’re doing? Jason? Why don’t we Why don’t we start with you? 43:48Yeah, I think, you know, I mentioned earlier was moving to things like a daily check in which you know, more familiar like, 43:57kind of scrum team type approach. I would say that, the, 44:03what, what Lauren’s just mentioned earlier, really resonated, because that that is one thing that we’re seeing reflected in our data as well that when students are are hopping on calls, that video video tends to be turned off and, and what what we’re kind of borrowing from other 44:23organizations or more in the kind of marketing or tech side is we have made increased use of 44:33video, but asynchronous video, so using tools like video to like pre recorded messages, to kind of convey like, you know, those like, Hey, 44:45this is a message you know, we just want to send or get across that, you know, goes beyond you know, that that text message or a voice message, but you know, just to try and build a little more of a connection there as well. 44:58Those are the immediate 45:00Things that, 45:02that come to mind in terms of borrowing from from others. And then like setting setting up ticketing systems, because I think that that’s one thing that in terms of the level of expectations that people are bringing for, like service delivery, that, you know, we were actually competing more with Uber and McDonald’s and that, you know, you literally can click something and something will show up at your door within, you know, 1015 minutes, it’s that 45:25even something as simple as building a ticketing system, so people can get more rapid responses. So it’s not, you know, waiting for it to be triage by like a single person that, you know, you can have a higher visibility so that those are kind of practices that were 45:40or and tools that we’ve kind of brought in and emphasized more, I think that’s a really important point to look at the experiences that people are having in other places like businesses, right, the expectations of instant communication of instant gratification of getting what you need right away from from Uber or something like that. But I also really liked that you speaking about the asynchronous and I’ll come back to you, but I want to pick on Lawrence for a second because you’ve pioneered an asynchronous approach to conversational therapy that is asynchronous. So we’re all very, I think, fixated on the real time to synchronous and being in the same place in time with video or even, you know, texting in the moment. But But what Jason’s brought up reminds me of, of the approach that you’ve really worked on, which is incorporating a technique that can help within asynchronous communication within email communication, or, you know, just over time. Yeah, that’s where we started. I’ve been doing online counseling for 27 years. I started doing online counseling in 1994. So, so all we had them was email. And yeah, you know, using using some techniques to compensate for the absence of tone of voice and non verbals? That that’s been really critical. The, the, I will say that the most surprising thing about the, the the text based work, you know, we call it therapy, male therapy male Haha, is that is that it works. And not only that, but clients feel connected and engaged with us, we, we we went into it assuming that it was going to be the poor cousin. And we started doing research, you know, assuming that, you know, things would take longer, and people will feel less connected. And and it turned out not to be true, that clients actually feel deeply connected and engaged in the text based work we do, you know, research, Matt measuring, I don’t know, if people are familiar with this idea. But the therapeutic alliance, you know, the connection between the client and the and the and the provider? Do they feel safe? Do they feel taken care of, do they feel looked at looked after. 47:48And the the numbers in the text based work are just as high as the in person. So that, I mean, I think the bottom line is that we are social beings. And we, we want to be connected. And even people who say they don’t feel that struggle inside themselves, and there’s something wrong with them, you know, we want to be connected. And so people do they feel connection and engagement. There are lots of so yeah, it doesn’t have to be live real time, you know, avatars in video or whatever, you know, Star Trek. 48:23People feel connected and looked after, as long as we go into it, with that attitude, and that approach, desiring to provide that connection and engagement. It works. Absolutely. And at the risk of blatant self promotion, Lawrence, and I’ve spent some time in my podcast talking about some of this. So I’ll send those links wrote out to you, but one of the things that I remember you saying that was really vivid for me is that you’re serving clients at three o’clock in the morning when you’re asleep. Because those email exchanges and the emotions that you’re you know, your your, the technique that you’re using, clients have told you that they’ll wake up in a sweat of anxiety, and they’ll open their their email, and they’ll reread the session, that your your the interactions that you’ve had. And that’s something that is exceptionally valuable, that’s technology mediated that you, you know, again, you think about someone who leaves the session and retains 15% of what the conversation was with a therapist because there’s still so stressed out. Whereas in this case, every single piece of that is there for them to review to get the advice, again, to get the insight to feel cared for and understood. And I found that that was something that is incredibly powerful in something that is the simplest of technologies that we sort of take for granted. Absolutely. Yeah. So yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. Like, that’s exactly what I say, you know, I’m in bed asleep at three o’clock in the morning, I’m asleep. My client is up wandering around in their apartment in a panic and they could either be saying to themselves, come on, man, settle down. You got an appointment on Friday with Lawrence or they could open the laptop, go to the website, open up the conversation we’ve been having and review for themselves. Those five hours 50:00affirmations I gave them the three things they identified for themselves that are the ways that they overcome anxiety, that website that they still haven’t looked at that I suggested they go to, 50:10I spend 15 minutes a clinical hour replying to them, they can spend one to 510 15 hours with me as much time as they want. And because we use these specific techniques to enhance the presence, the sense of presence and engagement, I mean, the clients say to us, it was like, you’re in the room with me, like their lived experiences of being connected. And again, I’m in bed asleep, I have nothing to do with it at that point. But their lived experience as a social being as we are, is that they’re connected. And and the other thing I’ll say, just as one last thing is they’re working on their stuff. They’re actually working to try to make their life better, that impacts their self reflection and their self awareness and their self concept. What kind of a person are you, Bob, I am the kind of person who when I wake up in a panic at three in the morning, I strive to make my life better. That’s a very powerful self reflection and awareness to have. 51:09That’s great. And I think that speaks in some ways to what Jason and Majeed have been speaking about previously about this, those processes, there’s under the under below the iceberg of the technology and how we interact with each other. Sometimes you don’t want to come back to you and ask Where are you looking for inspiration in other places, as you’re developing your work and strategies at access, and is that factor into to how you might take an idea and try to run with it or implemented or replicated in your work. 51:37So just to just to take a step back from that, I just wanted to mention that 51:43a lot of the work that we’ve done in developing our systems. And going back to I think I spoke about 2016 2017, when we started on what we called our end to end digital services sort of development process. We worked closely with one of our corporate sponsors Accenture. So they’re a big corporation, and they specialize in technology. So I think we’ve gotten a lot of inspiration support from them, and guidance, of course, and so a couple of things that I wanted to speak to related to, to your point around best practices. 52:23One is something that I alluded to earlier, which is really like, what’s your foundational technology, and a lot of it has to do with your database and your tracking. Because everything, technology is like building blocks. And so you need to start with where all your client data is, and then go from there. Because if you’re going to build an elearning platform, or if you’re going to have you know, webinars or anything else, you want to be able to very easily send that information out to your clients without as we talked about earlier, even with text messaging, you can’t like, you know, email each client one at a time, you need to be able to use your database as as that foundational piece. And so that was a really important learning is start start with that foundation and pick a pick a product or a package that you can grow with. And that’s really important, because sometimes you’ll pick a tool that maybe is, you know, just good enough for now. But then you’ll be you’ll be stumped in the future when you try to start adding adding pieces on there. So although it’s impossible to build a whole system, overnight, it’s really important that you start with those foundational pieces, and then you start adding on things because it’s amazing, like all the different apps and plug and play and development tools that they can be integrated or not. So it’s really important that you have that good foundation. And again, that’s coming from, you know, from our expertise, you know, from Accenture, and so on. So that was a really important part of our development. The other piece that was really important, and I think it’s a best practice of works across sectors is really looking at the client journey, and mapping that out. And I think that’s really important, I think, you know, when we’re doing in person, and over so many years, things kind of happen in a very, almost unconscious, like you’re not even aware of like how our clients hearing, how are they walking in? Who are they talking to first, you know, what’s the role of the receptionist versus the counselor and all, you know, all these things that happen fairly organically. And when you have to start to translate that into online services. You You have to start mapping out that process because otherwise you you miss a part. And then you’ll notice that when you start doing things online, it’s like, Oh, we don’t have this information, or how do we get these clients into the webinars or whatever. So it’s really I think that 55:00mapping a client journey is about as a best practice, I think across sectors, I know that they’re doing that in retail, in in any any sort of industry. So if you know, you can do it in a very formal way, or you can do it in a very informal way, just with your teams, but to really map that out, right from the point of where clients are just learning about your service. So that’s that outreach piece, to how are they coming into your service intake registration than the actual service, but then the continuing From there, the follow up, and ongoing support. So that’s those are some best practices, I think, early on, when we were creating our E learning, 55:47sort of library of materials. You know, we look, we kind of naturally looked at education, you know, because we know education, there’s online courses and things that people can do. So we kind of look to that. But we also are really aware that it’s quite different that people in our services are not just learning like students they are, it has to be way more interactive. So if you were taking like a university course, you might have a module that’s like, you know, an hour or two, and you’ll sit there and you’ll go through it all. But I think, you know, when you need counseling and support, you know, you you need that kind of a hybrid, again, of approach, you may spend an hour but probably only as Lauren said, You’ll only spend that time if you’ve already spoken to somebody first. 56:38Or after, right, so it’s it, there has to be a mix of things, because otherwise people will just simply sit through, you know, modules and videos, it has to be interactive, and has to be a combination of different channels. 56:52Excellent. Thank you Majeed. Unfortunately, we’re coming close to the very end of our time. But I want to summarize parts that I have here that I think are really important. These are the below the iceberg things that you saw above the iceberg is the client data tool. But below the iceberg are the processes and the desire and the commitment to understanding your client, which I think Jason, you’ve also spoken to quite a bit that, you know, what are they not just their technology, but their needs, their preferences, their interests? Who are these people, and what do they need from you, and the data can help collect that and tease it out and collect trends and things like that. But also the notion of taking the time to do that. And as Lawrence is talking about taking the time to recognize that the way you’re doing service online will take more time in order for it to be effective. And then having the space and time for reflection to learn from what you’re doing. So Jason, you’ve spoken a lot about the evaluation pieces that you have the the stand up with staff, the the weekly meetings with, with students, for example, to continue constantly learning and then evaluate evaluating and learning even I love the tiny gains approach. So even micro learning right little iterative steps towards building something based on what you’re learning from what you’re already doing. Before I let you go, any final tweets of a thoughts that you want to leave the audience with, in terms of this conversation about measuring their their their practices. Yeah, Lawrence. So the the one thing I’ll say and this actually comes more from my work as an instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University with undergrads then then the the clinical training. 58:22It is this. People think they’re on the internet. They’re not on the internet. We right now we’re not on the internet. This is a training. We’re all in a virtual space, and we’re doing a training. This is not YouTube, this is not Facebook, this is not Instagram, my experience. And the many of the challenges I had with students, and they were awful. Was my son came up with this actually was you know what, dad? They think they’re on Instagram. Yes, that’s what it is. They think they’re on Instagram. So I think this is a really key thing to be conscious of. And when something weird happens, and you think that was really mean, or nasty, that’s the internet, people are mean and nasty on the internet, they try to destroy each other and crush each other. They don’t try to find solutions. So when that happens, just take a moment to think does this person think we’re on the internet? Because we’re not we’re in a counseling office. We’re in a university classroom. I think that’s a that’s a key insight that my son, the 19 year old had, 59:24the youth shall lead us. 59:27And 59:28any final thoughts? Final thoughts. I think, in developing technology, just like a lot of other things that we do in our businesses, it’s not going to going to be perfect. So just going back to another best practice and that’s to be able to develop and utilize your technology and what they call sprints. So it’s really putting it out there testing it, trying it out, and then come up with your second iteration. But if you wait to have it perfect, 59:58it will just take way too much. 1:00:00Time and you won’t know, it’s perfect, because really getting that feedback. And being able to measure, as we’ve talked about is really important. So get it out there, measure the effectiveness, you know, get the feedback, and then keep on improving. So continuous improvement is really important. Right? 1:00:18Jason no pressure, but the final thought and kernel of inspiration comes from you, 1:00:23in my reflection of, you know, working with, with youth in local communities, like the, what comes to mind is just a reflection that education is not a place. And I think that applies for many different things is that, you know, the the conceptualization of what we’re doing, you know, right now, all online, it’s that, you know, 1:00:45it’s not that we’re trying to replicate, you know, a school or a tutoring place online, it’s that, you know, focusing on the process, so like, education is 1:00:56fundamentally about, you know, the, the the relationship and focusing on that, I think will, will serve everyone well. 1:01:06That’s, that’s a great note to end on, that underlies everything in the work that we’re doing. And if you take that into account, you’ll make the right choices around technology, because you’re listening to your clients, for example. So I want to say, thank you so much to Jason Majeed and Lawrence. I’ve learned a lot and I found this has been valuable. I’m hoping that everyone else has and we’re going to continue the conversation for folks who are from the sector. If you’re you’re welcome to stick around. But, but if not, thank you for your time. 1:01:35We appreciate you being here and sharing your experiences and knowledge with everybody. 1:01:40Yeah, my pleasure. You’re welcome. And Jason’s right. It is always about relationship. Brilliant. Brilliant comment. succinct. That’s it. Always everything some see you did it. Jason. I knew you could eat. Yeah, you got over that bar, dude. 1:01:56Thank you all so much. This has been so valuable. I appreciate it. And I will, you know, again, not to blatantly self promote. But Jason was my first interview on my podcast and shared this is from years ago, his approach that I would suggest hasn’t really changed because it’s fundamentally based in in what he just described. But there’s a lot that we can learn from from these early adopters. And so there’ll be more depth in from what they’ve presented to you today, and in some of what you can read and listen to in the future as well. 1:02:23Thanks 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 or also on my email@example.com 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 at Markopolos org. Thanks again. Transcribed by https://otter.ai
1 Mar 2021
TiHS Episode 23: Carrie Moody & Dave Montague – 211, the essential service you don’t know enough about
Welcome to episode 23 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this conversation I speak with Dave Montague and Carrie Moody from Findhelp Information Services in Toronto. Among other things, they manage the 211 service in the Greater Toronto Area.I think that 211 is still a relatively under known service and community gem and I wanted to talk to them to bring out some of the important work they do. In particular, 211 has become an essential service during the pandemic. So I asked them about the vast range of information services they provide through 211 and other work they do. We talked about the experience of running an essential service like 211 during the pandemic and what the future looks like.211 is more than a phone line. It’s a website, text and web chat service. They manage and share open data. They engage in data partnerships, provide Information and Referral training, and are an important part of helping connect people to services and information they need where they live.We also discussed what the importance of a service like 211 is in a world of misinformation and what others learn from them about information currency, reliability and accuracy.We recorded this conversation in June. Since then, in October, 211 has gone national, available in very city and province across Canada.Between March and August calls to 211 across the country increased by 31% and website visits to existing 211 services increased 45%. In the Greater Toronto Area, the top issues they’re being asked to help with include food security, community information, health and mental health supports, and housing help. As you’ll hear, they’ve been busy. I think you’ll find this an interesting and illuminating conversation.Machine-Generated TranscriptWhat follows is an AI-generated transcript 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 0:00Welcome to Episode 23 of the technology and Human Services podcast. In this conversation, I’m speaking with Dave Montague and Kerri moody from find Health Information Services in Toronto. Among other things, they manage the 211 service in the Greater Toronto Area. I think the 211 is still a relatively unknown service and community gem and I wanted to talk to them to bring out some of the important work they do, in particular to one one has become an essential service during the pandemic. So I asked them about the vast range of information services they provide through 211 and other work they do. We talked about the experience of running an essential service like 211 during the pandemic and what the future looks like. Two on one is more than a phone line. It’s a website, text and web chat service. They manage and share open data they engage in data partnerships provide information and referral training, and are an important part of helping people connect to services and information they need where they live. We also discussed what the importance of a service like 211 is in a world of misinformation, and what others can learn from them about information currency, reliability, and accuracy. We recorded this conversation in June 2020. Since then, in October 211 has gone National vailable in every city and province across Canada, between March and August calls to 211. across the country increased by 31%. And website visits to existing two on one services increased by 45%. In the Greater Toronto Area, the top issues they’re being asked to help with include food security, community information, health and mental health supports and housing help. As you’ll hear they’ve been busy. I think you’ll find this an interesting and illuminating conversation.Carrie Moody 1:34Hi, my name is Carrie Moody, I’m the director of strategic solutions at find help to one, one central. My job is to help the organization expand its impact and grow its reach. Welcome.Dave Montague 1:48Hi, my name is Dave Montague. I’m the director of information resources and technology for find help two on one central. But I also do a lot of the technology for 201. Ontario, as well.Marco Campana 2:00Thank you both for joining me. So for folks who who may not know what a 211 services. And and I think I think I mentioned in my email exchange, I think sometimes 211. And the work that you guys do is one of the best kept secrets, even though it’s so essential, how would you describe what a two in one services for people who may not know and what what it means to our communities,Carrie Moody 2:21to one one is a phone and online service that connects people to Community and Social Services. So it’s there to support people to be able to engage and access the services that help them lead more, more productive lives and improve their well being?Marco Campana 2:40everything, even the community and government services? Mm hmm. Yeah. And it’s not it doesn’t tend to be an emergency. So the the nuance of two, there’s because people went Oh, 211411311911511 even? Or does it fit in that continuum of emergency to to more in depth kind of service.Carrie Moody 2:58to them. One is sort of a supplement to that to those other services. It’s, it’s a non emergency service. So people can call for food banks for childcare, anything that is a non emergency, government or community service. And we can help them help them connect. And we can do that, like I said earlier, be too friendly with the chat, text, email, or online, we often have to we often do what’s called warm transfers. So if somebody is struggling to access the service, if they’re maybe they have a English isn’t their first language, we’ll help them connect with another service provider and make sure that they that they get the service that they need.Marco Campana 3:43So yeah, you mentioned earlier that it’s a phone and web service. But now you’re expanding it a bit. And I’m really interested in that tech technology has changed the way people interact with information. So you mentioned text and web chat, as well. How is 211 being more access? How has it become more accessible to communities, and not just from a technology perspective, but I know that you also can can handle a lot of a lot of different language interactions as well.Carrie Moody 4:08Yeah, we, so we serve in over 150 languages. So we have about 23 of those languages in house. We’re bilingual 24 seven. So the other thing I should have said is that we’re a 24 seven service we have, we’re staffed continually. We provide French and English service all the time. And we also can support people through to multilingual service through a language line that we use so so we offer that kind of translation as well, which, which is a great way to make sure that people have better access to services. And then we also provide, like I said, chat, text, email, and online as, as a way to just provide multiple channels so that people can access in whatever way they choose. We also provide data to different apps and I’ll let Dave talk about Little bit more about that. But to make sure that other kinds of service navigation tools have the information that they need to, to get to get that kind of thing out into the community.Marco Campana 5:10Yeah, no, that’s a good segue to talk about data. But before we even do, in terms of technical data, the one of the things that that I know of about 211 is that your commitment to the principles of INR, and I mean, it’s not a regulated industry, but it’s one that has, has certification principles that are really highly relevant to authoritative, accurate and up to date information. So when you talk about the data that you collect, and you provide, I mean, it’s important for people to know that it is up to date and how you keep it up to date. So I’m curious if you can speak to that side of things as well.Dave Montague 5:43So we have a team of editors, the literally librarians and library science scientists, if you will, of library science, and they will spend their days trying to connect with thousands of agencies that are in their database across in, in Toronto, we have about 3000 Records plus about 1000, childcare records that we get from the city. And out of those records, we try to connect with each of those agencies once a year at a minimum. And that means that we connect with a live person and they review our listing and tell us what any changes. And so that’s once a year. And the goal, I think, is 80% completion rate that we try to get to 80% of those agencies. And it’s hard to do, getting people to update their records is literally the most time consuming part of this entire endeavor. Because people can scrape websites and do all that kind of stuff. But the fact is, if you really want to have that authority, authoritative data that you’re talking about, you need somebody at the agency to validate. But that said, the more and more agencies are getting better keeping their websites up to date, because they know it’s such a vital sort of recruitment tool, if you will. So we are getting more into working, just going to their website, if we can’t get ahold of somebody right away. He used to be there his whole path, you know, phone call, email, email, phone call phone call. But now we’re getting a little bit more likely to go to their website for updates, especially on maybe non core stuff. But so that’s the big thing there. And then across Ontario, the there’s centers, data providers across Ontario, about 20 or so that are providing data into the 211, Ontario system, and they all have editors. Toronto has just by virtue of the size has the most, but other groups will have one or two for Niagara or three or four, three and a half for Ottawa kind of thing. So yeah, it’s a whole, it takes a village kind of thing. And it’s a, it’s a lot of work. And we are trying to find, we can talk about it, I’m sure we’ll talk about later. But this idea of sharing data amongst data providers, because anybody that works in the source, community agency will have been asked four times a year or five times a year from different agencies, or different groups to update their records. You and they always ask, Well, I just did that. And they were like, no, ours is slightly different. So yeah, that’s the big thing. The editing is a big full time job for 20 people across the province.Marco Campana 8:13There’s also something important that I think that people need to realize, and that is, when you go to a website, typically you think something might be out of date, there’s very little mechanisms to tell people or to update information. But that’s different for 211. When I go and I go into an organizational record, there’s actually a spot where I can I can provide a suggested update for that information, right?Dave Montague 8:33Yeah. And then the then the work begins, right? Because then you need to go validate that information. You can’t get anything.Carrie Moody 8:39And that’s really great, though, is that our some of our funders like Medway, Greater Toronto, and the City of Toronto have been really, really good at supporting us to make sure that that information is updated. So ensuring that all of their grantees have an updated to one run to one one record is really, really great way that we can make sure that all of those organizations have up to date information.Marco Campana 9:03Yeah. So I mean, like there’s the data sharing in the background, but also everybody encouraging the agencies to update their records. And what I guess sort of what’s the what’s the return on investment for an agency to understand why they should be updating their their record in the two on one database, not just for for find help, but also what happens in the back end with how it distributes to all these other places. For example,Carrie Moody 9:24from my perspective, I think there’s there’s sort of two things. The first is that we can it’s a it’s an almost a promotion tool, so it makes sure that people know that your services available. But I think the other thing that it does really well is that it gets people to the right service the first time. So rather than you your organization needing to sort of sift through and provide a more appropriate referral if somebody doesn’t necessarily fit into your eligibility criteria, or if there’s some other reason that it’s not the not the perfect fit. To one one can sort of help bypass that experience. So that so that we’re getting People, like I said to the right service the first time,Marco Campana 10:02right, which is, which is obviously essential for, but also for your 211 phone operators that they are making referrals to information they know is accurate and up to date as well. Right? That’s right. That’s right. And in terms of numbers, before I actually, let’s move into the data first. So the other part that that I think is happens below the iceberg and some below the surface is all of that data partnership stuff. Now, some of the high level things that have come out recently is for example, you’re helping support the chatbot by ampere labs, the charmers chat bot, but there’s other places where people are literally pulling in the data, they don’t have to recreate it, they don’t have to update it, they can work with you to focus on what you’re good at. And then they can focus what they’re good at. and pull the two together. So what’s the future look like? For I mean, I guess what’s happening now with that lay of the land? And how, how can that benefit organizations in the future as well.Dave Montague 10:53So it’s a good thing. So the 211 definitely is a principle of open data. But it’s easier said than done in our ecosystem. And because there’s a lot of providers and potentially different, you know, aversions to risk and aversions to like different data, different models of how data should be shared, but in general, and for the and I would say, almost every single time, we default to Yeah, let’s make this open, but there is not. But that doesn’t just mean that it’s free for one because there’s different elements to open data, right, I can give you a data set today in an XML file. But today’s for now you’re gonna want something new. So, but when it comes to like, the biggest things happening right now, in the data sharing line, like we are, we started the York Region project where we were working with Kids Help Phone connects, it was the Newmarket public library for a while, while they were still doing it, they got it. But the the idea is to get to a point where Yeah, and you just you only take one record, and either be it through because we we tend to try to get it to be all technical, like data sharing files, and XML, everything, all this fancy stuff happening in the background. But that’s the hardest part to do sometimes, because you know, find help is pretty has a lot of capacity and technical resources, but a lot of other places don’t. And, and then there are times when we’re the laggards. And so what we are doing is starting to say well, at some step one is let’s just agree that Kids Help Phone is the primary source for all things related to children’s mental health services. So why are we going to that same agency to ask that information when we know, Kids Help Phone is already asked, and they will be asking the right questions. So we have an agreement now we can help them to explore, you know, it’s almost like you just say this branch of the social services belongs to kids cell phone. Yeah, all the agencies and services under that. That’s where we go for the service, we don’t even ask the agency anymore. And it’d be great if they could send their data to us magically appears in our database. But sometimes that’s not possible. So that will go to their website or will be like we’ll have other some other data sharing process where we don’t have to go to the agency. I think the key is, the agency doesn’t care how the data gets shared, they just want to know, they don’t have to answer five times. Right, right. Because really, in York Region, I did sort of research in there. And like one record had five or six different online personas. And each one was different to some elements, some are outdated three years ago, one was by the city, you know, it is all ridiculous stuff. So what we’re trying to do is explore that or expand that to Ontario, and Kids Help Phone would be the first one. But groups like connects. And of course helpline which does all the health data is a very big and good partner to them already. And then we do already do technical data shares. So that’s why I say when it comes to data sharing, there is a push, because no government wants to be paying for people to update the same information five times not only agencies time, but not on our time, like why is it? Why would they pay us to ask agencies and so and I’ve said this before in this podcast, but I’ve said it a million times, is I’d rather pay people to spend time making a record amazing, as opposed to having thousands of middling records, right. So I want a smaller data set data, data, that’s maybe not our core business coming in through sharing agreements, and then I can the editor spend their time really parsing down on the wreck. So and then, but you’re talking about the sample ads and traumas and all that kind of stuff. But that’s part of the problem, right? We have this wide array of data that’s been built on legacy systems and legacy audiences, you know, reading, so what we need is to have, we need to use those records and use editors times to make the records more shareable, more machine readable, all that kind of stuff. It sounds, you know, robotic to say, but that’s really the future of the data, I think, sharing 211 data to other providers, things like chat bots and applications and right now our data is not great for So I want our editors to spend the time doing.Marco Campana 15:03And but that it sounds like that’s something that I mean, not just you, but within 211 that you’re all looking at, like, how can you be the the core provider, and then people don’t waste their time. Again, asking people five times or even trying to recreate databases, which we know happens.Dave Montague 15:17Yeah, at the agency level, everybody, it’s still a bit of a chore like the big providers are on. It’s the next level down, everybody wants to create their neighborhood directory or whatever, yeah. And they just, you know, they just forget that we exist, or they never knew existed in the first place. So a lot of it is promoting and promotion. And again, the funders are a big part of that, too. Like Carrie said, you know, if somebody gets in there trying to find like, some seniors agency to create a directory, they need to know that that directory already exists, they just need to contact us, and we can do it for them. Yeah, a lot of it isMarco Campana 15:50promotion. For sure. Because I mean, I think, especially as apps start to proliferate, we see I’ve seen some settlement agencies that have created mapping apps, but they’ve used their own data. And then as you say, three days later, it’s literally out, it’s obsolete. And then a year later, it’s even, it’s even dangerous as a referral tool, for example. And so the the idea that it’s almost like, even the from, there’s, there’s an awareness of funders as well, if they’re going to fund these kind of technical developments, they need to also understand the ecosystem and the landscape to know that, oh, you’re talking about community information, okay, you, I want to make sure that you’re talking to 211. And we’ll fund that API or whatever the the technical interface is to make sure that you get the data. And it also then means we don’t have to fund you to collect that data or hire editors, because it’s taken care of, so we can fund you to make the app excellent. And these other kinds of more interesting ways, basically.Dave Montague 16:39But in fact, this is no the people, you know, we are have turned into an essential service for a lot of people, but also for a lot of funders and stakeholders. And people try to do these directories and quick turnaround on things, we have the whole platform ready to go like the data is a one size fits one one has a whole infrastructure of like, contact center, you know, be able to just ramp up almost any service related to providing virtual support. Right. And so, I think we, when we think about promotion, and you know, eyes on to one, one, it’s never been like it has been in the last few months. I don’t think either I maybe I don’t even knowCarrie Moody 17:18why I think that’s absolutely true. I think the other thing that’s become really, really clear is the usefulness and value of our statistical data. So related to hearing from callers and needs and what needs are not being met, we’re starting to talk about demographic data in a new way, which is, I think, a really interesting question that we need to be grappling with how to how to do that responsibly, how to collect that information responsibly. You know, all kinds of different kinds of indicators that we’re able to see from our statistical data that I think COVID has allowed us because it became the number of calls that we’ve had to see a little bit differently.Marco Campana 17:57When you’re putting that out, I’m looking at one of your, your most recent, or one of your COVID reports for the city. And just talking about what what the the major areas of people calling in or asking for information, and just how much your your calls, chats and web sessions have increased and things like that. So I guess, essential services a great way to put it, but what’s the what’s the 211 experience been during the pandemic in terms of either raising that profile? I mean, certainly, you’re busy. But what else has it meant for for your work, to be front and center as a place for people to call when they’re not sure where else to go?Unknown Speaker 18:32Okay.Carrie Moody 18:34It’s the first thing that jumps to mind is just partnerships, like the ability to act as a front door and to so many of the Human Services has been really, really great for us. So many community services, and the city, again, has been a wonderful partner and United Way Greater Toronto as well. Just supporting us to get our message, our message out that we’re here to help people connect to those services. But But yeah, also to, you know, it’s meant that we have so much more rich information that we can help decision makers use to inform investment and policy and programming. You know, I think that’s hugely important for the way that we respond to the immediate to the pandemic, but also how we learn going forward. So if there’s a phase two, we’ll have a lot of information on what people’s needs were and what wasn’t what we didn’t do as effectively as we wanted to.Marco Campana 19:31Right. And I’m curious about some of the content of those interactions, too, because I think a lot of people assume that an information referral service like two on one is I call I say what I want, they give it to me or they give me a couple of options and I move on and and there’s much more to it than that. And a lot of cases because even that first I know what I want, is sometimes not even not even on the table. They know what their situation is. So what is it? So talk a little bit about that experience of almost like it’s not just like I call the operator, they gave me the number I call the number It’s there’s more to it than that.Carrie Moody 20:02So one of the great things just as an example that we’ve we’ve seen over the last little while as mental health related calls. So you can see from the snapshot that you’re probably looking at that I’m not sure what the date on it is, but but probably food is one of the top up until this week, food was the top need for pretty much everybody in every community. But because we also have these service navigators who are hugely experienced in digging a little bit deeper and probing into other needs that a caller might have, because there’s always another need, there’s always a context in a number of different circumstances that lead to the primary VI. Because we have this, this experience in our service navigators, were also able to dig a little deeper into some of the anxiety and the depression and and the mental health needs. They’re resulting from food insecurity. So we’ve been able to provide that data to the Toronto mental health strategy, which has been hugely important in informing some of their decisions, in collaboration with some of the other organizations that are part of that strategy.Marco Campana 21:12What about the experience of the person calling in as well? It’s not just getting a number, there’s a lot yeah,Carrie Moody 21:18yeah, we get a lot of so over the last little while, we’ve had a lot of seniors calls I’m looking for. And when I go back, and I look at some of that data, I can find that some of the referrals, they’re all they’ll all have food, food outlets, or food banks or meal programs as part of the referral. But oftentimes, they’ll also have, you know, something like the trauma senior helpline, because the seniors clearly dealing with anxiety and fear and some of the impacts of social isolation that they’re that they’re experiencing, as well. And so our service navigators are able to see that primary need, but also support them and validate them in terms of their experience, and then connect them to other kinds of services that will support them through the entire, you know, their entire experience.Marco Campana 22:05So service contact isn’t just I get a quick referral. But there’s a there’s a it’s almost like I mean, it’s not there’s almost like a mini counseling session. And so in a lot of ways, when I when I looked at it, right, you’re, you’re you have to dig a bit to figure out what the actual situation is before you can move someone along. Yeah, yeah. One of the things I’m curious about is the importance of 211. In kind of in a world of misinformation, we’ve got a lot of people suddenly setting up information databases, the whole care mongering people are setting up community information, local referrals, and that’s all incredibly useful. But it also has issues with currency, reliability, and accuracy, who’s maintaining that? What’s their bias? What aren’t they including? What is where does this database go in three months kind of thing, if people start to end up relying on it, so what can people learn from I mean, you’ve said a lot already about like the infrastructure required just to keep information up to date, it’s, you know, it’s full time staff, it’s very well trained staff, it’s partnerships and ongoing relationship with other organizations is there if someone is in a neighborhood, like you’re talking about day, for example, and they’re there, you know, there’s lots of in our sector, local, local immigration partnerships, that tend to set up their own kind of databases of service information. And they have some infrastructure, but they’re also more formal organization. So forgetting for a moment, the neighborhood level, kind of the, you know, the guy down the street, who sets up a really interesting Facebook page with with a spreadsheet kind of thing. What What should the lips in other organizations who are thinking about creating their neighborhood mapping system or service navigation system? Think about one one coming 22211?Dave Montague 23:36Well, I mean, I think they think they, you know, what can they do? That’s like, what’s the extra value that they’ll be able to bring, like, they can come to us and we can provide the data that they may spend hours and hours and hours trying to collect. And we can give it to them in real time, so that they never have to do a thing. Or we can provide it like we can provide it in a format that we can work with. So the idea being that the lips and whoever they need to just understand that, you know, you can Empire build all you want, but the fact that is the foundation doesn’t have to be wrong, right? There’s certain areas that you can just go to the experts on. But so like I said earlier, a lot of them just don’t notice even an option. Yeah. So during this pandemic, we’ve had a number of groups go out to try to create, literally, I our databases, like you know, nobody’s collecting information about social services across the country. Yeah, they are and the call to one one in there. And then once you start to show them this whole thing, they’re like, Oh, my God, I can’t believe it. And so then they start to go, Okay, well, what else can I do? You guys did this hard part. Now I’ve got all this extra headspace. So as I always say to everybody else’s, what could you do with that extra headspace if you didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of data collection? Because that’s what our people do. So yeah, during the pandemic, we’ve had a number of groups, I compound 10 that have no Eliezer data in varying degrees and a couple that were these sort of neighborhood types or you know, Students types, a lot of those groups that are trying to create a project. But then it’s a cool project. So now they want to turn it into a nonprofit. So, and yeah, I just introduced them to the stuff that they can get. And they’re always blown away, because they don’t have an idea. And they don’t like the one person who tried to do Canada wide COVID resources, like Canada wide and one person one day a week. And I should say, This is madness. And, you know, she was I understand now, because we have a bunch of volunteers like those, we weren’t going to be there in a month. You know, this is not a sustainable thing you working. And so I was able to show what we could, and cars, and it’s, sometimes it’s not that person’s decision, what happens next, but the fact that she understood that, it would make no sense to try to replicate what we had done, because that’s what they were trying to do. And it was amazing. So but there, I would say there’s been more successes that I know about than people trying to go off on their own, for sure. But often, I don’t know what one’s going off on their own, because I neverMarco Campana 26:00know for sure. So I mean, awareness is half the battle here. And I mean, it sounds like it’s useful for formal institutions who are, you know, working with United Way’s and things like that, because, you know, the way is a big player in 211, across the country, particularly in Ontario, so I mean, at least they’re, it’s filtering down, though, they can talk to their own agencies, but but for people who, who aren’t even aware of anything other than a phone line, perhaps it’s it, half of it is just them understanding that, well, a that is difficult to do this kind of work. It’s it’s, it’s it, there’s more to it under the surface than just, you know, throwing up a bunch of pages with links to organizations, for example,Dave Montague 26:33well, and I would say to we don’t do a great job of, we’re just talking about this this morning. But we don’t really do a great job of saying, here’s all the things you can do with our data.Marco Campana 26:41Oh, no, you’re terrible at it. It’s true. I mean, it’s buried on your site, right? I know, Carrie is unhappy now. But when you go on the find help site and we’ll talk about find help in a minute, because that’s slightly different than two on one, it’s difficult to see what those relationships could look like, you know, and and even on your Toronto COVID sites on two on one, what’s amazing is that you’re releasing some of the data in spreadsheet form. So if you can take that, and they can, they can just readily, you know, suck it into an app or into their own database or something like that. And I think even that is an incredible leap forward for for making that kind of information accessible. But yeah, it’s a big question of like, well, what, when I go to my colleagues in the sector and say, Well, you know, before you do that talk, to talk to find help talk to 211. You know, you’ve got to make it so simple for them. To be able to know what Oh, you want to do X, Y, or Zed. Okay, just, here’s how you can connect with us in our data kind of thing.Dave Montague 27:36Yeah, no, I agree. There’s a whole sort of process that has been totally informal and not. Yeah, if you’re googling, I want to use one one data. guy, you know what I mean, that you’ll just get from page,Carrie Moody 27:48think that was one of the great things that happened as a result of COVID. I mean, we’re gonna find when all this is over that there’s so many organizations who’ve done new innovative things that we want to keep, when we, you know, when we return to whatever this new world is gonna look like. But I think for us, it’s, you know, we talked so much about open data in the past, and you know, we’d be telling our stakeholders, we’ve got all this information, we’ve got all this data, use it, use it, but not telling them how to use it, and not saying, you know, not doing a little bit of pre analysis so that they knew how to how to use it, and what to take forward. So, you know, the snapshots just as an example, they’re so easy to do, but they allow people to see what’s possible, and to make just sort of quick, lower level decisions on on what we know right now. So it’s, you know, it’s not not, we’re not worried about being perfect, we’re looking for rapid response right now, for sure.Marco Campana 28:46I mean, there’s, there’s that whole technical data sharing, which can be really overwhelming for an organization that thinks it just needs to create, you know, some sort of a database or a listing service. But you’ve also done that really well, on the two on one site where you have, you know, the ability to drill down, I can click on newcomers, and there’s like 10, different sub saved searches, basically, it says, oh, employment programs for newcomers interpretation, translation programs. You know, if I’m an agency, I need to even know that this page kind of exists so that I don’t have to try to recreate it in any meaningful way. So even if we don’t end up having a data relationship, there’s you’ve already started to chunk out your views of the information for for people based on their, their specific needs. And I think that’s something that that itself is really useful. That’s sort of fine services by topic. You know, where to start? Well, here’s, you know, here’s your safe service. And it’s easy, easy for me as an agency to just link to that page for right clients for my staff. And then at least we’re starting from the authoritative source, right. It’s like the replacement of the old blue book in my hand, it’s right here on my on my screen now kind of thing. So I think, I think even even helping people understand that this is available that they may not ever be able to, you know, unless they get some funding, suck it into an app or into a database in their agency, but they they don’t even need to It’s here. It’s it’s already filled. For them, based on their their specific type of work, for example. So let’s talk a little bit about to about find help, because find help is more than 211 in some ways, or it’s got different elements to it. And, and one of the things that that, that I, having done some work with you guys I find is really important is agencies themselves understanding information and referral as training as a competency. And, and as something that they need to be able to do in social service and community work. So what are the kinds of other things that find help works on that people that will be worth other people knowing about?Carrie Moody 30:38So I think some of the, I guess, you know, the big thing that that jumps out is our training and outreach program. So through our training program, we train service, we transfer for service navigation across the the nonprofit sectors. So, you know, our hope is that not only will people call two on one for for service navigation, but also you know, settlement workers will be able to do their own kind of service navigation and, you know, different kinds of social service workers will have that skill set to support their client base. Marco, you worked with us on on a module last year, I think it was like the first 10 years ago now, two years ago, the time time does fly, you know, to help to help support better service navigation across the sector. And that’s a really, really important piece of work that we do. And, you know, we also have different kinds of lines that we that we do that sort of supplement to one one. And we have a victim support line, male survivors of sexual assault, we have a line called central access, that is the front door into detox services for the City of Toronto, and lots of different things like that, that that really helped to support a kind of a wide range of needs across across social services. You know, we also have, we’ve been actually putting quite a bit of effort into our social media program recently as part of our outreach program. And, you know, the purpose of that, obviously, is to promote our service, but also to, to connect people to the other kinds of services that are available to them. So one of the things another program that we’ve worked on a lot in the last couple of years is anti human trafficking work, particularly in in the GTA. And we’ve done a lot of just letting people know that this is an issue that actually does happen in Toronto, and lots of people aren’t aware of that, as well as connecting a collaborative network that that makes sure that the way that we understand our data related to human trafficking is sort of similar. It’s sort of standardized across those organizations and, and then promoting and sharing that information across a network like Ontario is a great service. It’s a, it’s a volunteer portal that we’ve done with the province, and we’re really, really excited about it. spark is a volunteer aggregation site. So it’s a bilingual Porter portal that pulls together volunteer opportunities across the province. And it celebrates, motivates and inspires volunteering. So it’s a legacy project of the Pan Am Games. And recently, the province, the Ministry of seniors and accessibility has funded us to, to enhance the site around COVID, around COVID-19. So we’ve been really, really happy to work with them doing lots of webinars and really promoting that site. We’ve got so many volunteers who are interested in, in volunteering and get and we’re just trying to get them mobilized to get to work, which is, which is a really, really cool thing to watch.Dave Montague 33:53The level of interest was amazing, like I was doing this, today, a year, two years, like some 6000 or 6,000% more signups on the labor force.Marco Campana 34:02It’s incredible. So yeah, I mean, I think that’s really important for people to understand around around what the work that find help does, in particular around the training and the work that fayed does, I think that’s something that is is is again, it’s one of those it’s just like sort of the the idea of the database Oh, I can just refer people to information. But once you start to go below the surface of what an information and referral interaction looks like, and a service navigation interaction, there’s so much that people need to know so many skills they need to have, that really they they probably have or have developed or should have anyway in their work, but I in are really kind of helps to helps them to realize, Oh, this is a core skill across my interactions with people. And I know that those training modules in particular just really reinforce, sometimes even new approaches and new skills, but to work people are already doing it. It’s like a great refresher for them, plus the service navigation. Plus the understanding just the complexity of managing community information, which is again, the more people understand that the more they’ll they’ll have a sense of of why they shouldn’t do it themselves, for example,Carrie Moody 35:03yeah, yeah, it’s interesting when I first started frontline work when I was younger and coming into this world, I actually took a training with fayed way before I ever started with with find help, and it was on how to support newcomers better and what the interactions with government services should be in order to improve the settlement experience. And I remember walking away from that going, Wow, there’s so much more to this than I ever could have figured out on my own. And so it’s a really great way to inform that experience to make, you know, frontline workers just so much better at their jobs.Marco Campana 35:43Yeah, I totally agree. When I’ve taken the training, it’s been the same thing. It’s just such an education and an eye opening moment. And he will say as well that I’ve been paying attention to the the self directed modules that we ended up leaving up on the the ocassion network site from the INR training for settlement workers. And early days in COVID. In particular, there was a huge spike in people taking the course. Oh, so they were taking the time to learn when work may have sort of dwindled a little bit initially for some people, but they went in there, and we got a lot of, you know, dozens of people have, have kind of rekindled the interest in that. So I think that’s, there’s again, that’s more people who have a better understanding now of INR of 211. And just a service navigation in general. And that, that that’s really useful. So yeah, that’s good. Yeah. So what does the future of 211 and community information look like now that you’re sort of looking at the crystal ball of like, this has been a really interesting experience during the pandemic in a lot of ways. And I think Dave, you alluded some of this better, better sort of technical connections to be able to share data more seamlessly. But are there other things that you’re that you’re looking at or that the sector not just find help into on one Toronto, but like, the conversation you’re having with peers from, from across the country, and even into the United States? Because I know, it’s a very, it’s a very connected community? What are people thinking about, like the opportunities for raising awareness for for the role to on one can play in the community Information Systems, navigation, misinformation, things like that?Dave Montague 37:08Well, I mean, the big topic is a some funding around national, a 201 National type of platform. Because right now, there are, there’s a few pockets across the country that don’t have a two on one access. A few are still that don’t have sort of a database coverage, or a data coverage website that would help you find stuff. So United Way’s and the federal government have put forward funding to allow sort of two on one national to be born something that, you know, we can also say this is an organization or this is a platform that will adhere to the membership kind of thing. And so what we’ll do is fill gaps, you know, it may take different forms, like we may take, you know, Skype phone calls in the middle of the night kind of thing, but there’s going to be different ways that we fill those gaps. So and but the coming out of that the things we’ve talked about the national data repository, and there’s two sides of that is the side that Carrie could talk a bit more about. But this idea of like, being able to share and consolidate needs data from across the country. So when people call, they tell us what the document of what they need, we can track that, you know, anonymous, but we can track what are the trends of different parts of the countries at any given time based on what people are calling about. And what we want to do is be able to aggregate that and then be able to say to a funder or to a research team or to anybody. So it goes on, here’s a nationwide scope. This you know, and certainly you can drill down on topics, but also something like the pandemic right would have been amazing to see, you know, it’s almost like a precursor. It’s the people at that moment. And it’s it can be quite detailed information before it becomes something bigger. And then on the other side of that other side of that is data, like actual agency data, all the addresses and all the services that they provide is more or less merging all of them. And it’s big data base, and being able to share that. So if somebody wants to create a national app of all the COVID applications, or an app of all the mentorship programs across the Canada, they don’t have to go to 30 different organizations to get that information. They can go to this one system, like all in the background is all a nightmare data transfers and data sharing. But the output is seamless, hopefully. And that’s so those are the big ones as well, on my side of things is the National is national data repository, trying to bring 12 different groups really together. And luckily, we’re mostly using the same platforms. But being able to we’re using 12 different versions of that same platform. Now the idea is to merge them all. And then you still have be off doing your own thing, but I know it would be seamless for other people. I know there’s also a big promotion part that’s part of this money, and I don’t know much about that, but I suspect Kerry has an eye to that side of things because really the COVID site The code pandemic have shown is that we can be valuable and we are valuable. And the more people use us, the more valuable we’ll be. Because there’s more data and more needs data created. So volume, is this a cycle and a circle, we need the volume to be able to show people what’s happening and a neighbor. So yeah, hopefully at the other national level, though, there is money for promotion.Carrie Moody 40:24I think from my perspective, there’s, there’s a couple of things. There’s sort of the the COVID, specific going forward, and then there’s the big the bigger picture. So yeah, you know, within within COVID, I think in the next couple of years, we’re looking at recovery, we’re thinking about things like, you know, what are the opportunities to save what’s working? How do we sort of continue some of the best practices that we’ve learned over the last little while, but then I think when we’re looking more broadly and further down the horizon, I think, things like closed loop referrals. So working with our partners to make sure that our information referral service is more outcomes focused to make sure that people are getting to the services they need, that they need, and that they tell their story over and over and over again, in order to access the next service that we can support them through that process. So that’s going to be lots of technology changes, lots of, you know, thinking about, you know, ensuring an anti oppressive, you know, framework to do the work that we do, which we already do, of course, but we’re really making sure that that, that we have a group of partners who are all working to sort of the same end with a really client focused framework to deliver service. And I think the other thing would be looking at demographic data collection. So really making sure that we know who we’re serving and who we’re not serving, and why that is, and then improving our reach to two demographics that we’re not, we’re not reaching.Marco Campana 42:01That’s great. That sounds like some really great future direction. So thank you both very much for sharing all of this. Hopefully, we we can raise a little more awareness to some folks who listen about the work that you’re doing. And I think you’re I think you you called it an essential service one of your earlier on and I think that’s something that’s really important for people to understand that you’re as essential as 911411, all these other kind of numbers, but so much more than that. And so thank you for sharing all of this as well as some ideas about what what might be to come. Thanks. Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you in your work. You can find more podcast episodes, wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com Thanks again.Transcribed by https://otter.ai
20 Nov 2020
TiHS Episode 22: Abby David – collaboration during a pandemic
Abby David is the Manager of Employment Initiatives at the New Brunswick Multicultural Council (NBMC). Earlier this Summer I learned that NBMC had been doing some innovative coordinating work with member agencies after everyone pivoted to remote work. I was curious about their work with member agencies to develop policies and tools and share best practices on:Communication (internal for settlement staff and external for clients, including support in different languages)Technology and how we use it to provide services to our clients and maintain lines of communicationsCase Management in remote mode, support to most vulnerable clients etc.Remote services for youthIn this conversation Abby shares how NBMC worked together as a provincial sector and what the fruits of that work have been. Among other things, we talked about How prepared were agencies for the sudden move to remote work?Do you have policies in these areas that could be shared with other agencies?How have different agencies in New Brunswick operationalized this work in their day-to-day?What has newcomer service during COVID-19 looked like in New Brunswick?Are there interesting stories, learning, a-ha moments?What work still needs to be done?I think anyone working in the sector will find this conversation insightful and useful.Some themes from our conversation:Not all members were not prepared, but they shifted quickly and successfully online: “it was a very interesting to see how some of our members decided just to move everything to an online mode. I think that we heard very inspiring some inspiring stories about how staff were able to provide training for the clients before they’re actually registered to these online services, and develop capacity for the clients explain everything, how it should work. And then everything from language class to information sessions, into employment services, everything just moved to be online, and it’s working smooth smoothly for them. I think that the clients are eager to continue to learn and stay connected. So that’s where we could, we could really see very high level of participation and turnout.”They were quickly able to harness the expertise that did exist in their membership: “we have brilliant experts in within our members. They know how to develop online learning and how to create technology connections. And we needed to find the ways for us to communicate with the with the clients, and to support the staff who suddenly work from home, and how they can use the digital service delivery mode that they are required to do.”Online safety and security were essential: “And we also wanted to make sure that it’s safe, because everyone knows how important it is to be safe using technology. So we wanted to make sure that both sides, their staff supporting the clients and the clients themselves, know how to work with that and have their well established protocols to be safe as well.”There have been some increases in service accessibility: “right now you can open it for more people in the smaller and rural centers that usually are unable to travel to one of the big cities. And there’s many opportunities for New Brunswickers right now, because of the dynamics that usually most of the programs are in the big cities, and people from smaller centers get less access to to to the support and services and right now, we see a big opportunity for us to to engage with them as well.”Machine-Generated TranscriptWhat follows is an AI-generated transcript 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.0:00Earlier this summer, I learned that the New Brunswick multicultural council had started to work with its member agencies to develop policies, tools and share best practices related to COVID in the pivot to suddenly remote work. A number of workforces were created including communication which talked about internal communication with staff but also external communication with clients including support in different languages, technology and how they use it to provide services to clients as well as to maintain lines of communications throughout the organization with partners, and with experts in the field and case management to support remote work and to especially to provide a support to most vulnerable clients who may or may not have access to the technology that agencies were pivoting to. I spoke with Abby David, from New Brunswick multicultural council to learn more about how they work together as a provincial sector and what the fruits of that work has been. I think there’s some really good learning here for everyone in the sector. And I appreciate her sharing enjoy the conversation.0:56My name is Abby David. I am the employment initiatives manager for newcomers in New Brunswick, New Brunswick multicultural Council. We are the umbrella organization for all the ethnic, cultural and multicultural associations and settlement agencies in New Brunswick. We are a bilingual organization, and we have 17 members across the province. We’ve been here since 1993. And that’s what we are.1:28Welcome. And thank you so much for joining me. We connected in the digital messaging for settlement integration group, that refugee 613 years running, which is itself an interesting practice. And when I when I saw you posting about this was around the time when everyone was going suddenly remote, the pandemic had kind of hit and you know, everything was closing. And you had posted that that New Brunswick multicultural Council was working really quickly with with member agencies to develop policies, tools, and to start sharing best practices on in three main areas in communication, both internally with staff but also communicating externally with clients around technology and thinking about, okay, how are we going to pivot this to to online really quickly, and then also to really focusing on case management. In particular, you talked about supporting the most vulnerable, so so I was really interested because I thought you know this, a lot of people were scrambling at the time to try to figure this stuff out. And it looked like you were coming together as a province as a sector to really think about this together. And and especially the piece about sharing best practices really caught my eye because I think that’s something the sector can do more of. So yeah, so I guess the first question, before we dive into to what happened was, how prepared Do you feel the agencies were for this move to remote work to moving online?2:51Yeah, I think that the the members were not prepared, because only because they have always been the go to place for newcomers that are arriving in different regions. And we always pitched for the thing that people should come in and get support and meet someone and connect with our variety of services and programs that we offer. And we encourage people to stay not a stay at home, but to go out of the house to engage in a community to find a way to even to travel to this agency to find the people to connect. And I think that suddenly our members, or the first time in there, existence, they lost this in person connection, and had to start to support clients remotely.3:47And and you you obviously, as a counsel notice that did they actually I’m curious, did they come to you looking for help? Or did you as a council recognized that there was going to be this need and started quickly organizing?3:59I think we identified it, as the council and also are very well established connection with a leaders, the Leadership Forum, and we always get people together on challenges. I was reflecting about some of the questions that you showed me last night, and I thought, last time we had to get all the people to work together was when we had to respond to the Syrian refugee response a few years ago. And that’s where we started to see people coming together municipalities and organizations to support and work together. And that’s how you need to actually operate when you have a crisis. So that’s where we try to mobilize all these efforts to to work together and start to share best practices and that’s what we did this time as4:52well. I’ve heard other people mentioned that as well that they’ve had this recent experience of everyone, you know, all hands on board and not just in the sector. But as you mentioned, municipalities, employers, other other actors in the community. So I think that’s a really it’s interesting, a lot of us have had that experience, then it could kind of replicated pretty rapidly this time around you, you set up some really specific working groups around communication technology and case management. Can you tell me a little bit about why and how those were the focus? And what kind of work you were doing with with the agencies on these areas?5:26Yes, sure. So first of all, we did start with three task forces. But very quickly, we added the fourth, fourth one that was focused on steel is focused on support for youth and education, because we we have to support partners there. And I’ll explain more about that. But first thing was the technology technology we have really aren’t experts in within our members. They know how to develop online learning and how to create technology connections. And we needed to find the ways for us to communicate with the with the clients, and to support the staff who suddenly work from home, and how they can use the digital service delivery mode that they are required to do. And we also wanted to make sure that it’s safe, because everyone knows how important it is to be safe using technology. So we wanted to make sure that both sides, their staff supporting the clients and the clients themselves, know how to work with that and have their well established protocols to be safe as well. We also looked at the service providers, because once everything started to come in the government was so kind to provide all the financial services and benefits for people. When you have to apply online and language is not there, you don’t speak either or read French or English. How do you do that. So we needed to support the service providers as well. And that’s where we started to see government providing information sessions and translated documents. And you could see that it’s coming. More and more, it became like the new normal for everyone to share documents in different languages. So that was the first one the tech Task Force. The second one was communication. And that were, that was where we wanted to make sure that people are getting the information that is consistent, first of all, and then simple, simple for them to digest. We were very carefully monitoring the level of, of understanding and acceptance of people of all this flood of information when you function not only not in your first language, but also in a crisis situation. So your mind is really tuned into other things. And we wanted to make sure they get the information in the simple way and in the right way. And we also wanted to take care of these vulnerable clients that might not be able to read all the messages. So how can we record something for them? How can we make it very simple, digital nuggets that they can they can, you know, get or even use social media and Facebook, where people are more used to that, or use so many people in our sector that speak so many different languages who could again, record information messages or sessions, or provide translated documents and interpretation services, to be able to cover most of the languages that people needed information for. We also connected with many more people in the province that are not necessarily a registered client with any of our members. Because there are so many international students here, temporary foreign workers, skilled workers, people who are here and don’t speak the languages. They’re French or English. And we opened up to support all the people that are actually vulnerable in that sense. So through communications taskforce, we wanted to make sure that information is being delivered as simple as possible and in other languages, and also providing some support to staff where they needed to relay some messages and in support clients. How can they make sure that the message is again, clear, consistence and simple.9:41Now, that’s great. I think I saw a webinar that that you ran about exactly that clear communication, which was really valuable. Because a lot of settlement practitioners, they’re not communications professionals, right. And so just understanding that, especially in a crisis, how do you how you can tailor a message seems like a really important piece.10:00Exactly. And I think we carried on with that message with that concept with the other subgroups and task forces that we put in place to work together. Because even with a case management taskforce, we started to work to bring members together to work around this vulnerability, support support for clients who are in a vulnerable situation, or at risk. And we started to develop protocols and tools to, to ask the right questions. So we developed this concept of how to ask the open questions and the right questions and how to have very quick and easy access to information. So that settlement, people where they started to reach out to their clients via WhatsApp calls, Facebook, phone calls, whatever it is, they have the opportunity to ask all the questions and to get the right information to assess if a client is in risk and if they need any support. And so they they also use these methods of how to ask the right questions and how to, to make sure that the clients really understand. And if you ask the clients, if there is enough food at home for the family, or if they tell you Yeah, we went to the superstore yesterday, and they have six kids. So you ask them, so I’ll do go there, there is no bus, how do you take your kids and go and you’re not practicing any social distancing? Obviously, if you bring six kids with you to the supermarket, and then ask them, Do they wear face masks? Or is there anyone to watch them while you’re shopping, or all these questions that people needed to be to become aware of. In the case management taskforce also decided to work on different priorities. And they had discussions around also providing virtual activities guides to the members, because now many it is moved to be online and virtually. So they develop this one, there was subgroup working around return to work, how to support clients, when they return to work out to make sure that they understand the rights and the safety measures in a workplace. There was a group working on protocol for client assessment and how to refer them to the right services, how to make decisions based on what you hear from, from the clients. And everything that we developed in this group. All went into one guide that we call the settlement Reference Guide. And now all the sections with all the information about financial support and resources and community because it’s very much local, every community has their own services, food, bank, volunteers, transportation, all that. So we developed something that is accessible to everyone. And they can always go back to that guide and check upon the needs of their clients what their response is. We also learned that people from other parts of the province not necessarily our members also are also using these guides and protocols. Everyone felt the value in it. Because information is there. It’s easy, it’s accessible, it’s consistent. So there is no question there is no13:44need to look for the information to support your clients.13:47Yeah, that consistency is so important. In a situation like this, obviously, where everyone is, is kind of playing from the same playbook basically. So So clearly, the coordination and bringing everyone together had impacts beyond even your membership, which is really interesting.14:03Exactly.14:04And you mentioned, sorry, go ahead.14:06Yeah, I just wanted to say that the last one that we established was the youth and education because very quickly, we were contacted by the Department of Education, when they had to, again, make sure that the messages goes to the parents goes to the kids. And they started to look specifically into access to technology. Because the schools were closed in New Brunswick very quickly. And immediately the Department of Education started to work on a plan to provide technology and do homeschooling for the kids. And that’s where we wanted to make sure that our families the clients are being contacted and ask the right questions. Because if you call a family and you ask, do you have internet yes or no you It’s good to know. But how many kids need the same device? What is the bandwidth that you’re using? What is the capacity of the parents to support the kids homeschooling not in the first language? So all these questions were very much geared towards this technology. And we had all the members that have used workers and Swiss workers settlement workers in school, were tasked to work with a school district in their region, to make sure that all the families are being contacted, and they know what to do.15:37And did the Ministry of sound translation or did it depend and rely on the agencies to translate and interpret that information,15:44they did a very good job, they immediately started to develop the document in in other languages as well on their website. We just wanted to make sure that, again, families are being having this personal connection with our workers are aware of what’s happening. And there were cases that we’ve seen clients that, for example, had access to a laptop through one of the programs and they didn’t need it. They heard about a family and other city that needs that laughter because they have three little kids at home, that need to do homeschooling donations when were made people transfer their laptop. So you know, people just feel that they’re all in the same boat and want to help each other. And16:28yeah, that’s great, great community a story there for sure. Yeah. Excellent. So So you’ve mentioned a lot of resources, a lot of coordination has happened. And I’m curious, there’s the settlement reference guide that you mentioned. And is that public, that’s something anybody can access, or is that to through your membership.16:48So right now is for the membership. But we also have newsletter that the communication starts first established right away, and they share it every week with different topics. And there is always a website that people can access the newsletter from from last week’s if they need information. And it’s there for everyone. So all the partners in the community that support new commerce in different capacities, for example, the universities that wanted to address some of the concerns that international students had, or even daycares that we have parents bringing in kids, and they don’t speak the same language, you know, all these people can always go to that resource and get some help from from the information there.17:35That’s great. So you want to help the public with a lot of the information so anyone could access it? That seems really important. I’m curious about the the policy work like around technology around the case management pieces that you worked with agencies to develop? Because when when everyone went remote, I with a few colleagues did a national survey just quickly asking you people, how’s it going? And where are you out with policies and a lot of agencies were obviously, in the midst of creating policies related to both remote work as well as online technology, service delivery and and some of those key things that you mentioned earlier, like safety online, and privacy and security and things like that. Were obviously top of mind, but also things that some agencies were really kind of struggling with, were you able to support? I mean, I guess one question is, did a did some of your agencies already have some of these in place, especially those who were doing online work already? And were you able to then kind of share them across so that other agencies could quickly get themselves up to speed?18:31Yes, absolutely. So I think the first guy that went out to everyone was the how to work from home remote, remote guide, the tech Task Force developed that and they shared it immediately, first of all, with the members, and they’re all using it. And then secondly, with other partners in the community, they opened it and I think they had delivered a few sessions, and there is a recorded session that everyone can, you know, any point and, and use it and just get all these ideas and concepts of what to to be aware of. So that’s the first thing. And yeah, and I think the second thing that it’s interesting, again, you know, in crisis, everyone is is hands on, and they want to, to work together. So the tech taskforce after they did that they started to look into a client relationship management system CRM, because some of our smaller agencies don’t have funding to have robust systems that manage clients records and all that. So again, the council initiated a process of all the members to work together in identify identifying the needs of how to support clients remotely, and how to make sure that information is recorded. And right now they’re actually in the midst of identifying the need for the CRM for for the agencies that don’t have any any platform20:01To share information and now that everyone is working20:05remotely, you have to have one central space that people share and record information about the clients.20:13For sure. I mean that that obviously has an impact on case management as well. Yeah. I know. And so I guess since then, since everything kind of started, how have you seen different agencies shift into remote work? I mean, again, we’ve heard a lot of different stories ircc, which is a core funder of the sector, put out there, you know, these are the essential services you must provide. But we’ve heard from a lot of agencies that they’ve gone over and above that, that they’ve been able to, you know, there’s obviously a digital divide with some clients, like, particularly seniors, or as you mentioned, those questions, you have to ask about a household, maybe they have a device, maybe they have an internet connection, but it’s shared amongst five people, for example. So that that poses real challenges to to accessibility and service delivery. So I’m wondering what kind of stories you’re hearing from some of the agencies about this shift online, particularly those who may not have been as comfortable previously, and what their experience has been now that they’ve been doing it for a few months?21:12Um, yeah, I think it was a very interesting to see how some of our members decided just to move everything to an online mode. I think that we heard very inspiring some inspiring stories about how staff were able to provide training for the clients before they’re actually registered to these online services, and develop capacity for the clients explain everything, how it should work. And then everything from language class to information sessions, into employment services, everything just moved to be online, and it’s working smooth smoothly for them. I think that the clients are eager to continue to learn and stay connected. So that’s where we could, we could really see very high level of participation and turnout. We also utilize the technology for many other activities that we never thought that we’re going to do online. So for example, the Ramadan was in the middle of every everything in I think, May to June or even April this year. And instead of having the Ramadan activities that usually are being celebrated in cities like St. JOHN and Frederick, Don, and Martin, they created a virtual Ramadan celebration, just to support people to feel that they’re still practicing what they are used to, but they don’t have to actually break the social distancing rules, and go and visit families, they can still pray, they can still benefit from that. We also started to see members providing more and more Facebook sessions, chess sessions bingo evenings, it was targeted to different groups. There were some sessions for kids in different ages, some sessions for women. We also have some youth programs that are offered for young adults between 18 and 30. A program that is called skills launch, and that’s about access to education and employment. And we have people from all over the province, that are graduated alumni from this program. And we also created a Facebook platform for them and started to create sessions about different topics that matters for them in this pandemic. So there was one session about financial literacy, or for all the youth who wants to connect to this platform, one of our members who is an expert in financial literacy training, provided that and now, finally, sorry, suddenly, now that everything is online, anyone could be an expert. In no time they have a presentation. They’re there. And they allow us to connect and ask all the questions that are, you know, bothering them these days, about financial support, how to save for for later and all that. We also started to provide sessions around mental health and wellness, giving them some tips. So we also had one member that is social worker that supports families in transition in people with trauma backgrounds, so she was there to provide some tips of how to, you know, take care of yourself while you’re at home. And right now we’re focusing on some sessions around employment. So back to work, what do you need to do, how do you do a new way of job search and all that. Also, something that is not related directly to us, the console but in your browser. provincial government that is responsible for employment services, they also partner with us and with many others and created virtual janitors, they created a full platform for everything that’s online. And we were there to support the clients to try and navigate this platform and new kind of way to do the job search. So there are many, many examples.25:25Yeah, it sounds like there’s been some some opportunities even to to increase accessibility. For some folks who may who have, for example, the people have gone through financial literacy are able to continue to access information and, and presentations and then and then themselves become experts and share information. So do you feel that there’s been a shift in some ways around even the idea that of service accessibility? Because of the the increased use of technology?25:53Yes, absolutely. I think that we can tell that for many of the programs that were approved, to continue or to start through government, in the new fiscal when they saw happen, many of them are looking into the budget that was approved to be kind of an in class training or, you know, hands on, and looking at the blended learning option right now. And all the opportunities that it opens, because right now you can open it for more people in the smaller and rural centers that usually are unable to travel to one of the big cities. And there’s many opportunities for for new brunswickers right now, because of the dynamics that usually most of the programs are in the big cities, and people from smaller centers get less access to to to the support and services and right now, we see a big opportunity for us to to engage with them as well. Also, the province started something that’s called turning point, I’m not sure if you’ve heard about this, this is a podcast. And that was developed to proactively address some of the backsliding support for immigration. And by setting the stage for a broader conversation about economic recovery. And that was 10 businesses and industry partners that partner together and launch this initiative. I think this week was the last week of this. They have a website. It’s called turning point and being and initiative, a lot of conversations with economists and figures from education, employment and industry is here to think about how can we look at New Brunswick recovering economy?27:50Well, it’s interesting because that that I would assume kind of builds on you’ve run a conversational tour. A few years ago, I think I can’t remember 2017 or 18, maybe where you actually went to different locations to have these conversations about the future of New Brunswick and the importance, the important role of immigration. So it sounds like this is that dude, are you involved with this, this this with the turning point podcast and helping with that as well?28:17Yes, absolutely. It’s, it’s interesting that you mentioned that because on our boardroom, in the office of the council, we have this timeline of what’s going to happen during March, April and May. And that was all these new conversation tour that we’re hoping to have in and host these sessions in different communities, exactly as we did two years ago, and people were ready to run, and suddenly everything shut. So I think they this was really creative, to develop everything online and use some of the experts here, doing post podcasts and working in the same mode, connecting with people inviting speakers, and inviting the public to share their ideas and concerns and participate in these in these calls as well.29:08That’s great. A lot, it sounds like a lot of things have been accomplished, particularly focusing on ensuring that newcomers are supported that they’re kept informed. And obviously an increase in access to services for some people in some smaller centers that may not have had access to the full suite. I’m wondering what kind of impact and stories you’re hearing about settlement practitioners and agencies, especially, again, some of those who may not have been as, as early adopters to some of this technology. How are they feeling about their ability to continue to do their work? Is there a shift in this, like you’ve mentioned blended service, for example, the idea that moving forward, what does this look like for us as a sector?29:47Yes, I think that there is a very big change and shift in people’s way of thinking we’re looking at this. I think everyone understood From the beginning, how I described to you that people were used to see the clients in person, suddenly, they have to guide them through all the paperwork, all the documents, all the different sessions, remotely. And it just transforms the way that people think about serving the clients and delivering their programs. I think we heard from many, many of the members that they feel more confident and comfortable because they see the network of support around them. We have seen smaller centers that have never met their partners from other parts of the of the province, working the same, in the same field, working with schools, helping families, family, they can share best practices and ask each other, just connect with each other. And we see the value of that. But also, there were new people joining the settlement staff and employment teams, and they see a lot of benefits from all the documents and protocols that have been developed. And they’re using it, the managers are very happy because they don’t have to invest too much in the coaching. And again, when it’s remotely it’s harder, so they have access to all the information. And you can really see how organizations learn from each other and share best practices. So that’s a big win for us,31:27for sure. That’s a huge shift for the sector. And so moving forward, I guess, you know, looking ahead the next six months to a year, what are you looking at as a council, but then I guess as as in within your membership of the new normal of settlement service delivery? Is there? Is that conversation starting to come up already?31:47Yes, it is. And we already started to, to work on some new initiatives, I think mainly around the same idea of connecting and creating partnerships. If it’s about the need for an online learning system, if it’s about the connection that we want to continue with the Department of Education. There is also a lot of work done around employment services, and how can we better collaborate with service providers from government to help them to again, provide the same quality, same level of service to clients that don’t speak the languages and need some support and make more help them to be more aware. And yeah, so we we see that shift, and that’s where we are invested right now and then moving forward until the fall, to start to develop these new initiatives together with more partners in the in the community.32:49Fantastic. Sounds like you’ve done a lot of work and accomplished a lot in what really has been a very short time. But the council and your members, it sounds like you’ve worked really harmoniously together. So I’m wondering if there’s any final thoughts or lessons you would leave with other communities who may be slightly less coordinated. Some advice you might give them about moving forward as a sector with with this perhaps new, blended new normal approach?33:20I think in the past few years, we were invested in efforts of showing how, what’s the value of working together in less and less clutter than and less and less, you know, more and more creative initiatives that are for people working in silos, we have demonstrated to through some of our programs and some of our initiatives that the more you work together, the more you make alignment, it helps the clients it felt a province to grow. People can feel comfortable, to move from different parts to other parts of the province. And that helps also with retention, because if you can find the best place for yourself and for your family in other parts of the province, you don’t have to look outside. Retention was an issue for us. So that’s one thing, also working together with government and working more closely with partners in the community. That’s something that it’s only it only brings value. It only shows that you work together and you make things happen. And if there’s a will, there’s a way. So that’s what we we believe here. And I think I think other partners in the community had seen that this is actually working. And that’s what we’re going to do moving forward.34:44Wonderful. That’s a great message for people. And I appreciate you taking the time to help to help explain your experience in New Brunswick. I think there’s a lot of really great stuff others could learn from in the sector and beyond. So thank you again for your time.34:58Thank you, Martha. Thank you very much.35:00Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you in your work. You can find more podcast episodes wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my firstname.lastname@example.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 at Markopolos org. Thanks again.
21 Sep 2020
TiHS Episode 21: Laura Mannix – innovation is in our sector’s DNA
Laura Mannix is the Director of Community Development at DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society. I spoke with Laura to talk about her work bringing social innovation culture into her organization, as well as how DIVERSECity has been able to pivot remotely. We talk about what all of that has meant for the kind of community work that they do and how it relates to newcomer and community engagement as well. I find her journey towards innovation and how she incorporated it into her work really interesting and I think you’ll find her insights and experiences incredibly valuable. Some themes from our conversation: social innovation has to be focused on creating more more equitable communities and we need to dive into what the role of settlement is around that. That requires time and space to do that, have time for reflection, look at how social innovation values align with the sector’s, and really become equipped to think about the challenges of settlement, of our frameworks and the the entirety of what settlement is, and its impacts.bringing social innovation into an immigrant and refugee-serving sector agency isn’t a “copy and paste” exercise. It’s a journey that values both new ideas as well as the experiences, ideas, approaches, and work that agency staff, newcomers, and communities bring.Transforming your organization requires leadership that buys into that transformation, and gives the agency the space to do the work, prioritizing mentorship, capacity building and pathways.Doing all of this means putting in the actual structures at a team level to facilitate those discussions in a systematic consistent way, so it just becomes second nature, and staff don’t feel threatened if they’re critical and open in their feedback.The future of settlement work is blended. After this experience pivoting to remote work, there’s no going back. But there needs to be time and space to really look at what that means for structure, staffing, community, service, and technology infrastructure. Settlement work is always relationship-based work, and we cannot lose that. We also need to keep power, access, and vulnerability top of mind as well: “I have multiple your conversations and keep in touch with colleagues of mine that are discussing this. How do we sustain this at the moment because we know that this has disproportionately affected racialized folks and folks who work at our organizations and and, of course, the community members that we support. And so how do we then support our our teams through that and then expect them to continue to support community members through that? We’re still figuring it out.” Machine-Generated Transcript What follows is an AI-generated transcript 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. 0:00My name is Laura Mannix and I’m the Director of Community Development at diversity community resources society. And my pronouns are she her hers, and our work takes place on the ancestral traditional and unceded territories of the semi Amr katze katzie, kotlin, kotlin and musk come to us in First Nations and which is now referred to as Siri, Langley and delta. It’s a quieter right wide community. And I have the privilege of working with migrant communities. And my team provides support services that range from what what a settlement services to specialized, specialized services for more multiperiod folks that arrived, youth and community have Volunteer support services. 1:02So a wide range of settlement services and community development work sounds like really important. 1:07That’s it. And I think the the nuance there in particular is around the community development aspect. So really trying to look at how how we contribute to our society and and the folks that we work with, from moving it from what is traditional settlement framework, which is that recipient service, the recipient of services, to more of how do we then have supports that contribute to building more equitable and inclusive communities? 1:49Right And I mean, this is something that in a lot of ways was the foundation of the sector. I I refer people a lot to the Canadian Council for refugees core values document from I think it’s 19 98 and all of those kinds of elements I just mentioned, are kind of there. And it seems along the way we’ve we’ve, we’ve lost a little bit of that, as a sector and in terms of even in terms of onboarding of new staff and things like that people aren’t aware of that sense of history. And and we talked about this a bit last year when you contributed to this the peace geek settlement 2.0 research and project. And, and so I want to speak a little bit more about and that was one of the things that came out in the research as well was those feelings, those sentiments, that foundation, even though people may have articulated it differently, is still very much there in the sector. In some ways, we’ve kind of come back full circle now, I think. And perhaps it’s because of social change movements, and just that sense of social justice in our communities, that settlement agencies are refining their roots in a lot of ways. And that came out pretty strongly in the report and in the conversation we had now we’ve prefaced it on innovation. And that was that was kind of the guiding question for piece cake. So I can kind of want to talk a little bit about that just around your work bringing innovation into diversity, as well as because of where we are now how your organization has been able to pivot remotely and what that’s meant for, for the kind of community work that you do and the client and community engagement as well. But maybe a little bit, because I find it really interesting about your own sort of journey towards innovation, and how you brought that into your agency and some of the experiences you had with that. 3:28Yeah, I think that the term innovation and particularly social innovation, you know, has a particular leaning and, you know, what I what I’ve certainly began to understand as I moved through those, those learnings of social innovation is that it certainly is more it’s, it’s a space that can be a bit problematic, I would say, in in its own right, it tends To be occupied mostly by your white folks with more limited consideration around power and privilege, and appropriations of practices. So it’s really about information that needs to be reclaimed back to the communities that it was originally created by I would say, that was my first learning around moving through social innovation theory, I would say, what it did enable me to do was to actually think about that be equipped and think about the challenges of, of settlement of the framework and the the entirety of what settlement is, and its impacts. And, you know, it enabled me the space and the tools to think about the roots which is a deeply colonial framework. And it’s it steeped in structures that are not centered around the people that it’s supposed to be there for. And it doesn’t follow a strength based and asset based framework, and therefore, it’s not as effective as what it can be. And so I think if we can move beyond that, the model of that disempowerment, that that notion of the service recipient, like I mentioned before, and move into creating more more equitable communities and what the role of settlement is around that. That’s what that’s where my journey took me around social innovation and that really stems from my family’s own experience my my mother and she immigrated to Australia as from Egypt, and she’s forcibly displaced her family. And, you know, when when they arrived, it was very much about assimilation. It wasn’t about integration, it was very much, you know, the way that you would survive and succeed in Australia as, as an immigrant at that time was to be as Australian as possible to be as wide as possible. And not you know, that included not not, you know, sharing your culture and language out in public. You know, and it was about learning, you know, what it means to be Australian and so, I think that contributed a lot to some internalized shame within your in my family, and I see it with other migrant families that I know and grew up with and and it leads to a lot Have identity you know, and not to the full extent but it’s it can, it can stay within you. Even to this day, my family’s to drugs me my sister, my brother, about Mr. Plunkett and Mr. Plunkett was actually the first Australian person my family met in actually my my tattoos best workplace. And Mr. Plunkett is was her employer, you literally would teach her how to be your how to fit in more in the Australian context. And you know, I’m sorry, she would always quote but Mr. Plunkett would say, and so years later, like, I’m talking like 40 years, we’re still saying, Well, Mr. Pumpkin, and now I kind of want to say, you know, Mr. Plunkett really, really big part of what I’m saying, you know, One of the reasons why I started to do this work because I just want to see any more folks who are not from, you know, a white settler background or the community in which the country they’ve moved to ever feel like that they are less than or where 8:19when they’re trying to create a new home in a country and so I do still see elements of that in settlement here. We have language that still is embedded in that context around you Canadians and the way that we’ve structured you know, our citizenship, your tests and courses and your immigration pathway. So there’s even though Canada is your, a wonderful place and promotes multiculturalism integration, there’s still that element though of assembly. And people still feel that way. And so when, when I start thinking about then how do we respond to that in, in settlement services, and particularly with the projects that I started to work on from from doing a social innovation certificate? 9:23You know, one of the core principles is around, you know, 9:27the ability to fail to test ideas, and to have a container and the ability to fail when you’re trying to innovate something in a social context. And of course, we know in the settlement sector, we don’t really have that ability to do that, especially with your government funding that we have and and some of the constraints around that. And so when we started when I started to work with my team and look at some of the leverage points within our Current settlement services to pilot a bit more of a specialized migrants centered design, I realized how deeply embedded the the framework of your, the framework of the settlement sector and when I talk about the framework, I’m talking about more of the oppressive structures about how it’s been. It’s become such a, you know, your categories of how you approach things, and how that limits people’s thought processes and ability to be creative and respond, really, to the communities that they’re working with. And so when we started to work with the teams around that, I saw that that became more of a barrier. You know, a lot of the folks that we work with have been working in the settlement sector for a really, really long time. And so how do you make that mental shift? It was, it was even hard for me to make that that mental shift to go side of that framework and to think, well, if we could actually start fresh and have something that was meaningful, what would that look like? So I realized that there was a lot of unlearning that needed to happen just even within our teams. And, and that included dismantling a lot of your existing structures such as hierarchy, who had the ability to provide input to how we did things. And so completely reframing those things. And we are, we’re still doing that. I have to say, no, it’s 11:38a long game, isn’t it? Yeah, that’s 11:39it. But you know, some of the things that we’ve been able to do is, you know, have community input, you know, it through any, any program or proposal that we’re moving forward with, that’s like the first step, and we have your stuff that we work with at every single level, being able to provide that input as well. And so it is complete. It’s truly responsive and meets the emerging needs that we’re seeing. And here’s some of the programs that we’ve been able to do that through our together now, which is it started as a pilot project a couple years back, but it was it was created by folks who identify sexual and gender diverse migrants or folks from that community. And you know, that wasn’t it was a very long process on how to get to the iteration of what it is now. But we see the impact because of that iterative process. And you’re a couple of the other programs that we’ve been working with along that includes in solidarity, which is a indigenous and migrant Youth Leadership project. So again, Long time to create relationships, meaningful relationships with local, indigenous community and community provide us service providers to be able to reach bridge these communities in a meaningful way and to bring in and center indigenous voices in the settlement experience as well. And we’re also we did a very similar process, trying to move forward with an anti anti racism framework for the organization, which would then also lead to us doing anti racism work within the community and how that lens would completely move through all of our support services as well. And I shouldn’t just say an anti racism framework, but anti oppression as well. So yeah, a lot of Work invested in, in innovation in the sense of not just technological innovation because we, we tend to focus more around that which we’ve done as well, I have to say and thank God because of where we are now. But I have focused more around the Yeah, the innovation of programs and, and holding community. 14:25There’s so much I want to unpack from from everything you’ve said, but I want to start near the end where you were, you’re talking a lot about the ways you re sort of revisioning the work you do with your community. Because you mentioned a few really key things like time and space and, and just exploring and failing. And, and that’s, that’s constantly those are some of the things that constantly come up in the conversation around innovation, whether it’s technology centered or social innovation or anti oppression, innovation. There’s so many little baskets of that but but but settlement workers And Solomon agencies just feel like they don’t, they don’t have that permission to take the time and space, the rigid structures that in some ways are self imposed, because, you know, we’re, we’re just used to being told you can’t and so they there’s there’s a sense almost of a self oppression right or you’re just like okay now this is the box that I’ve been funded to fit in and we can’t really shift from that to the to the real realities of a funder that does impose that kind of rigidity in all the research we see. So how were you able to actually get out of that box in your agency with staff but also with with with upper management who, you know, is really, the whole the whole focus over the years has been okay, no, no, but we still have to tell them how many bums and chairs we’ve got, right, the outputs of our of our funding is dependent on this, not so much on that, although the quality of the outcomes is more dependent on that, that all the pieces that you’re bringing up. This is very different than just saying Turning people through the you know, the resume mill and things like that. So I’m really curious because I think that that’s the kind of question that people will ask is okay, you’re talking about a fundamental cultural shift in a settlement organization. And, and clearly, you’re still in the midst of it, but how, how, how has that sort of happened practically in some ways, with your, with your teams, with your with your upper management, even with the bore, who is probably looking down thinking, whoa, I love it, but what are we doing? 16:28Yeah, 16:29yeah, I think that’s such a big question. And, again, highlighting that we are still doing it and I’m sharing these justice learnings and not as not saying that we’re experts fine in many in any means. But I would have to say that, um, I think that we are taking a strong leadership role as far as some of this work goes. And and the commitment from I would say the executive leadership because Because that having that come from above is what really enables us to push this work forward. So we have a board that is committed to, like empowerment work and committed to difficult discussions around racism, equity, power privilege, and especially now considering the context we’re having this conversation, even even before the uprisings that we’re seeing with the Black Lives Matter movement and movement, sorry, and, and, and a lot of the discussions that need to be had around anti black and anti indigenous racism in the community right now. So having that as a set value, to trickle down in the organization is really key and having that investment I would also say, into capacity building for for the staff, that’s been a key one. And so, having having an I say this from a privileged position of being in an organization that is, I would say, like mid size when we look at the different settlement organizations around Canada and, and so having some resources at our disposal to provide like standardized training and capacity building for all staff around key areas, and I would say also, you know, it’s also changing the structures and approach to whether it’s the designing and implementation of programming or current programming and so practically What that looks like he’s bringing the team seem to redesign your tools and approaches in pre existing programs, which, you know, it’s just iteration we constantly try and do that and we’re being better at doing that. And again, that’s the luxury of time to be able to do that we know how busy settlement work can be. And so carving out that time, and consultants to be able to hold space for us to guide us to do those things as well has been really key for us to build out the capacity to do that. I would also say, you know, having a different form of leadership style as well. And that is also including a prioritization of your mentor ship, capacity building and pathways. leadership, and really prioritizing that for folks who have lived experience and lived expertise. Because I truly believe that you can only be truly responsive to the communities that you’re working with, if you have them represented in every single layer in your organization as well. So really having a commitment to that as well, which, again, is an investment of time and and capacity, but we see how that really how that impacts our ability to do work in such a positive way. I 20:39think it’s useful for people to hear that that experience and and that it is it has to cross all those layers in the organization for sure. Yeah. So I’m curious as you’re on the journey, what have what have some of the impacts been and they don’t have to be tangible, right? Like I’m not talking about outcomes and outputs yet, but let’s talk about what has It looked like to shift as an organization this way. And I mean that even from the sense of, of, for the staff and their feeling of being valued, because as you described, they’re inputting more the sense of being more representative and responsive to the communities that you work with and serve. Have you started to see some, some some movement already and some 10 or some tangible or intangible kinds of results? 21:25Yeah, I think, um, you know, one of the biggest ones is our staffs feedback around how they feel about working for an organization like diversity. 21:41And, 21:43and, again, you know, saying that we are still on this journey, but every time that we have move forward with an initiative 21:56that has enabled 22:00That has enabled staff from every level of the organization to provide strategic input around an initiative that we wish to move forward in community. I know that that has been really, really appreciated in the sense of that they recognize that their work is valued, and that their skills and expertise are valued. And because they are and I think, for a really long time, there’s been I think, some some lack of recognition of those skill sets particularly amongst like frontline staff, and your that can just be seen as far as like wages and your the compression that we’ve seen over the sector over the past couple of years. So, and again, that is something that we are always trying to address. 23:00About just feeling valued is a huge thing. Because I know in our sector conversation that in the last few years has really come to the fore that sense of inequity and oppression even within organizations. It comes up a lot, so so that that’s a huge feeling for someone to feel that they are contributor and have potential within the organization and that they’re believed in even. And then, in terms of your shift to because you described your approach to innovation as nothing without community, right. So how, and I assume that there was always probably some of that in the way that that diversity did the work. But now that you’ve overtly reaffirmed that as a guiding value, it’s seen as he said, that’s how it comes across to me. How has that impacted the communities that you do work with? And their and their and how they relate to you as an organization? Yeah, 23:52I would say we’re definitely as an organization and the people attached to the organization are in follow Better relationship, I would say as a result, and hopefully, you know, from from the feedback that we do receive in different forms, that there’s a level of trust there. 24:13And also, 24:16just from the, the success that we’ve seen in a, in a community members journey, and so the self efficacy that they that they develop, you know, too, and I, you know, I don’t want to use, like, the traditional settlement language as far as you’re reaching their settlement goals, but, you know, it’s, you know, meeting with a community member is at with their own journey and seeing that, that progression, and I think we’ve, we’ve received validation of a lot of the programs that we’ve done around that because they are so specialized. And I would say that’s certainly something that we’ve we’ve really tried to hone in on diversity is realizing that we, we do specialize programming that 25:15that 25:18that keeps in mind, the intersectionality of the folks that we work with, and actually then provide meets them around that their, their identity and their lived experience there. And so I think we Yeah, it we do it, we we do services better through that lens rather than the broad overview lens. And I think because we we keep getting funding and encouragement to do that. That that is is quite validating as well. 25:52Absolutely. The issue of language. I mean, you brought it up there and I know I struggle with it. Have you been in the sector for a couple of decades you get you just get used to the language and then you start to evaluate and recognize that the language is exclusionary in a lot of ways. And we have to shift not just our thinking, but the way we speak. And you brought that up initially when it just came to the notion of social innovation as being so you know, the typical white consultant over here kind of thing. So I wonder, because I think people would be curious how, as an organization, have you crafted your own vision or version and I don’t need you to necessarily define it because it’s, you’re on the journey, but then of innovation or social or community innovation, that might be a bit different than what people are typically exposed to in that space. 26:37Yeah, I actually think, you know, and you mentioned it before Marco, when you said, you know, there was an element already in the settlement sector, around social innovation principles or not even Social Innovation principles, but, you know, you pointed to the CCI around like the guidelines of value values, which Which I think is essentially where we’ve gotten back to. So social innovation, I feel like it is, you know, extremely useful as far as, you know, tools and thought processes and theory. But I think we always had the goods essentially there in the settlement organization. And I could see it back in, in our older programs as well at diversity. And when I think about some of the collaborative, okay, sorry, collaborative partnerships and initiatives that that we have, and so it was always there. And so I think it’s, it was just in fine tuning it and making it a bit more prominent, as far as a design style as far as how we approach moving forward with Implementation of programs, or then the process of how we then design new programs through the proposal process. So it was just, essentially, you’re taking those suggestions, and just putting it into our context. And I think we always did it at some, at some level, but it was never a cohesive. Um, you know, step by step, this is how we’re going to do this. We’re going to engage ABCD in this way. And we’re into turn it’s then going to be able to create something that will meet this this population of the community where they are right now. So sorry, I feel like that that is super high level. This is 28:54I think, part of the you’re on the journey and I get that, that there are so few organizations that Kind of doing what you’re doing? Well, that what you’re describing is totally useful still, because, you know, we don’t want to recreate just another box, right? Yeah, that’s really important that but I think it’s just useful to hear about, like, there’s a, there’s, there’s a foundation that we have, there are elements in social innovation, they use different language, but when you start to marry them up, you start to see Oh, oh, when they say this, we use this, like, you know, I mean, I, I’m trying, I’m struggling, of course, I think of some things but like, I hear, like, all, you know, uncut, we’re doing an unconference. It’s like, Oh, so you’re doing a popular education meeting, basically, right? Because when I started in the sector, we went through, we were, you know, on boarded with popular education, techniques and approaches, which are very steeped in power structure kinds of things. And, and, and the language when you start to look it’s like, well, a actually meets see over here we just, they just use different language things. So I think that’s sort of the the tension sometimes is, is the expertise makes us in the secular field. Like, we don’t have the right language, therefore, we must not be doing it. Right. 30:03That’s exactly right. And, you know, that’s what I found straightaway was how exclusionary the language in innovation, social innovation was in. And so when you actually break down the concepts, you’re like, Oh, actually, you know, we are doing this to an extent, but you know, we could be taking this even further. Right? And, and how do we do that? And then, when we actually implement that into, like, the real life context, we see all these repercussions that came out. And so then, essentially, what we originally intended to innovate was no longer what we’re innovating. It was another solution over here that we’re like, this is what we need to tend to fix. And so it was, it was sort of Yeah, being able to provide that that space and thought process. and equip other team members around these thought processes as well. 31:06Yeah. And you mentioned building capacity. So I’m curious about what that looks like. Because our sector is still, in many ways. When you look at professional development pieces, it’s very skills based. And that’s super important, obviously, right? moments counseling, mental health, counseling, or just awareness. But what is it? What is building capacity in this context look like where you’re trying to essentially create a mindset? 31:29Yeah, and that you can’t do in just a two hour, you know, webinar either. So yeah, and so that at that point, when I was first starting out with this work, I was working with my own team of about 13, folks, and so I was very lucky in the sense that we had a really great tight team and relationship and and so it was just systematic The way that we approached it, and we embedded it in, in all aspects sort of, of our team dynamic, it started off with, well, you know, if you have this feeling, and if you don’t think that we should do it this way, you know, you need to let us know. And I know that sounds really simple, but when you have really, you know, existing hierarchies, you know, and which I think all tournament organizer organizations do have and your everyone does their best to try and mitigate those. But I think that really, you know, it can sometimes it doesn’t empower folks to feel comfortable and actually saying, Well, you know, this, this makes sense. And, and knowing that, you know, folks don’t have the time or capacity to do it at an individual level. So how do you put in the actual structures at a team level, like at a meeting at facilitating those discussions, you know, in a systematic consistent way, so it just becomes second nature. And then on top of that, when when we’re looking at, you know, the leverage points are changing something within the program, then it is something more specific that you have facilitated conversations around outside of that, but it was sort of changing the culture first, but then to have those more specific conversations. And then we would actually do if we had a proposal that we were looking at to see if diversity would it would be useful for diversity to to do this work, then we would actually implement, you know, different dialogues and meetings with different teams to get inputs and we would put together Your little stripe stripe team. So we knew that there were team members that had amazing knowledge or specific skills around these different thought areas. And we would move forward with those. So there was sort of informal channels and more formal channels that we were able to do that with. 34:20I’m curious if the staff themselves started bringing ideas to the table, outside of even that process started to feel and, again, apologies for they were empowered to walk forward and say, Listen, I’ve got an idea. Yeah. And I’d like just to put it on the table and see what you think. 34:38Yeah, we, you know, we, 34:42it’s sort of, it’s harder for me to say that now my current context as a director, I can say definitely from the managers that I work with, yes. And so, which is excellent. And that’s just a constant thing now, where, to the point where I’m sort of Just like can you stop questioning everything right now? Not really. I know, I get very proud and very happy when I see folks that I work with constantly questioning things. You know, that’s, that’s a good indicator. I think from a frontline perspective, there are some, but that still needs to be built out, I would say, right. Yeah. And I and I just and I think it’s, it’s for a multitude of reasons that these folks are doing so much work, you know, they have a lot of work their days of fool. And, you know, I think we still need to invest more in the capacity building to be able to do more of that and feel comfortable and in doing that, but I and I also just say that as a director, because they wouldn’t necessarily come to me directly, they would go to their managers and I’m hoping that that and I know that that Still does happen to an extent. But I couldn’t say as much as what I see with my own direct team. 36:08Right. But it’s but it sounds like there’s there’s that sense of, you know, more openness and encouragement, or at least obviously, from the top, bring the ideas, you know, be questioning, as you say. Yeah. And that, that that’s okay in a way that it may not have been a few years ago, even at the same organization, or at least not felt okay. 36:25Yeah. And I don’t, and it’s interesting, because I don’t ever think it wasn’t okay. I just don’t think we intentionally provided the space for folks to do that. 36:37And that’s such an important point because there’s the there’s the there’s the capacity building, there’s the skills building, but that that space and time comes up constantly, like the ability to be able to step away from the the day to day service to reflect to think to into and to not just have that happen but as something they do on their commute home or in the evening, but actually an accurate Part of the role of settlement work is to reflect and to think about, what are we seeing? And what are we doing? And how could we do this differently or better? 37:08That’s a space to, like, critically engage and think about these things, which we don’t get given the luxury of a lot of the time. And, and so when I talk about, you know, I was given the space during the social innovation certificate, I literally was given that luxury because outside of that, it’s very hard, you’re responding constantly, and you’re, you’re reacting, whereas you’re to take that step back and look systematically at what’s happening, then that is such a gift. And, you know, we we don’t offer that enough, I think to particularly frontline staff, and that’s something that you know, we and I say that it from diversity that we need to do more of to build that capacity for them to to step back and critically assess, although I think that the nature of the folks who work in this sector and that diversity, they’re doing it individually, constantly, I would say just a day to day interactions. 38:16So I guess it’s almost like because you mentioned as use the word gift and luxury. And I think it’s, I guess a question of then making it just No, this is core. This is how you do your work. And the funders understand that. And the organizations understand that to do this work well, to have that kind of connection with with communities and to be iterative and failing and things like that. You need that time and space to even think through some of this stuff to step back and just, whoa, I’ve suddenly seen a pattern that if I hadn’t done this before, maybe we need to do something differently. Or maybe I need to go talk to some community members and sees this Is this right? Am I what is what I’m seeing happening? And that all takes time, right? 38:51Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Awesome. 38:56I don’t even want to start talking about technology because I think we’ve we’ve gone down no This has been such an important conversation. And part of it is I just think, again, in the piece geeks report innovation definitely spoke a lot to technology, although it spoke to inclusion it spoke to it spoke to some of these equity issues as well. And I think that this is a really important conversation because the technology is just tools. And if you’re doing the other In my opinion, if you’re doing the openness, if you’re doing the, you know, connecting with community, the the understanding of the tools you need to use will just come sort of organically out of that, right. I mean, if I’m, if I’m talking with my community, I know whether they want me to use WhatsApp or texting or Facebook Messenger or zoom or whatever the case might be. Because we’re connecting on all of those kinds of levels. So it’s almost, it’s so much, it’s so much sort of secondary to what we’re talking about here, which is like shifting the way we even approach the way we do our work. The tools become self evident, right? I mean, that’s how I talk to people about technology anyway, if you do the strategy, right, which starts by talking with your communities and clients and asking them for their images But then you don’t have to make decisions about technology because they’re made for you. It’s evident what you should be using kind of thing. Yeah. And so I think that we don’t, we don’t think about that in the context of innovation. But it almost feels like it’s a natural byproduct that the more conversations you’re going to have, the more people will say, you know, email is great, but I’d really appreciate if you texted me. And then you start to build in those structures in your organization. Oh, maybe we should ask an intake how people want to communicate and things like that. So but it’s it starts with that shift in mindset, that shift in culture that, oh, we’re not the ones who necessarily decide we find out and then we serve kind of thing, right? 40:37Yeah, that’s it. And I, you know, when we think about technology, and particularly in the time that we find ourselves in now, because we know that we’ve been accelerated, I would say, you know, five years in a week, when it comes to when it comes to your service delivery with technology and you know, We there’s going to be now a blended approach. That’s, that’s the future and how we’re going to be moving forward and there’s value in the sense of, we’ve seen efficiencies created from technology. And so, what I would like to see and I want, I want to make sure that like our fund is and and other, you know, settlement organizations is that, you know, with these efficiencies that we reinvest those efficiencies into building connection, because what I want to see is, is that is that we still are able to do, you know, relationship based work, and I am, that’s always a worry that when we talk about technology and remote work that that is actually going to, you know, be missing and of course, that is that is the heart of what we do here and Yeah, so that’s Yeah. When I think about technology, it’s that reinvestment. 42:07Yeah. So I mean, I wonder, in this, it’s been sort of three months since we’ve been suddenly remote. Have you been able to, to build that value into this experiment basically, with your staff? Or to reiterate work? Yes, we’re, we’re, you know, it’s it’s essential services, it’s emergency services, but like, let’s continue to try to build those relationships. 42:29Yeah. And they, they do it naturally. Anyway, like, I have to say, the staff and I, it’s not just a diversity. I know what every single settlement organization because of the values of the folks that work in this sector. There’s so deeply resilient and so deeply driven by relationships. And so as soon as this your this hit us, and I say, you know, it was sort of like a week was like, one day we’re like, yeah, we’re We’re going to have to start shutting down. And then the week of moving through getting every one of sites set up fully equipped, but still having them connect with all the folks that they are, you’re supporting throughout this time. And naturally, that’s that was where everyone’s thought process was. And, you know, I joke in the sense of it was any way that we could connect with these community members, whether it was you know, a, you know, a phone call carrier pigeon, WhatsApp, you know, anyway. Exactly. And it was, you know, again, your way the client was that, you know, we spent yesterday morning discussing digital iniquity, and, you know, the implications around that and we’re still trying to deal with that now, but straight off the bat, it was just, you’re making sure that The efforts, you know, especially the first three weeks, were just connecting with community members, right? And just seeing how they were and, and just responding to what we were saying through through those communications. 44:17In some ways, I feel like because I mean, I’ve heard it described, I think it was someone from Ireland that coined the phrase, we’re not working from home, we’re at home during a pandemic trying to do work. And in some ways, it’s almost you know, I mean, again, I say this to people I forgive me for saying it, but this was almost like the best way to experiment with remote work for our sector or for human services because we weren’t just serving we were also checking in with very vulnerable populations, isolated populations. I mean, we were going through it ourselves but but the impetus wasn’t just to go Okay, I’ll do a whatsapp group. It was gonna use WhatsApp because I want to see how you’re doing. Before we even move to the resume. Let’s talk about Are you okay? Do you have food you know, or have you lost your job, you understand serve and UI benefits and an almost created the sense that technology isn’t just about, you know, transactional kind of relationships, but it can facilitate that deeper connection. And so we’ve actually started to create a model of technology mediated service delivery, that is reflective of the values of the sector is that we care. And this is the only way we can show and connect right now. But how could that translate to the way we do it in the future blended for sure, but it also means we see technology as a way to continue to care and build those relationships, which I think a lot of people didn’t see was possible before. And technology was just this cold visit kind of thing. And now it’s suddenly like, no, it’s a lifeline, right? Yeah. And so how could How will that transform the way we look at our own work in the future will be really interesting. I’m curious what what you think of that as well? 45:54Yeah, absolutely. I think um, you know what, what you You said particularly around where we’re at as far as not just working from home, but working through a pandemic, like that is the biggest challenge. I think that we’re we’re seeing at the moment within our own teams that I know throughout the sector, you know, I have multiple your conversations and keep in touch with colleagues of mine that are discussing this is, you know, how do we sustain this at the moment because we know that, you know, this is affected disproportionately racialized folks and folks who work at our organizations and and, of course, the community members that we support. And so how do we then support our our teams through that and then expect them to continue to support community members through That. And then how, then do we look at how we create teams and culture and manage now in this remote context? 47:13And 47:16yeah, we’re still we’re figuring it out. But I really I appreciated the way that you framed the the technology and how we responded was the way that we could show her that. Yeah, we do care. And we are trying to connect. And I and I actually didn’t think about it that way. But that’s exactly what it was. I remember that first week that everyone was scrambling, and it was like, how do we make sure that we still stay in touch with the community members? And that was everyone’s your thought process around the entire sector? That was 47:50absolutely clear through the little the survey that we did right off the bat. I don’t know if you saw that there was a sector survey. Yeah. And that’s that exactly that came through really clearly. How do I continue to support people who are anxious while I myself anxious? Yeah, the layers of but still thinking, but I’ve got to be the one that can I’m still that I’m still a helper. My role is still Yeah, you know, I’m here. I’m homeschooling two kids, my, my spouse just lost their job. My clients are confused and anxious. But I’ve got a role to play. And the resilience, as you described earlier was incredible in that in those initial weeks, especially, 48:31and I would say also just coming off the negotiations to like that. Yeah, it was I kind of felt like I’d put down the pin of signing the CIA’s and then it was I looked up and it’s like, COVID, you know, and, and you think to yourself, there’s no way that we can, you know, I’m done. You know, like I’m done. I’m ready to take a holiday and it’s just amazing how We keep rising to the occasion. And, you know, like when I think about, you know, the value of what settlement does is that we, we always we do respond to community, we always respond to what is happening, and we’re, we’re always there to do it for for better or for worse. I’m not saying that we’ve always done it in, in fantastic ways. But we’ve always tried to Yeah, to adapt and pivot really quickly. And, and sometimes I sit back and think, you know, is that a good thing that we continue to rise to the occasion as well? You know, we keep setting these precedences and I just kind of think, you know, 49:51that is a whole other conversation that could be unpacked over a few hours. Absolutely. But, but at the end of the day, I mean, I think Right, the rising to the occasion, the ability to step up in these in these extraordinary circumstances. And to shift so quickly for organizations in a lot of cases who were, who were resistant to some of the technology tools has been really impressive to see and learn from. And I think there’s a lot a few months from now coming back out as we might to come together as a sector to learn some of these lessons would be really useful and interesting. 50:26Yeah, for sure. 50:28Yeah. So thank you for this. This has been a conversation so much fun. Oh, my God. I’m like, my head is spinning with the innovation pieces. I’m just like, new models, new approaches. I think it’s so so, so great. So really inspiring. So thank you for sharing your experiences. 50:44Thank you, Marco. And I feel like I haven’t given you tangible things. You know, I feel like you know, this is I’ve just been like going off into these tangents for the past hour, but hopefully you can. 50:58No, totally, totally Like I said, For me, it’s it’s hearing the threads that all connect to our foundations as a sector and to what’s happening now. Like, I think it’s all very tangible in the end. Yeah. But it’s like you said it’s a journey. And yeah, you’re on that journey. And I think there’s there are a lot of really important pieces and but there’s a real coherence to the way you’re describing calories of diversity, for sure. 51:21Okay. 51:22You sharing will make someone else think and share their stuff. And together, we build something bigger, right? It’s all about sharing each other’s experiences. And I think half the time that’s that’s the challenge is again that that like, how do I reflect? And then not just reflect but share it in a way that it might that other people can then sort of learn from and share their learnings and think? Yeah, and I think, I think again, as well, there’s a lot of intimidation around that in our sector because we are, again, not seen in so many ways as experts so to share is like if I put myself out there someone might say oh my god, that’s a terrible idea. Ryan Right. Yeah. In so it’s hard as a sector for us to do that. But it’s so important. Like, I feel like I’ve learned so much in the last hour just talking through with you, that that other people are going to really benefit from. And I think that that, that, that, that courage and that that that, that inclination to share is just something that needs to become part of our culture, you know, and then and then will I be sharing? And yeah, and I’ll just build on it and all you know, again, we can fail and that’s okay. Right. Take the idea in a different direction. 52:30So, thank you so much, Marco. 52:33Thanks 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 that Markopoulos 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 email@example.com Thanks again. Transcribed by https://otter.ai
18 Aug 2020
TiHS Episode 20: Hope Nestor – data-driven community services and inclusion
Welcome to episode 20 of the Technology in Human Services Podcast. Be data driven. Make your decisions based on data. We’ve all heard the platitudes. And data is something that the immigrant and refugee-serving sector has huge amounts of, and does very little with. In 2017, the Toronto East Quadrant Local Immigration Partnership started looking into changing that. In this episode I interview Hope Nestor, Research Partnership Lead on their Scarborough Newcomer Needs and Trends Report project. According to the 2016 Census newcomers made up 57 per cent of Scarborough’s population. Agencies collect data on clients and communities to ensure newcomers have the support systems they need in place. The project works with these organizations to surface, pool, and aggregate their collective data to identify newcomer service trends and needs. As you’ll hear, it’s a work in progress. An important work in progress that can teach all immigrant and refugee-serving agencies more about how they can better use data to improve services, build welcoming communities, and enhance inclusion in our cities. Some themes from our conversation: Building a collaborative process and project is essential for success – “what we developed is a the idea to build a data pooling platform, so to build really a database where organizations could share data together in a really supportive and neutral space. So without fear of competition without fear of privacy and security issues, where they could come together and share information in a very neutral space.”Legacy systems are cumbersome and agencies need support and guidance to either get the most out of them or switch to more user-friendly systems – “This project allowed us to say to people, what are you experiencing with your data? What do you know about your data? What do you know about data analytics? What do you know about management? And have them come together and share in an open way the trouble that they’re experiencing, and what they’re doing. Because they’re doing a lot of things really right. And so many of them are collecting the right information to make really great data driven decisions at their organization. They just need first and foremost, somebody who has the time and the resource to, to do some of that analytics work.”Building cross-sectoral capacity will be essential, investments are needed – “I think we’re going to need some top down approach where funders are focused on pulling the sector into that next phase. Because organizations can’t do it on their own. They need the resources and the funding and they need funders who appreciate that they can’t necessarily compete in a data driven world with these large agencies who or or as you mentioned, we have private sector agencies coming in, or come organizations coming in. So we’re going to need support for those groups for sure.” Additional resources: Toronto East Quadrant Local Immigration PartnershipHow UTSC is teaming up with community groups to bring better services to Scarborough’s newcomersUnderstanding the Data Needs of Settlement Stakeholders to Better Support Newcomers and Refugees (2016) Machine-Generated Transcript What follows is an AI-generated transcript using Otter.ai. The transcript may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio. 0:00Welcome to Episode 20 of the technology and Human Services podcast. be data driven, make your decisions based on data. We’ve all heard the platitudes, and data is something that the immigrant and refugee serving sector in Canada has huge amounts of and does very little with. In 2017, the Toronto East quadrant local immigration partnership started looking into changing that. In this episode, I interview hope Nestor research partnership lead on their Scarborough newcomer needs and trends report project. According to the 2016 census, newcomers made up 57% of Scarborough’s population. Agencies collect data on clients and communities to ensure newcomers have the support systems they need in place. The project works with these organizations to surface pool and aggregate their collective data to identify newcomer service trends and needs. As you’ll hear, it’s a work in progress and important work in progress that can teach all immigrant and refugee serving agencies more about how they can better use data to improve services, build welcoming communities and enhance inclusion in our cities. I hope you 1:00find it useful. 1:02My name is hope Nestor and I am a research partnership lead with the Toronto East quadrant local immigration Partnership, 1:11which for those who don’t know, it’s an ircc funded program that develops local partnerships and community based planning around the needs of newcomers. So we do anything from holding action groups for 1:28people who serve employment sector and the or those who serve newcomers in the form of health services. And then we host larger events like forums and the bridges forum, which is a popular collaborative 1:43activity that people do in February. So that’s our one of our largest activities. And I have been working at the lift for almost two years. Excellent. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining me on on the podcast and lips. I find they’re a fairly new 2:00phenomenon in the sector but do really interesting convening work and almost have created like a collaborative neutral persona in the sector. And I know that in in in your area, you’ve been doing some interesting recent work through some ircc funding service delivery Improvement Grant around that kind of collaborative, convenient. Can you tell me a little bit about that and where you’re at in the project? Yeah, absolutely. So actually, our project is called the Scarborough newcomer needs and trends report project, which is a long name. 2:33But we have been working on this project, really, the project came into planning 2:40and 2017. We had as part of our strategic planning at the lip, we had organizations who came to us and said, We want to do more with the data that we collect from our clients and the data that we collect when we’re doing service delivery, and so as the lip and when the STI 3:00Funding came up, they proposed a collaborative project with the University of Toronto, and with Catholic cross cultural services as the lead agency on the project, where they would bring these organizations who wanted to collaborate on data who wanted to do more with their data to make better use of their data, bring them together to collaborate on that. So what we developed is a the idea to build a data pooling platform, so to build really a database where organizations could share data together in a really supportive and neutral space. So without fear of competition without fear of privacy and security issues, where they could come together and share information on a very neutral plane. And so that’s sort of where the university came in and has such a large role is they actually host and how’s the data manage the data at the end 4:00Diversity. So not even at the late, not even at our lead agency is data hosted, it’s really supposed to be a very neutral space, which is why the university is such a good fit for us. And so we built this platform, this database from scratch with university. We have Co Op students who’ve been working with us for two years to develop this. And they’re managed by faculty and also staff at the university. And we work really, really closely with them to build to build this platform. And then we work really, really closely with the organizations in our community of Scarborough, those who are serving newcomers, to figure out what kind of data they’re collecting first and foremost, what do they want from that data? So what type of research do they want? What do they want to know about how to improve their services? What do they need to know about their clients to provide better services 4:59and we talked about 5:00them a little bit about the technology that they’re using to host their own data to collect their own data to manage their own data. So that we could create this platform that would, that would encompass all of their needs, and then also be adaptable enough to collect data from each one of the organizations. 5:22So we have been at this as I mentioned, for two years, we’ve collected data twice now we actually just finished our second data collection yesterday. So we’re very happy. And it’s a lot of work. So we’re quite pleased. And we collected twice the first time we collected from eight organizations. And the second time we collected from nine organizations, and they were organization to serve newcomers in respect to mental health, employment settlement, language training. We have a micro loan organization who’s participated with us 6:00And those are just the organizations who we’ve actually collected data from that doesn’t include the organizations who helped us to create the platform and helped us to understand the data that’s being collected and managed within the sector. 6:16So it’s like a really interesting project. There’s a ton I want to kind of unpack there. But I, let’s start kind of at the reason for something like this, like what are some of the data challenges, opportunities for in these agencies, especially around they collect a ton of information about clients, but the sector is really well known for not being great at mining that data or using it effectively or even using it for outcomes measurement. It’s mostly they’ve they’ve been conditioned to do outputs, reporting up to the funder. What’s the hope with with kind of taking this kind of community data 6:51moving forward, but also what has what have agencies have themselves learned around capacity to do data management’s do data analysis and things like that. 7:00As part of this project, 7:02right, so just to answer sort of your earlier part of that question where this came from, as I mentioned, these organizations wanted more from their data. Because currently what we see is, as you mentioned, we see the data being primarily used for reporting to funders. That means that the data that’s being collected is completely based. What’s being collected is completely based on what the funder is looking for. An organization could potentially have one organization we spoke to had five different funders, and each funder had a different type of reporting tool that they were requiring that means different data to collect. So more questions to be asked of the clients. The same questions in different ways even in some cases. 7:52And then not only just a ton of information being collected from the clients, but also all these different 8:00technologies that are being used to move that data from the organization to the funder. So some organizations, I spoke to managers who at times of busier times of the year, were spending two weeks of the month just on reporting alone. That’s an enormous amount of resource and some of that resource was going towards copy and pasting into different Excel documents. So really, the the hope from this project was that not only would we be able to take this data and take this data and make better use of it, but also streamline and identify different opportunities to streamline some of those technologies and to develop technology for funders or to promote technologies to funders, where they are streamlining that process. 9:00where people are able to 9:03are able to not only use their the tools that they have more effectively, which is something that organizations aren’t always doing. Some of these data management tools that are being used, aren’t fully understood. They were created out of necessity in a lot of instances. And so you’ll see these really clunky and inefficient systems. You’ll see these really many of these systems, you can see the process that organizations took to get there. You can watch as you’re looking at the system and you’re diving into it. You can see okay, funders in year one of the system, were asking for the following five things. in year two, they were asking for those same five things, but they wanted it in a different format. So now we have it in this way. Now, funders are looking for certain data analytics that organizations had to do so they end up necessary 10:00It built this particular tool to do that particular analytics. So what you see are these systems that are, they’re just cumbersome, that’s the word cumbersome. And so we wanted to give shed light on that a little bit as well in this project. So by doing sort of this environmental scan that we started the project off with, where we were trying to come up with ideas of what the platform would look like and what the database would look like. We also created space for people to talk about these systems and space for people to talk about the challenges they were experiencing. And for us to go in and look at some of these systems and make recommendations and make suggestions to organizations on how to streamline some of their 10:47stuff, how to streamline or improve the validity of some of their data collection practices. 10:53What was the second part of your question? Second part was around what you’re leading to actually which is the capacity within the organization. So 11:00Know that you’ve taken them through this kind of a process, and they’ve had actually that kind of time. And I find that that’s a big issue for agencies to have the time to figure out what the right system is. Where are they at around capacity to do something more to do something different? And where has the project help take the I guess, the group, even as a community forward with data? 11:22Right. So what the other thing that we found is that the systems that they were using, really are only a system and the data that you collect is only as good as the resource and the time that you have to put into it. And by resource, I mean, not only time, but funding as well. We see that organizations are that the systems that they’re using our systems, they’re not like in private sector, right. In private sector, you would see giant amounts for subscriptions to systems where people could manage their clients, and do tons of data analytics work. 12:00And it would be really user friendly. But what we’re finding is these clunky systems, but then on top of that, organizations don’t have the capacity to train their staff fully. That’s a big problem is stuff. One, one organization, for example, we came in and we said, Oh, I’m curious why you’re running your reports in this particular way. And they said, Well, that’s the only way we know how, and what what, what ended up we ended up discovering was that there was one person on that staff who had transitioned out of that role, and they held some of the biggest permissions of the subscription. And so what you found was that they were just missing the permission. And we were able to come in and say, Well, we know this system, and we know that you probably were 90% sure you have access to this permission, and it saves them a ton of time and money. 13:00month just because we were sharing information about the system, we had learned that from another organization, it wasn’t some information that we came in with. It was just information sharing between organizations. So the amazing thing about the settling sector is that and something that I learned very quickly is that the people in the sector are so adaptable and flexible and open to collaboration. It’s amazing. It truly is amazing. And then, but they need the tools they need to be provided with funding to train people. They need to be provided with the information in order to share that information. They need to be given the opportunity to collaborate. And that’s what this project really did. It opened up an opportunity for people to discuss something that they’re unsure of. So data is new to this sector. Maybe data itself isn’t new, but the concept of using it to its full effect 14:00If something that people are only saying is necessary now funders and putting the pressure on, okay, you need to, you need to be more data driven. And so now people are saying, okay, we need to play catch up. 14:18And so this project allowed us to say to people, what are you experiencing with your data? What do you know about your data? What do you know about data analytics? What do you know about management, and have them come together and share in an open way? What they’re the trouble that they’re experiencing, and what they’re doing, right, because they’re doing a lot of things really, right. And they’re collecting, you know, so many of them are collecting the right measurables to make really great data driven decisions at their organization. They just need first and foremost, somebody who has the time and the resource to, to do some of that analytics work and 15:00They need, you know, the support of one another and the collaborative spirit that that already exists within the sector to sort of shine through as it relates to data. So a lot of agencies don’t have that capacity, even through funding. I mean, and some people talk about it as a separate role even or part of somebody’s job, but so much of this stuff is sort of they say on this done on the side of someone’s desk. So I wonder if the the model of a lip being this collaborator, this this sort of playing the central role of helping to massage the data is something that that your project has looked at as potentially a model and moving forward? Or is it something that really you’re looking at each agency needs that kind of capacity? It doesn’t have to be an either or, but I’m curious. 15:45Where do you Where do you go from here, for example, you’ve created a structure, but it’s a pilot project. It’s a short term funding kind of project and you may get more down the line but what what what does this look like as a future for the sector, you know, a community collaboration 16:00on data or individual capacity in agencies. 16:05So absolutely, if both, and a big pillar of our project was not only to build this platform and provide this resource, but also to build organization’s own capacity within their within the build capacity within their own organizations, because we want to provide them with the tools to do we want them to have the tools and the training to do on a smaller scale, what we are hoping to provide them on a larger scale. And so I think moving forward our hope and our goal is to create a model where absolutely lips and the university would be 16:45put in a position to provide the resources, the larger scale resources like an opportunity to collaborate. So an opportunity to have access to data from other organizations because not only do you need 17:00data from your own organization that’s really important. You need to know what’s going on in your community, especially in the settlement sector. This is such a people as they’re settling need a holistic 17:12need holistic services, they need employment, housing, it all needs to fit health, it all needs to fit together to create that settlement experience. And so we need to share data amongst organizations in order to create that collaboration that that holistic or improve that a holistic service circle. 17:35That works that works. 17:40Yeah, so I think our goal is really to provide a model for universities and lifts to come together and say we’re going to open up this conversation. We are going to provide you with the analytics resources, the technology resources, and the neutral space. That’s 18:00such an important part, this neutral space for you to share information because organizations, rightfully so in the way that our funding structure works is it’s competitive. 18:12And data, especially moving into the future is going to hold all the cards. It’s going to we’re seeing funding models that are or are now developing things such as report cards for organizations where these report cards are going to be developed. And they’re going to be solely based on your financial and your service delivery data. And so we’re not moving away from competition. We’re moving into a more competitive field when it comes to data as we move forward. And so organizations the idea, especially at the beginning of sharing their data, amongst one another was really challenging for them to get their heads wrapped around because the funding model has not it hasn’t opened it up in that way. 19:00And so we really want to act as a neutral source and especially with the university to give that space to everyone. Well, that makes sense. And I mean, moving forward is a great segue to looking at kind of the future of settlement work in some of these because I think you’re right in terms of the data. There’s also a lot of newer actors that are moving into this space, whether they’re private sector or new nonprofits who are data first. And a lot of ways they’ve already started from the perspective of you know, using a good CRM, like it’s a Salesforce or something really powerful and much easier than these legacy models, for example, they’re starting in a in a place where the technology itself has evolved to be easier to even use. And so they’re going to be able to do data driven decision making much more quickly, at the same time that the funder has shifted to and in theory anyway, outcomes measurement approach a client centric approach with the core values or principles that they put in the recent call for proposals. For example, what does it What will it take 20:00For I guess you’re you’re with eight or nine agencies now and you’re seeing them over a few years having to make this shift forward. What do you think it looks like for the sector as a whole, just shift to being more data driven to being more outcomes focused in terms of its measurement, with the resources they have in with the capacity that they have what what kind of a significant shift? Would that look like moving forward? 20:26And on the size of the agency that you’re talking about, and what services they’re providing, um, my fear, I guess, is that smaller agencies, and who have less resources both to have subscriptions to larger CRM, or more useful CRM, and also who don’t have the capacity within their organization because as you mentioned, somebody’s doing the data analytics off the side of their desk, because they’ve got 100 other things going on. So for those organizations, it’s going to really require that funders put 21:00A lot of emphasis on funding new initiatives for smaller agencies to get to bring themselves forward into this new this new era. And to move away from some of those legacy models, or to improve upon those legacy models where they’re meeting a certain standard and data and or meeting a certain percentage of their, their, 21:25their decision making is done data through data, and that they’re able to 21:32show success by use of data. I think with some of the larger agencies, they’re already moving in that direction. Some of the agencies that we worked with are already using Salesforce. We see people are already using ocms, which some people who listen to this podcast may think, well ocms has a lot of work to do, but it does but at the end of the day, it is one of the more 22:00advanced tools that we’re seeing anyway, within the organizations that we’re working with. So I think it’s really going to the as we move forward into this next phase of data in the sector, 22:13I think we’re going to need some top down approach where funders are focused on pulling the sector into that next phase. Because organizations can’t do it on their own. They need the resources and the funding and they need funders who appreciate that they can’t necessarily compete in a data driven world with these large agencies who or or as you mentioned, we have private sector agencies coming in, or come organizations coming in. So we’re going to need support for those groups for sure. Absolutely. So um, so I guess at the end of the day for your project, you’re you’re helping to kind of raise some big issues in the sector, but also provide some frameworks and some solution. 23:00What, what is sort of the final outcome? Or what can people expect from the project that might help them move themselves forward in their agencies? When it comes to data? What can they learn from what you’re what you’re doing in Scarborough? Sure. Um, well, hopefully lots and lots. 23:19Bye. But what it would be just so wonderful if what we really want to do is we want to do two main things. We want to encourage collaboration, we as the lift, that’s always our focus. We want to open up the conversation about data. We want people to feel more comfortable talking about their data, using their data, sharing their data, and collaborating with one another. And then we also really want to demonstrate the value of data and demonstrate what it can do because something that came up so often we went back to organizations and said, What do you want to know from your data? What what 24:00challenges do you see regularly that we can answer with your data? And oftentimes organizations because they aren’t used to answering questions through data, or it hasn’t been around as long as let’s say in private sector, organizations were hesitant or 24:21unsure necessarily. They were. They knew that they know that there’s tons of value. And they know that they’re, they want to make better use, but we want to show them demonstrate through our own research and demonstrate through our own findings, what data what types of data driven decisions can be made, and what and demonstrate sort of what they can do on a smaller scale at their own agency. So what’s there I mean, a lot of the sector talks about anecdotal knowledge right, though I just know this about my clients as it were you able to see a shift in some of these agencies have like the Oh, there’s so much that I could learn that I even didn’t necessarily 25:00They know about or check my own assumptions based on the data that you’ve been able to help them collect and analyze better. 25:07So, to be very honest, I would say the answer to that is no. I’m only because right now, in the last two years, we have been in a very, it’s still the project is still very young. And so we have been what we’ve been collecting, we’re been very cautious of what we’re collecting. We’re collecting demographic information, service delivery information, but we are treading very lightly as our technology is young. And as we are sort of entering into privacy and confidentiality. The as we’re feeling that out, we’re trying to be very reserved in what we collect. And so when our first report came out, I think that there were some findings and organizations were happy to have and they’re happy to see the collaboration. 26:00between one another. But really, I think in order to demonstrate that we’ll be able to demonstrate that a bit more and report to, as we collected a little more information, people might see a bit more, they might have an opportunity to see something they haven’t seen before or that they’re they see less of, 26:20we’ll be able to make some bigger insights, I guess. And then but I think what, what really came out of the what learning really came out of the first report was just, I think if you asked our organizations they would say, it was about the collaboration. And it was about the the one on one interaction about their own data, and about their own data practices and getting at a table with one another to talk about challenges and have open and honest conversations about their data. I think they would say that was more the value in the first report. And hopefully in the second report, we can 27:00do more of that demonstrating for them? 27:03What bigger value from their from their data? That’s that’s really the interesting point, I guess there’s so much culturally in the sector around around competition and around fear of sharing information that it’s baby steps to move forward. And that, that that’s a huge leap that collaboration, first of all, I guess, getting that trust getting them around the table, getting them to agree that this is something that’s important, and then being able to show perhaps, the value of that data as you progress. I mean, it’s a long game and a lot of ways for the sector. It’s it’s, it’s interesting, it just feels like there were the with with the pandemic, things are feel more and more compressed. So in some ways, you’re ahead of the game for a lot of agencies because you’ve gotten that collaboration, you’ve gotten that trust. So hopefully the next steps might even move a little bit faster towards that kind of data mining. 27:51Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Excellent. Well, I’m looking forward to the reports. When when do you have you been reporting out to the sector or what’s your 28:00What’s your plan or vision for reporting back to the settlement sector more broadly around around the learnings from this. 28:07So as it stands right now, as it stands with the data and our reports that come out of this project, those reports actually go only to the participating agencies. That was part of that building of trust. We built a lot of trust at the table for nine agencies is really small. You can if you were to dig deep enough, or to think hard enough about some of the findings, I think he would be able the ones at the table might be able to make a pretty good assumption about which agencies fall where, because they’re so familiar with one another. And because we’re all Scarborough based groups, we’ve worked together in the past, and so we kept it so the reports are just for the agencies. The agencies 29:00Then after the report came out, we went to them and said, okay, we want to share knowledge with the community. It’s about collaboration on a larger scale as well. And we chose some insights that we chose. I don’t know, I think there might have been 12 or 15 insights from the report itself that they were comfortable sharing with the, with the other agency. So that information went out to a broader network of agencies, and then the learnings for the project as far as collaborating and encouraging others to participate. That’s an ongoing process. That’s a process that we do regularly through presentations of the liquids on we, 29:43you know, conferences, 29:45myself just going out and doing it and reach. So we’re trying to teach this podcast I guess, as well. We’re trying to teach about the learnings as much as possible while still maintaining the 30:00Privacy data for the organizations who participated. So yeah, no, that makes sense around the data, I guess it’s it’s it seems like such an opportunity to learn about do just that what you’ve learned about collaboration, what you’ve learned about the value of data in the sector, are there any key kind of messages that you would want to give to the sector around those who are whether they’re small or large thinking about how they could better harness data, either individually, but also collectively working with other agencies or lips or other partners? What, what what takeaways from from a project like this, do you think would be essential for the sector to understand and the funder? I mean, I think you’ve, you’ve said some of them, it requires investment, it requires time. It requires, you know, understanding the systems that you actually already have, and perhaps finding better ones if you can afford them. Are there other things that that sort of leap out as like really big learning for for other folks in the sector who, who might need a starting point to even where to take the first step? Sure. Um, I think 30:55patience which you know, what? 31:00Anytime that you take on a new initiative out of an organization, or you try and change an old initiative, which at times is more difficult, really, 31:10you have you have difficulties, you have challenges. But with data and the capacity that exists within our sector, 31:21we’ve really people need patience, people. It’s something that migrating to a new idea, new ideas around data and new processes around data. It’s complicated, and it takes time and it’s tedious. And people are not necessarily always so open. It feels very much like a secondary thing to their jobs. They’re there to serve clients, and they’re there to do the social work of the of the sector. And the data collection is a nuisance in a lot of instances. 32:00So trying to build up the understanding within the sector, the importance of data and the importance of moving forward with patients, and instilling 32:17the at the very base level, those who are collecting the data all the way to leadership, the importance and having a very 32:29having buy in from every level is really important. Because without buying from every level, we are not going to see change, we’re going to see pushback at some level. And whether it be a leadership role or with those who are collecting the data, you need to be on the same page. Because otherwise it’s a very frustrating experience. And so moving forward into this new age. I think also it’s really important to emphasize the power of data and 33:00how careful we should be the data in our sector, we found lots of challenges and validity and lots of challenges in the way data was being managed. So we want to ensure and instill the idea that we need to tread very lightly moving forward data can have a really powerful impact. If you read the right stat, it can stick with you your whole life, and our sector is no different. We need to make sure that what you know it’s garbage in garbage out. We need to make sure that the validity of the data and the insights that we come up with are going to benefit our clients and are going to be in the right spirit for our clients. And that 33:48you know, this idea of 33:52this idea of quantifying everything can be 33:58cannot always be the answer. 34:00Answer. So we need to make sure that we although we are moving towards a data driven, just data more data driven system, 34:09or process within our sector, we also have to remember 34:15remember to tread lightly to be to make sure that the data is going to represent, as I mentioned, 34:24represent something positive for the clients and also for people who are working in the in the sector. That’s a really important key message. Yeah, thank you for bringing that up. I think that’s that’s really important. Is there what, what’s what’s next, I guess, for the project in terms of are you coming to a close or is this something that will continue? 34:44So we have, as I mentioned, we’ll have a second report coming out for the agencies that participated just now after a second data collection will continue to provide capacity building within the sector. So we do workshops. We do one on one 35:00information with people as they’re starting to come into the fold of the project will continue that until right now, we’re finding until March 2021. And so the goal is to continue that capacity building and also to do another data collection. For anybody who’s interested in participating, please contact me because we are definitely interested in bringing more organizations into the fold and expanding not only the data that we have, but more importantly, expanding the understanding that we have around data in our sector and understanding we have around how to collaborate around data in our sector. Is that an invitation for Scarborough based agencies or anyone in the sector? 35:44So right now, it’s actually Scarborough based. We do hope someday to be to be expanding outside of Scarborough, but for right now we’re, we’re focused on Scarborough. It’s our it’s our catchment area, but also we want to 36:00Make sure we want to do it right. And we want to make sure that our system is ready, and that our understanding of how to collaborate is ready and Scarborough, Scarborough, I noticed a row and Scarborough is just the perfect place to do this. Because the organization’s there have such a tight knit group. They trust each other so much. And I came into the lip and the people who were my colleagues who had been on the lip for a long time have cultivated such a wonderful atmosphere of collaboration and trust. So scrubber really is the perfect place for this. So we want to stay true to that until we’re ready. Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share information about your project. I’m I’m looking forward to any of the public reporting that comes out for sure. I think there’s a lot here that that that’s valuable for the sector to know about. And so, hopefully we can help get the word out. I appreciate you taking this time. 37:00To share all of that and all your insights. Well, thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure. 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 Markopolos org. I appreciate you listening in 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 at marcopolis.org. Thanks again.
28 Jul 2020
TiHS Episode 19: Victoria Esses – innovation & resilience in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector
Welcome to episode 19 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this episode, I chat with Victoria Esses. You’ll get her bio when she introduces herself. Among other things she has done a great deal of work understanding information practices of newcomers. In this conversation, we talk about that along with the work she is doing to highlight promising practices in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector, the resiliency of the sector, innovation, and the role that Local Immigration Partnerships can play in convening and driving collaboration across the country.Victoria Esses is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations at the University of Western Ontario. She is Co-Chair and Principal Investigator of the Pathways to Prosperity Partnership. Her research focuses on immigration policy and practice, including public attitudes toward immigration and cultural diversity; promising practices in settlement and integration; factors promoting the settlement and integration of immigrants; and the measurement of community welcome-ability and immigrant outcomes. She has extensive experience conducting academic research in this area, as well as work for federal, provincial, and municipal governments and for the settlement sector. In 2010 she was awarded the Harold Crabtree Foundation Award in Public Policy Research.Some themes from our conversation:what a promising practice is and how they can help drive innovation in the sectorbuilding capacity for outcome measurement across the countrysector professionalization – “professionalization involves some acknowledgement of the skills and the experience that settlement workers are able to bring with them to their positions, and that professional development means developing new skills and investing in the people who are doing this work, rather than just assuming that anybody can do it, which is not the case.”the evolving and emerging role of Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) and how they can help drive future sector innovationinformation needs and practices of newcomers – “information needs can be divided into two big categories. And one is really information on what services and resources are available to them. And the other is just knowledge of the Canadian system and way of life and how to navigate that system. Newcomers don’t always want tons of information when they first arrived. They don’t necessarily want a lot of information in one place early on, but they need to know how to get that information. And I think that one of the things that we could do to improve information provision is having some central source or repository where information is available, and immigrants can go to that source when they want it. So one of the things we hear is that, you know, there’s the guide that immigrants get at the airport and some of them throw that guide away because at that time, they don’t need it. They’re overwhelmed with other issues, but then later, when they need that information, they don’t know where to find it. I think there’s also a big challenge in terms of navigation knowing the Canadian system.”building the capacity of agencies to create information approaches and products (increasingly digital) to meet the information needs and preferences of newcomers to CanadaAdditional resources:Pathways to ProsperityPathways to Prosperity Promising Practices projectIntegration Barriers and Information as a Solution: Report Based on Literature Covering 2005-2011 InclusiveBeyond the Big City: How Small Communities Across Canada Can Attract and Retain NewcomersStudy of Innovative and Promising Practices Within the Immigrant Settlement SectorMachine-Generated TranscriptWhat follows is an AI-generated transcript using Otter.ai. The transcript may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.0:00Welcome to Episode 19 of the technology and Human Services podcast. In this episode, I chat with Victoria so as you can get her full bio when she introduces herself in the episode, but among other things, she has done a great deal of work understanding the information practices of newcomers. And in this conversation, we talked about that along with the work she’s doing to highlight promising practices in the immigrant and refugee serving sector, the resiliency of the sector, innovation and the role that local immigration partnerships can play convening in driving collaboration across the country. It’s an interesting conversation. I hope you enjoy it.0:31I’m Victoria Esses.0:32I’m co chair of the pathways to prosperity Partnership, which is a national network of researchers, the settlement sector, policymakers and others working in the area of immigration. Our goal is to promote welcoming communities and to support settlement and integration of immigrants in Canada. I’m also a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario, on director of the network for economic and social media. trends in the center for migration and ethnic relations at Western University. And I’m also a fellow of CFR Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.1:13Excellent. Thank you very much. Thanks for joining us. So I want to start with some of p2p work recently are you’re in the middle of doing some work on the best practices project. And and I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about about what that is and why it’s important to take the time to highlight best practices in the sector.1:31For sure, I would like to talk about promising practices rather than best practices, promising practices or practices that have an objective basis for claiming effectiveness in achieving their stated aims and have the potential for replication. Promising Practices have to demonstrate evidence of effectiveness, and they have to have unique or novel features that contribute to their success. Over the last couple of years pathways prosperity has been doing work on promising practices because we think It’s important for the sector to be sharing resources and sharing practices that they may be engaging in with others. Rather than reinventing the wheel. This allows an opportunity to learn the best features that are being used across the country. When we first started on this project, we found that a lot of the promising practices that were nominated in response for to our calls for nominations, didn’t really have evaluations didn’t really have a lot of evidence of effectiveness. Some did, but not a lot. And over time, we found that more and more of the practices have learned how to do2:38evaluation, the ones that are being2:41nominated. Now many of them do have strong evaluations proving their effectiveness. And that’s been really rewarding. We recently did an evaluation of this project, just looking at what people think of the practices that we’re highlighting, and I should mention that in order to To describe practices, we don’t just have written texts. So we do have little briefs that we produced. But we also have videos, where we interview the people who’ve developed these practices, talking about the key features that have contributed to their success, and also how they’ve gone about evaluating them. And people found that very useful. ratings of these videos and briefs have been extremely positive. And people have appreciated the opportunity to learn from others. And they’ve also appreciated the opportunity to learn not only about the practices, but how people are going about evaluating them, which is part of the project.3:38evaluation is always been an issue in our sector, as you say, for years, perhaps we didn’t do it well. So I’m wondering, there’s a lot of schools of thought about what makes a good evaluation. How can someone evaluate the work that they’re doing with an eye for potential replication with an eye for sharing what makes a good evaluation that someone else could benefit from as well?4:00I think sometimes people4:03conduct evaluations by looking at whether clients are satisfied. And satisfaction to be is not evidence of effectiveness. It’s nice that people are satisfied. But it doesn’t prove that the practice is actually leading to the outcomes that it’s intended to produce. And therefore, I would say4:23that a strong evaluation4:25is measuring outcomes, the specific outcomes that that project was intended to produce maybe an anticipated outcomes as well. So if you’re doing language training, or people learning the language if you’re doing job training or job preparation work, are people developing the skills to be able to go out and interview and obtain jobs.4:48Those are evaluations,4:50I think that tell us whether the practice is effective. And of course, there are some practices that may be more difficult to evaluate than others. Because their outcomes are less specific, they’re more amorphous. And therefore, it’s important to be evaluating a number of outcomes. I would say quantitative measures are important. I’m a quantitative researcher. So I think that is important. But I also think that qualitative information, you know, people’s attitudes and beliefs and what they’re getting out of the practice are important as well. So a mix5:30of quantitative and qualitative is always best.5:33Excellent. And and the outcomes focus is something the sector has talked about for a lot of time, but they’re measured in terms of outputs, typically, although that that sounds like it’s starting to change a little bit, if you believe the language in some of the call for proposals from irctc, and their their use of the core principles, which includes outcomes, how how useful are the best or the promising practices and the way you’re doing evaluation of these practices for the funder, for example, who’s more more than likely also interested In How can we replicate and scale something that’s successful6:04founders who’ve been involved in our project who said they’ve been very useful because they don’t always have time to know about all practices available in the community, and just watching a short video and being able to gather information and have more ideas about what might work, I think it’s very useful.6:22I should also mention that6:24pathways prosperity recently received a new grant from immigration, refugees and citizenship Canada. And we will be doing quite a bit of work on helping the sector to measure outcomes. So part of the project that we will be doing is on improving outcome measurement. We will also be continuing the work on promising practices continuing to produce videos on practices that6:51have some evidence of effectiveness.6:54That’s really exciting to hear the outcomes one in particular, so I mean, can you give me even just a few framework of what I know that your early days and you’re This is probably a five years three to five year project. So you’re looking at as a long term process, but that’s, that’s something that I think a lot of agencies are struggling with. And are you looking at building like a framework that can be used nationally for agencies, what’s what’s the potential output of what you’re doing, but also the outcome around, you know, sector capacity even to do better evaluation and outcomes measurement themselves.7:28So let me start off by saying the pathway to prosperity is co led by the sector. Jean McCrea represents Cs x a, which is the National umbrella for the settlement sector. And our goal is not to tell the sector how to measure outcomes, but to work with the sector, using the skills that they have or helping them to develop new skills to improve the measurement of outcomes. And the first step really will be to look at the challenges that they’re experiencing and doing this. So you know, we have some anecdotal evidence in terms of capacity in turn of time, that there are constraints on measuring outcomes. And of course, larger organizations have more funding available to be able to get, for example, third party evaluators in. But what we’re hoping to produce are toolkits and resources and workshops that were working with the sector to help them build their capacity. So we’re not going to tell them what to do, they’re going to tell us what they need. And we’re going to work as partners in developing measures, and in helping them to think about how they can measure their own programs. So I don’t imagine building a national framework, which is kind of rigid and says, you know,8:41these are the outcomes you have8:42to measure, but more developing a process for measuring outcomes and helping agencies to be able to use that process.8:52So we’re really focused on capacity building, which is which is really great, really important and then they can customize and find their own local tools and local approaches. actly Now that sounds great, that’s that’s really exciting. I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s something in the conversations I’ve had just I mean, my niche is more on technology. But in every conversation, that idea of evaluating and measuring outcomes is something that a lot of agencies simply constantly struggle with. So I’m excited. I think that’s a really interesting project. And so, you know, I hope that that has some legs for sure. It’s a nice segue into some of the questions around the future of the sector. And I’m curious as we move to a more outcomes based focus, and perhaps through a project like this, along with others, more capacity around measuring outcomes. What do you think the future of the work might look like? The more that sector the sector learns about its own impact.9:42Well, I think the sector is on track to professionalize and to develop new and very innovative strategies to provide services to newcomers. And we’ve seen that recently in the last few years, the arrival of large numbers of Syrians in 2015 16, and now the current demick has really allowed the sector to shine, I would say, in terms of its ability to pivot and to be flexible in order to serve newcomers effectively. And I think that is one of the one of the major strengths of the sector is its ability to be responsive to new needs in a very short amount of time when necessary. And I’d say that members of the sector aren’t only skilled in providing services to newcomers. They’re pretty dedicated to maximizing the outcomes of newcomers. And so I think it’s an exciting time. I think that the sector has proven itself over and over again in the last few years. I’m sure it’s proven itself previously. But you know, my experience has been more recent, and I would say that the sector has proven itself in terms of its flexibility, its ability to change what it’s doing in response to current needs. And I believe that the future of settlement workbook can didn’t tell you this tradition of really innovation and dedication.11:06You’ve been studying the sector for quite some time, and the promising practices. This isn’t your first kick at the idea of promising practices in the sector, for example, you’ve done some, some past research. And so I’m curious, some, when we talk about innovation, it’s a very loaded word in the sector in many sectors. And a lot of people talk about how it comes from other domains and is used to show how mainstream service providers are, in fact, not innovative, because the definition is very, very specific and very, very, sometimes very technical. And they look at mainstream providers and say, Oh, that’s not really an innovation that, you know, an innovation is blowing everything up and starting over kind of thing. I’m wondering, yeah, you know, I, you’re for those who can’t see you rolled your eyes a little bit, which I do as well when I hear that. So I’m curious if the sector wants to kind of create its own vision or its own ideas of what innovation looks like the promising practices that you’ve been providing. I’ve been watching the And reading. I think a lot of a lot of those, those innovation folks would look at those and go, Okay, that’s, that doesn’t sound like innovation, but it really it really is for a lot of agencies. And and I think, again, depends on how you define it. What would you say, in broad strokes, an innovation approach or innovation practice in the settlement sector looks like?12:22So let me start by saying that a lot of what the sector is doing now, I would say is innovative. It may not be new, but it was developed with a specific need in mind and new ideas were put into it. And it’s always adopting, depending on who’s coming into Canada, depending on the needs of newcomers who show up at the door of these agencies. So let me start by saying I don’t think that settlement agencies that are doing the same work over time are not innovative. I think they are innovative because they’re shifting, and they’re shifting in response to the needs. Not they see in the community and in newcomers coming into the country13:04building on that. What? What if we wanted to develop or define our own flavor of what innovation is in the immigrant refugee serving sector? Regardless of the the quote unquote experts from other domains? What would we want to talk about? And I think you’ve started to define it there. What do you think is useful for the sector to think about when when we talked about how we’re innovative?13:27I think the sector is innovative in its flexibility, and its ability to shift as I was talking about, for example, in response to the arrival of huge numbers of Syrians in a very short amount of time, and be able to serve those newcomers now with the pandemic being able to shift from in person services to using online platforms to meet with newcomers. So I think13:56innovation13:58is partly flexibility and just changing over time, your response to the needs that are apparent.14:06That’s great. Thank you. And in doing that, and being innovative, what are and you’ve alluded to some of this earlier, I think, but what are some of the challenges that the sector faces in moving forward in its future and in its innovation path,14:18I would say that the sector does face some challenges. And for the most part, I would say that settlement workers are extremely dedicated and hardworking individuals, but they’re not always extremely well paid considering the work they do, and the skills they have. And there can be a lack of continuity and funding, which means a job security can be a problem that the best workers aren’t always able to stay in the same positions for a long time because of instant instability of funding. The sector is also really busy and they’re busy providing services to newcomers, so they don’t always have time. To reflect and prepare for the future, they sometimes have to be responsive to something that, you know, shows up very quickly. And I think that professional development for the sector is really important. And I hope it’ll become a really a routine part of funding for the sector.15:19You mentioned earlier, you see a future trend of professionalization in the sector. Can you tell me a little bit I mean, that sounds like it’s very related to this sort of challenge that you just described, what what might that look like as a way to resolve some of this?15:32I think professionalization involves some acknowledgement of the skills and the experience that settlement workers are able to bring with them to their positions, and that professional development means developing new skills and investing in the people who are doing this work, rather than just assuming that anybody can do it, which is not the case.15:56I want to shift a little bit because I know that p2p does a lot of work. with local immigration partnerships, and does a lot of convening and a lot of support there. That they’re a fairly new organizational structure in the sector. And, and personally, I think they have an incredible amount of potential because they’re local. They’re they’re sort of not they may be tied to an organization, but they’re fairly neutral or in a lot of cases considered somewhat objective and neutral as a convening body. What some, what potential roles Do you see they that they could evolve into or what’s working in lips now that could evolve and continue to grow out for the sector and around capacity around the future of work around, you know, supporting agencies and around collaborations locally and things like that.16:43I think the local immigration partnerships have a lot of potential for producing a different aura for agency so that they’re not seen as competing with each other, but supporting each other. Part of the work on promising practices has to do with sharing information. And I think that’s what local immigration partnerships also are doing. They’re bringing together organizations within a community who are to some extent competing for funding and saying, Let’s work together. Let’s collaborate and let’s share information and share tools. And together will do a better job than we can each do individually. And I think it’s been very effective in that way. I think the other thing that the local immigration partnerships do that so many agencies don’t do is address the needs of the community and the community. I mean, the community at large, and there’s a lot of work going on anti racism on, you know, anti immigrant sentiment, and really promoting welcoming communities within different cities or regions. It’s something that the local immigration partnerships have taken on and taken ownership of, and that’s something that hasn’t really been addressed by other players in this field.18:01So some really interesting niche opportunities in places where that where they play in terms of welcoming communities, it’s a nice segue to to look at creating a welcoming community is partly related to what you know, information and systems navigation for newcomers in particular. So, you’ve done some really interesting research around newcomer information practice over the years, as well as looking at ways to get information to newcomers better. So it’s kind of I mean, obviously, the two are related. I’m wondering if you can speak a little bit to the idea of information seeking how it’s different within newcomers and how that can relate to this goal of creating welcoming communities.18:37So information seeking has to do with the process of trying to obtain information from others. It may be from other people from printed sources from documents, or via technology, for example, online sources. I think a big challenge for newcomers is that they’re very unsure of who to trust and till they often go to family and friends for information18:59and Family and friends don’t often19:02don’t have accurate or up to date information. So you may trust them, but they may not be providing the best information for you. I think another challenge for newcomers has to do with, obviously language issues. So even when they can find information, they may not fully comprehend it. Not only the language itself, but the nuances that are built into the language. And newcomers don’t always have strong social ties when they first arrive in Canada when they need information.19:31And they don’t really know who to go to to get19:34help. And that’s how they end up depending on family and friends, some of whom aren’t even in Canada are, you know, talking about the rumors, or,19:42you know, when I was in Canada 20 years ago,19:44this is the way it was, and that’s not useful.19:48So what are some ways that um, that you’ve looked at or you’ve done research on or have ideas about that we can better design information systems to help newcomers get the information they need, whether it’s directly or through somebody Use intermediaries.20:01So I would say that newcomers,20:05information needs can be divided into two big categories. And one is really information on what services and resources are available to them. And the other is just knowledge of the Canadian system and way of life and how to navigate that system. Newcomers don’t always want tons of information when they first arrived. They don’t necessarily want a lot of information in one place early on, but they need to know how to get that information. And I think that one of the things that we could do to improve information provision is having some central source or repository where information is available, and immigrants can go to that source when they want it. So one of the things we hear is that, you know, there’s the guide that immigrants get at the airport and some of them throw that guide away because at that time, they don’t need it. They’re overwhelmed with other issues, but then later, when they need that information, they don’t know where to find it. I think there’s also a big challenge in terms of navigation knowing the Canadian system.21:09And I would say21:10that21:12having mentors, settlement agencies helping in that regard is very useful in terms of specific information that newcomers need. before they arrive in Canada, they need accurate pre arrival information. I think before newcomers arrive in Canada, they need accurate pre arrival information to make sure that they have realistic expectations about what their life in Canada is going to be like. They need to know that they’re not necessarily going to get a job right away, that they’re not gonna have a credit history when they get to Canada and that can be a challenge for some people. It can be a challenge in getting housing, for example, and being able to rent an apartment even in terms of specific information once newcomers get to Canada, there’s quite a bit of specific impact. mation that I would say that they need, they need information on how to search for housing, and how to secure housing. So what’s the housing market like in Canada? What are neighborhoods? Like? How do you look for housing here? And what’s the lease? What are the rights of tenants and landlords in terms of housing and what’s appropriate housing for my family once I get to Canada, and I may not have the same type of housing available that I had before I got here. Another issue that comes up a lot for newcomers has to do with how to manage money. So there isn’t necessarily direct information on this, but this is now being developed. And I would say, as I mentioned, developing a credit history but also you know, the use of credit card so some people are coming from countries that don’t have credit cards, and they seem great, but then you end up with this You know, huge debt? How do you obtain financial support in Canada? How do you take out a loan? And what are the obligations once you take out a loan? newcomers Of course need information on the labor market, how to find and apply for a job. Also the credential recognition process. So just because I was a doctor in my home country doesn’t mean that I’m going to be able to practice once I get to Canada, and that’s important information for them to know.23:28I think something that we sometimes miss23:30is information for children and youth. So think about the challenge of coming to Canada as a young person. And you know, you’re already self conscious and you show up at school when you don’t know how to work that system. And it’s embarrassing, and it can lead to problems. So23:47what’s the Canadian way of life?23:50How do you use a combination lock on your locker, how to navigate the school system and also education pathways. So we hear a lot not only From youth, but from their parents, what are the education paths, pathways to follow? What courses should I be taking in high school in order to end up in the program that I want in university or college? newcomers also talked about needing information about health services and how they access health services. So I’ve heard from people who’ve said that they delayed on having specific types of surgery because they thought once they got to Canada, it would be available right away. And lo and behold, there’s, you know, a year waiting list. So what is the health service system in Canada? And that should also include mental health services? So what mental health services are available and when would they be needed? Why would they be needed. Finally, newcomers often talk about obtaining information about sponsoring other family members and how they go about that and what the requirements are for that. And that’s something that go to settlement dates. He’s for help with quite frequently. And it’s25:02important that that information be available to them.25:06I mean, that the, the landscape of information is tremendous for new companies and I have you spoken to kind of the breadth of what that looks like, as well as the timing, which is really important. Like, you know, we can get them all that information but if if they’re not ready for they say, they’ll throw the guide away, or they just don’t think they need that information right now. So how do we ensure that the format of what we’re providing is is also appropriate and because that’s ever changing as well especially with technology and also the the ways we provided and I’m thinking not just of technology, but languages intermediaries like the just the the the information ecosystem, what what what we could do to make that a better system for newcomers so that they, they do get that housing information when they’re ready for it or the or the health information etc.25:56For sure, um, so I’ve talked about this with you before. Our research has shown that many immigrants are proficient with technology. Most of them have cell phones, most of them use the internet. And immigrants use WhatsApp and other cell phone apps.26:13Even during the current pandemic,26:15I hear that immigrant serving agencies are using zoom and other online meeting platforms in order to provide services, do language training, etc. So the idea that immigrants don’t have access to technology, I think is just false. Immigrants like receiving information from the internet, they trust government websites, and they trust information that’s coming from the authority of the government.26:44And,26:46and so having this information available is important, I would say and the information has to be available in multiple languages. It has to be available in multiple formats. For example, not all immigrants are literate, right? And even in their native language, and therefore, videos are important. Animations diagrams, and we all know that when you’re providing information on how to do something, a step by step written description is not very useful. It can be useful for some people who are, like that type of information. But for others a video that shows actually how you do it, or even in person, services or mentors who are actually showing you how do you go and go about getting a loan or how do you go about doing your taxes, or whatever is much more effective than some written document. So I would say that all formats are important. We also know that there are cultural differences in how people use information and access information and that in Some cultures, nuances are more important than others. And so it’s really important that we take these cultural differences into into account.28:10That’s great. Okay, thank you. I think that kind of covers the big questions that I have. Is there anything that that we’ve talked about in the past perhaps or that I didn’t ask you today that you, you you think is important for people especially around to to understand around newcomer information practice and just where we can make sure that as we move forward with sort of the future of settlement, you know, perhaps in a blended way with, you know, increased use of technology, that we can build systems in that that better address the information needs and timing for newcomers that we haven’t talked about?28:44So a few things, when we were interviewing settlement agencies about information needs, and this was specifically in the case of refugees. There was a quote that I loved, and this quote was, that newcomers need the right information at the right time. It’s very simple. But they don’t need every piece of information about Canada in one go. They need information when they want it. even thinking about ourselves, we ignore information, we can’t possibly be processing everything that’s presented to us. And we ignore information that we don’t think is relevant right now. And then, you know, I’m sure we’ve all had the experience where we wish we could remember where we seen something a few days later. So having a source or a place to go where you know that it will direct you to find information. The source doesn’t have to necessarily hold all information, but it can even have links to all the information available. I think the information should be provided in variety formats,29:49but it also has to be consistent, right?29:52So you can’t have one group telling you one thing and another group telling you another thing, in terms of the issue of people going into Family and friends for information. Maybe there’s a way to30:04provide those people30:06provide even, you know, native born Canadians with more accurate information so that when we’re giving advice, our advice is accurate.30:14Now, that may seem a bit pie in the sky, but I’m30:18thinking about, for example, private sponsors who sponsor refugees, and we know that, you know, refugees will go and ask them for information and30:25they’re telling them, you know,30:26honestly, they’re best guests,30:28but they don’t have that information.30:29And they’ve never been in that situation. So. And one other source that I think is interesting to think about is cultural and religious organizations. We know that when immigrants come to Canada, they often look for social connections through these organizations. And these would be great places to be able to provide information or provide links to information and so you know, they’re immigrants often are asking for information In those locations,31:01and it would do us well,31:03I think, to be providing those organizations with accurate information that they can disperse.31:11That’s great. Thank you. And I know that there are capacity issues, in some cases at agency at the in at the individual agency level, with being able to create or design information products, they’re very focused on one on one or even some group stuff. And I’ve wondered if that’s a role that even lips has been or could be playing in that local kind of context of let’s create a repository that all the agencies can borrow from and contribute to, but that we agree that this is our local settlements context of information. Is that something that has happened or is it is an idea that could have some play?31:44That seems like a bit of a leading question because I have a great example of that and that’s the London and Middlesex local immigration Partnership, which puts out a weekly newsletter. And initially the newsletter has mainly had to do with job postings and newcomers actually The newsletter, we’re looking at those job postings. But since COVID-19, hit the newsletter now contains information on supports during COVID-19. And it’s a huge repository every week it seems to be growing, and agencies can then use that information in their local context.32:19So I would say,32:21yes,32:21lips are a great source for convening and capturing information in a community in a region and being able to disperse it to organizations within that region.32:32I didn’t know that. So that’s not it wasn’t a leading question, but that’s32:35a great question. That32:36is, for me a great example of that of that capacity because again, like the agencies themselves, they’re in the trees, they’re doing the service delivery, and yeah, they’re accessing whatever information they can and sometimes it’s coordinated. A lot of times it’s based on the individual workers ability to do their own kind of content curation, but that sounds like an excellent support for people who are who may not have the time or or the expertise in a particular area to grab that information to live can play that role and can sort of then disperse it and distribute it. And you have a common pool of authoritative information that gets updated by the by someone whose role that is to play.33:12And what’s great about it is that33:14it’s local information, right? It’s the information that is needed in the local context for a particular purpose,33:23right, because settlement is inherently local. Right?33:25Right. Yeah. Awesome.33:27That’s a great note to end on. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. We’ve gone way over time, but I appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation. There’s a lot of really good information that that I think is useful for agencies right now, who are who are doing this work to hear and to start building their own systems around this because I think that the amount of technology that’s being being suddenly utilized, as you described is creates a challenge but also a huge amount of potential for us to be able to streamline some of this information provision. And so what you’ve what you’ve set here today is really useful and I encourage you Everyone to take a look at the the the promising practices project as well, because I think there’s some good inspiration there as well. So, thank you very much.34:08Thank you.34:09Thanks 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 Markopolos 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 at Markopolos org. Thanks again.Transcribed by https://otter.ai
15 Jul 2020