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Reporting Period: August 15 – November 30, 2018

Activity: 01 – Indirect – Tool Development:

During Q1, a Program Manager was hired and trained. The first iteration of a developmental evaluation framework has been developed, and includes reporting templates for a baseline assessment, bi-weekly project check-ins, and quarterly sensemaking. An ongoing database of service delivery organizations has been created and currently has 72 organizations. 15 translators have been developed in Q1.

Activity: 02 & 03 – Indirect – Community Engagement

The Program Manager has directly reached out (via email, phone, in-person meeting) to 72 service delivery organizations to inform them about The Stories of Us project and explored the possibility of hosting a workshop with the newcomers they serve. Additionally, we presented about The Stories of Us project to a group of ~50 settlement service providers at an Inter-LIP workshop focused on Serving Newcomers with Limited Formal Education & English Ability.

We have also conducted outreach for the project through indirect channels including the Centre for Social Innovation listserv, the Strategic Foresight and Innovation listserv, various Facebook groups (e.g. Canada’s Young Leaders and Innovators, Racial Health Equity Network, etc.), the Toronto Newcomer Office’s Inter-LIP Network email list, and YWCA networks.

In Q1, we have conducted workshops with 7 service delivery organizations, including Northern District Library, Yorkwoods Library, Four Villages Community Health Centre, Rexdale Women’s Centre, Working Women’s Community Centre, Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services, and Auntie Amal Community Centre. These workshops were approximately 2 hours long, and were conducted in LINC classes, drop-in programs at community centres, public libraries, and in the living room of a generous community organizer. We had a total of 148 participants across the 7 workshops, with representation from the following countries: Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Korea, Venezuela, India, Bangladesh, China, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Jamaica,  Somalia, Yemen, Peru, India, Hungary, Iraq, El Salvador, Tanzania, Mexico, Columbia, Honduras, Philippines, Vietnam, Italy.

Participant quotes from workshops:

“There’s no time for me. No time to cry. My youngest child always ask me when we’re going back home. I can’t cry in front of them. This is a good thing. I needed that.”

“It was good to have the space to let that all go.”

“Over the past 2 hours, I was here for one hour and back home for another. Thank you for letting me travel back home today.”

“Usually I feel very nervous to speak in front of people. But yesterday I was little bit confident to share my life story with my friends. That was good challenging for me.”

“This session give me various question about how to introduce myself. My favourite place, music, memory, and experience of moving to Canada. How to use ‘first, next, then, finally.’ It gave me the structure of my story.”

“In our group, there are many students who have interesting stories. They give us presentation of themselves. It was very wonderful and enjoyful.”

Although 151 workbooks were distributed during the workshops, only 1 story has been submitted to date. The story that was submitted was 6 pages, handwritten, back and forth and was submitted just over one month after its author had participated in a workshop (More on this in the challenges section).

Formally, three key informant interviews have been conducted. Informally, we have gathered key insights from the service providers (e.g. ESL teachers, community organizers, settlement workers, etc.) who we have worked with in planning the seven workshops. They have provided feedback on the types of ESL resources that would be most useful to them as educators (e.g. the storybooks we create should have follow-up exercises attached to them so that teachers easily can build a lesson around it), as well as helped us navigate how best to engage their newcomer clients.

Activity: 08 – Indirect – Research Activities

The Program Manager has been completing bi-monthly project check-ins, as well as written reflections after every workshop. These updates and learnings are reviewed during regular meetings with the Director of Programming and Executive Director so that we are able to course correct accordingly. We have also created an evaluation form for service providers and any additional facilitators to complete after every workshop.

The project team also participated in an Evaluation Lab workshop hosted by the Sustainability Network for the purposes of exploring how we might better define, articulate, and measure our intended program outcomes.

Challenges encountered during this project period

Hiring a Program Manager:

We put a call out for the position of Program Manager at the beginning of August and received over 50 applications. A short list was made and we conducted interviews with six candidates.

Our choice for Program Manager was hired, however, a few weeks after she began, we had to release her from the contract due to personal reasons. We quickly followed up with one of our other candidates and were able to hire the current Program Manager in September.

Due to this interruption, the project timeline paused briefly as we focused on our internal capacity and resourcing. We weren’t anticipating this set back.

Luckily, Mathura, our current Program Manager has been able to step quickly into the role and focus on partnership development and workshop delivery.

Workshops-to-Stories Conversion:

We anticipated that the conversion of workshop participants into people who submitted their stories for publishing to be much higher than 151:1. However, we’ve learned through our workshop and in conversations with frontline service providers that the space we create in our workshops – where people are given the time, space, and permission to revisit and reflect on their journeys – is rare in the lives of newcomers. The moment they leave, they have to pick up their children, go to their jobs, be strong for their families, and figure out what’s next. There is often no time to take home a workbook and write out their stories on their own time. The 2-hour workshops we’ve been conducting to date have been a convenient “tester” for the service delivery organizations, and a great way for participants to start becoming comfortable with the idea of sharing their story and starting to do so through short exercises. However, it is not enough time for participants to write their story to be published into a storybook. The key informants we have interviewed have suggested that sustained engagement is key and encouraged engaging with participants regularly over a period of time to elicit their stories.

As such, we will be prototyping a new workshop model – a series of workshops (e.g. six 2-hour workshops over six weeks) – in the new year. This workshop series will allow participants to show up to themed weekly storytelling sessions, participate in creative brainstorming activities around the theme, write the part of their story that relates to the theme, and share it with their fellow participants. By the end of the series, participants will not only have written the content of their storybooks, but will ideally have found a sense of community and togetherness with their fellow peers. For service delivery organizations that are not able to commit to hosting this sort of sustained engagement, we will continue conducting the shorter one-time workshops and using them as a way of recruiting interested participants for the series. Given that these one-time workshops do yield some interesting, albeit shorter, stories we may look into compiling this content in a more creative way with participants’ permission (E.g. We may combine letters written to participants’ home countries into an anthology themed “Letters to Home”).

We have also been exploring what it might look like to have participants share their stories orally, with us transcribing and writing it into storyform. This model might be more accessible for newcomers who aren’t able to write in English or their native language, don’t have the time to write their stories, and/or aren’t able to attend a series of workshops. Equally, it may also require more time on the part of the Program Manager in terms of transcribing and writing and will need to be evaluated for efficiency after a pilot. Depending on the number of stories we are able to capture orally, we may also look into purchasing some transcription software to facilitate this process.

Willingness of Service Providers to conduct their own SoU workshops:

We also overestimated the willingness of service providers to facilitate their own The Stories of Us workshops after a train-the-trainer workshop. While we haven’t yet conducted a Train-the-Trainer workshop, we’re learning that service providers are often strapped for time and resources when it comes to implementing their own programs and there is no incentive to take on another project. As such, we’re looking at ways of incorporating capacity building in more integrated ways. For example, we are engaging service providers in co-designing the workshops with us so that they can be tailored to their clients. We’re also exploring ways of personalizing and embedding our storytelling curriculum into their existing programs and curricula. For example, several ESL teachers whose classes we ran workshops for indicated that they would want to have their students work through the storytelling workbooks as a class. We are working with the Employment Skills Manager at New Circles to co-design a series of storytelling workshops that (if successful) can be embedded into their training curriculum to facilitate confidence-building and story sharing in an interview context.

Jennifer Chan

Jenn has been working with nonprofits and communities for over 10 years guiding design thinking and strategic foresight processes. Jenn believes in facilitating conversations lead by the community to find pain points that drive and ground new ideas.

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