In April 2003, United Way of Greater Toronto undertook a year-long priority-setting process to re-examine the social, demographic, and government policy and funding changes that had taken place since it adopted its original priorities, set out in The Way Ahead, 1998. The goal of the new process was to determine the most pressing social issues that require United Way's attention. Four priority areas were recommended to the Board of Trustees through this process. The only original priority area that had not made substantive gains was newcomers services. Newcomers continued to face barriers to economic integration and have high rates of poverty, both of which were taking a toll on family life. A recommendation was made to the Board of Trustees that United Way enhance its impact in this area over the next five years through a range of interventions that includes capacity building, research and advocacy, convening, and increased financial investment. This study was intended to provide evidence to inform decision making around United Way's financial investments for newcomer programs and services.
This article summarizes the findings of a literature review and offers recommendations for the development, implementation, evaluation, and funding of newcomer programs and services.
Key informant interviews and a literature review were conducted to identify effective newcomer programs and services. Of the hundreds of programs and services identified, twenty-four were selected for inclusion in the review. Of these, eight were rated as effective, twelve were rated as promising, and four were to be tracked because of ongoing evaluations. These programs were analyzed for effective or promising practices for the design, implementation, evaluation and funding of newcomer programs and services.
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From those programs reporting positive outcomes or promising practices, eleven primary lessons were learned.
* Make programs as inclusive as possible: Pay attention to people with specific needs, integrate children into programming, involve parents in programs for children, and include multiple cultures as appropriate.
* Adopt an asset-based approach to program development: Asset-based approaches recognize the everyday experience, wisdom, skills, and capacity that all newcomers and newcomer communities possess. Fostering active citizen engagement, building a stronger civil society, and creating local economic opportunity are central to the asset-based approach.
* Use participatory models: To the greatest degree possible, involve participants and volunteers in program planning, implementation, and evaluation.
* Provide a safe environment: A safe environment in which everyone is treated as equal and members are invited to express their ideas and to share personal life experiences can have a significant effect on program outcomes.
* Ensure programs are of sufficient duration to achieve outcomes: Program duration should reflect desired program outcomes by being consistent with behaviour change and learning principles.
* Incorporate strategies to promote sustainability of programs and services: Sustainable programs are usually considered to be ones which, after an initial period of intervention, are able to run with minimal support and resources from the host organization. Whether this model of sustainability is appropriate, however, depends upon the needs being served. Programs designed to serve urgent basic needs require ongoing funding and support, whereas programs for established newcomers can often be more self-sustaining.
* Include a direct support component: Integrate opportunities for obtaining social support either from peers or through individual counselling.
* Use creative delivery formats: Formats may include drop-in programs, group classes, self-study programs, train-the-trainer programs, on-line programs, internships, placements, and job shadowing.
* Ensure facilitators are appropriate and well trained: Select people from the newcomer community and provide initial training and continuous support.
* Enable attendance: Recruit widely, arrange transportation, offer classes and programs at flexible times, and choose an appropriate setting.
* Evaluate programs to assess impact: Evaluate programs using multiple methods and strong designs. Share findings widely.
* Break down complex outcomes to enable the development of measurable indicators.
* Use new evaluation techniques to evaluate complex partnerships: Newcomer programs often have complex partnership elements that cannot be measured using traditional evaluation methods. Innovative evaluation techniques, such as horizontal evaluation (i.e., evaluation of the collaborative efforts of two or more organizations working together to achieve shared outcomes) should be explored.
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The review has important implications for the way newcomer programs and services are designed, implemented, evaluated, and funded.
* Support participatory and asset-based models: Wherever possible, recruit agency staff and program volunteers from target communities, including former service recipients, and include them in the program planning process. This strategy not only builds the capacity of the target community, it also increases sustainability and ensures appropriateness for the target group.
* Ensure that the definition of sustainability varies with the goals of the program and the needs of the target group: Sustainability often means that the program will be able to run with minimal or reduced resources in the future. There are, however, valuable programs that will require continued support by funders and agencies but whose outcomes make the ongoing cost a good investment.
* Evaluate outcomes using strong designs so that you can assess the impact properly: Proper evaluation means the use of good evaluation designs, including solid measurement tools and understanding of multiple methodologies.
* Invest in programs: Funding needs must be well thought out by the agency and the funders at the outset of a program. The investment and duration of funding required must be clearly understood depending on the outcomes desired. In some instances, short-term project funding may be appropriate; in other instances, it is necessary to commit funding beyond short term, innovations, and pilot projects. Funding should be provided so that the duration of funding "matches" the outcomes desired.
* Disseminate findings widely and share knowledge: Evaluation reports often rest with funders and are not available for other agencies and researchers to learn from. Disseminating widely means making lessons learned available to all who could benefit and using multiple dissemination channels.
Evaluating Funding Submissions
* Use best practices to evaluate funding submissions: Develop a guide to assess submissions using best practices. Train reviewers to understand what these practices mean and how to apply them when evaluating submissions.
* Invest in evaluation: Support evaluation by equipping grantees with education and evaluation frameworks. Undertake research into indicators of complex outcomes typically found in the newcomer sector.
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Through this research we identified several other evaluations currently underway which should lead to important results in the next months or years. The results of these studies will further inform this review and should be tracked. In reviewing the evaluation findings from eight programs rated as effective, we have learned much about how to best design and deliver newcomer programs and services. We cannot ignore, however, the many unpublished programs and services not included in this review which may well contain a wealth of information and lessons to further our understanding. Formal evaluations - those which are well designed - are critical to further our understanding of effectiveness of newcomer programs and services. Financial resources and support to disseminate evaluation results are imperative if we are to learn from the efforts of our colleagues.
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