Finding a Voice in Settlement Services: Nonprofit and Provincial Policy Officials’ Engagement John Shields Dept. of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University Session: Uneasy Partnership: Examining the Relationship between SPO-State Relationship in Settlement Service 16th National Metropolis Conference Partnering for Success: Facilitating Integration and Inclusion March 12-15, 2014, Gatineau, Quebec
Research Context • Part of a larger research project • Policy Work in the Provinces: The 'Production' of Policy Analysis and Advice in Canada's Provincial Public Services. P.I.: Dr. Bryan Evans, Ryerson University
Bigger study explores: What do mid-rank policy workers employed within the policy units of Canada's provincial governments and the NGO sector actually do in the day to day process of framing policy solutions to policy problems? This work of policy shapes the meaning and understanding of the issues that ultimately come to reside on the desks of senior political and public service decision-makers.
Examine three provincial governments of Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, looking at mid-level government policy workers and NGO-based policy advocates/workers. • Four policy communities were selected for examination: environment, health, immigration (settlement services), and labour
2 levels of analysis: 1) case studies of 4 policy areas (I lead immigrant settlement services case); 2) large survey of provincially based policy officials (gov’t & NGO) in these 4 policy areas • Why study the case of immigrant settlement services • because there has been a long relationship between government in Canada and nonprofit organizations in the provision of supports for newcomers to this country
more substantive provincial role in direct support for immigrant settlement within their territory is more recent in origin. • The provincial involvement in these services has however developed unevenly and the place and impact of immigration varies considerably across provinces. Hence, as a case study this area offers considerable promise both because of the continuities and discontinuities among key actors and jurisdictions.
What are settlement services?: Settlement services are about providing various forms of support and assistance to immigrant populations which help newcomers get established in, and met their core needs/requirements for their integration into their new national and regionally-based homeland. • Adopt a broad understanding of this area which includes: 1) Language acquisition and proficiency supports; 2) Employment-related services; 3) Housing supports; 4) Information workshops and settlement counseling services; and 5) other like services.
Importance of this policy area within Canada is strong; among advanced industrial liberal democracies Canada has the highest level of immigration and most foreign born. • Immigration policy remains central to economic growth and population stability.
Context Setting • NGO advocacy it must be recognized is engaged in relationships with the state that involves “both collaboration and conflict.” (Wayland, 2006: 1) • Jack Jedwab has argued that the best and most successful relationships between nonprofits and governments have been constructed upon the foundations of consultation and consensus building rather than competition rather than competition (Jedwab 2002, 77).
The nature of the contract funding regime for settlement services means that these nonprofit agencies have very limited resources to engage in advocacy, the nonprofit agencies are also placed in competitive positions with other agencies, and there is also the challenge of the “desire to engage in effective advocacy, with the government as their primary target, yet they depend heavily on government funding.” (Wayland, 2006 3)
The problem of ‘advocacy chill”. • Neoliberal approaches have been discouraging of traditional advocacy roles of nonprofits (special interest activities). But the decentralization of the state, at the same time, has opened up possibilities as the state’s research capacities have been diminished.
Neobliberalismvs shared governance (New Public Governance) • Problems of capacity with nonprofits regarding their potential policy role (partnering with academics) • ‘Big’ advocacy – publically facing government regarding policy & programs • ‘Small’ advocacy – insider roles, day to day interface, consultation, etc • Focused more on the ‘small advocacy’ role of NGOs
Some Initial Big Survey Results • survey size: 548 provincial policy analysts and 620 NGO analysts working in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia • “Policy-based NGO respondents did not fall under the generic policy role like their government counterparts. … Only a minority (15.4%) considered themselves to be policy analysts. … NGO respondents were highly likely to be engaged in … [numerous] roles.”(Evans and Wellstead, 2013: 14)
“NGOs, for the most part, simply do not have the capacity to create dedicated policy units and this policy work is thus only one aspect of work in this sector. Multi-tasking is the order of the day. In contrast, the public services tended to have sizable policy units in place dedicated to a singular policy function.” • NGO works very often tend to do policy ‘out of the side of their desks’.
“…government based respondents considered evidence based policy work and political influence on policy work to be more important than their NGO counterparts. However, the NGO policy workers surveyed placed more importance on networking and the role of outside organizations on policy making.” (Ibid.: 32)
“One of the most significant findings distinguishing the two groups is the depth of long-term commitment found amongst NGO policy analysts to their organization and substantive policy field. This seems to imply a much great degree of conviction and commitment to the ‘cause’ amongst this cohort as compared to their public service counter-parts.” (Ibid.: 35)
“The number one function of government respondents was briefing mid-level managers. The number one function of NGO staff was consulting with their stakeholders.”
Case Study: Settlement Services • Base on in depth qualitative semi-structured interviews • 30 interviews divided between 3 provinces (10) each and equally between gov’t and NGO policy actors • Conducted between June 2012 and May 2013
Interviews are not meant to be a statistically representative sample but allows us to examine the lived experience of these actors • Key themes identified and explored • Interviews approximately 1 hour in length • A lot of territory covered • Focus here on the overarching theme of NGO voice
Emerging Themes and Issues Under ‘Voice’ 1) What is quality policy advice? (Government Practitioner perspectives) “High quality policy advice would be based on some measure of, for lack of a better word, objective research. Some quantifiable research, some identified public need, some measure of awareness of stakeholder interests like and mixed with a certain political acuity so you knew which stakeholders were more important to the government compared to perhaps other stakeholders and a good understanding of the fiscal reality you’re facing. Like I do believe at any given point in time good public policy has to be doable within the context of the staff and financial resources you have … Another thing about good public policy is that it has to be easily and readily communicated and communicable ….” (OntGov1, p. 7)
2) What is consultation with external groups for? Is it effective? • “NGOs get heard and I think they bring a lot of value to the policy development process because very often if we are talking about, for example, settlement service agencies and they have access to a lot of information that we sitting here in our offices typing away (p. 6, BCGOV3).”
“… it depends on the intent of the purpose, it can be effective. I guess a lot of it has to do with the ground rules but providing them with some kind of feedback that they can react too. One of the main dangers with the consultation process is that it is done purely from the perspective of internal needs, this is what our issue is so we will organize this process with a tightly controlled agenda then we will have the consultation and then we don’t need to ever talk to them again because what we are doing is reporting this to our deputies and minister.” (OntGov2, p. 10)
3) Is the policy consultation process open or predetermined? (nonprofit practitioner responses 15 respondents) • Most NGOs (nearly all) were of the view that policy consultations were mostly predetermined or that there was only “a very limited degree of openness” (OntNGO8). • “I think it varies. Sometimes, it has been more open. A lot of the pieces are pre-determined and what we are being consulted on is sort of minutia after the fact and of course there are also challenges.” (BCNGO 4) • “We are servant of government (sorry for my harsh word), but we are told what to do and that is what we must do…. But do they come and talk to us and ask questions and get some feedback in any way or communicate with us? No they don’t.” (SKNGO1, p. 10,)
4) What is more important the political or bureaucratic part of government in the policy process?(nonprofit practitioner responses 15 respondents) • A strong majority of NGO concluded that it was the political side of the state that was most important in the policy process although a number of nonprofit respondents made a point noting that the bureaucratic element was also significant and influential.
5) Advocacy caution • [advocacy]: “it’s also a little more risky when you are receiving direct funding to speak out” (OntNGO 9). • “I think that the bigger piece for a lot of organizations is how government is defining advocacy and it has a lot to do with the charitable status piece. That is a big question. Under this political regime right now there is definitely tightening down. … People are really concerned about it.” (BCNGO4)
6) Use of Coalition Advocacy • “So the policy engagement work, if it is to be effective, has to be undertaken in more collaborative ways, using provincial umbrella associations and other bodies to promote and engage and set priorities. The effectiveness of developing common messaging or common policy areas within the sector means that it is easier for government to hear what we have to say … so rather than one NGO over another NGO in the development of different messages and priorities, there is a lot to be said with the development of coordinated and collaborative policy development work and communication.” (BCNGO2) • “But again one of the problems in our sector is where do you share the common messages … There’s also the fear of … the competition, of we are all fighting for the same money, so you are trying to share a common voice, but then we are trying to steal your funding at the same time.” (OntNGO10)
7) Role of Research in Advocacy Work • “the struggle for evidence based policy making rather than policy based evidence and I think that it’s incumbent on civil society to not fall into the trap of just sort of using opinion and rhetoric, that it is important to have sort of evidence based advocacy as well as decision making.” (OntNGO8)
8) Quantitative vs Qualitative Evidence • “I think good advocacy does tell the story that sticks in the minister’s mind but I think you also have to have that evidence base.” (OntNGO9) • “We’re trying to measure things that are not easily measurable…on the ground it is easy for us to say anecdotally...we are looking to try and build the evidence base for what we are dong, looking to do, or wanting to try.” (BCNGO4, p. 4).
9) Problem of Gov’t Staff Turnover and Age • “… because there is a huge turnover so they don’t get the opportunity to learn their files. So what often feels that you are spending a lot of time teaching your staff partners about a lot of the issues that they face and just when you get one trained off they go to the next section” (OntNGO9) • “… you get the policy people who as I recall are young policy analysts right who are not all the experienced, but their job is policy analysis, but as they become more experienced and senior they obviously become better at it” (OntNGO11)
10) Value of Community-Based Knowledge • “In particular, NGOs have the advantage of connecting to the real people. They know day-to-day their lives. There is good potential to engage in policy process given the opportunity and have agency management recognize that.” (BCNGO1, p. 9)” • “We’re frontline and we see what the clients are needing and what services would benefit them, so if [the policy makers] were actually communicating with us then the clients would be getting the services they actually need” (SakNGO4.2, p. 23)
“The role for the bureaucrats, with all good intentions, very few of them have actually done much on the ground work. Like with front line work…what we’re providing is kind of a reality check.” (p.4, BCNGO4, p. 4)
11) Government Views of NGOs • “… The challenge by undertaking this policy work based on one NGO is that we are often perceived as having inherent bias by the fact that we have our hand in the trough.” (BCNGO2, p. 8) • “You’ve got to be very very careful that it doesn’t look like your ideology. You know? Like if you are really making the case that is good policy and this is why then most people will support that” (BCNGO3, p. 8)