Using community engaged research to rethink and redesign newcomer supports

MACE student says a “bottom-up” approach to programming will better support newcomers in developing the social bridges necessary to feel like a valuable and contributing member of their new communities.

Nisa Drozdowski - 23 February 2021

Working in the settlement sector, Mischa Taylor learned from newcomers to Canada that their completion of the many government and non-profit sponsored programming designed for their benefit didn’t necessarily result in feeling fully integrated into their host community.

Taylor recognized there was a need to strategically reconsider and redesign newcomer programming, and she wanted to be part of the process.

“Programming tends to be prescriptive in that newcomers are told what they need to learn to integrate, rather than being designed around the needs newcomers have in order to feel connected to their new society,” explained Taylor.  “Direction should come from the bottom up, meaning not just designed for newcomers, but with newcomers to best meet their needs.”

In 2018, Taylor enrolled in the master of arts in community engagement program (MACE). “I researched graduate programs and was excited to find that one of the best programs to offer what I was looking for was in my own backyard, at the University of Alberta.”

Having previously worked at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers alongside Syrians who came to Canada as refugees, Taylor chose to partner with this population of newcomers for her master’s research into integration.

Community engaged research is guided by participants as much as possible. Taylor’s work employed aspects of an engaged approach. She conducted interviews using questions that had been designed in concert with a Syrian newcomer to be culturally appropriate and relevant to their experiences. Participants were also given the opportunity to review interview transcripts and provide commentary (including any disagreement) on preliminary findings. 

Taylor’s research was informed by the Domains of Integration framework, which identifies key indicators to measure and encourage integration. They fall into four themes, including the processes of social connection within and between groups within the community—the focus of Taylor’s work. 

“Research on social bridges recognizes different types of connectedness,” said Taylor. “They can range from friendly interactions that tend to be superficial to deeper, more meaningful connections that are intentional.”

“What I heard from participants was that even though they were having positive, friendly  interactions within their community, they were lacking a network of true  friends.”

Most Syrians who have come to Canada as refugees arrived as either government-assisted refugees or privately sponsored refugees. Generally, the integration experience of privately sponsored refugees Taylor interviewed has been more positive. She found that by arriving into an established network of family, extended family and friends, there were immediate social bridges for newcomers, and it eased their integration.

It also became clear to her that integration requires effort of an entire community, and that hosts have much to learn and benefit from as well. 

“An outcome of social bridges is social cohesion. It means there is connection, a sense of belonging and trust between all members of a community,” said Taylor. “When that exists, we all want to make a positive contribution, and that’s good for everyone.”

Mischa Taylor has defended her MACE thesis and is expecting to convocate in June 2021. Her thesis research was built on a three-year, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded research project being conducted out of the Faculty of Education, entitled 'Psychosocial Adaptation and Integration of Syrian Refugee Communities Using Community Learning for Empowerment Groups'. It examines the psychosocial adaptation challenges, strengths and processes of Syrians with refugee experience. The project is led by Dr. Sophie Yohani from the department of Educational Psychology, and co-led by Drs. Anna Kirova, Rebecca Gokiert, and Rebecca Georgis.  


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Mischa Taylor, MACE Student