Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Intercultural Development Staff Training Program (IDSTP)
Year Submitted 2019
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Ms. Gabrielle Morrison Vice-President, Finance and Administration
Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray President and Vice-Chancellor of Saint Mary’s University
Name of Institution Saint Mary's University (NS)
Office Address 923 Robie Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 3C3
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Telephone: (902) 420-5409
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Ms. Gabrielle Morrison
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Vice-President, Finance and Administration
Office Address 923 Robie Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 3C3
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Telephone: (902) 420-5409
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

The Intercultural Development Staff Training Program (IDSTP) is a multi-phase and modular series of workshops and experiences. It aims to support staff members to become more globally competent institutional representatives in their cross-cultural dealings with students, faculty, staff, and outside communities.


The program is structured into four discrete and sequential blocks of learning. Each block consists of a series of workshops and/or experiential learning opportunities that are completed over a span of several months. The training will continue to be phased in over several years and is recursive. The design of this program is in line with UNESCO Guidelines on Intercultural Education(2006). The widely accepted approach is that intercultural training be based on the following four pillars: a) Learning to Know, b) Learning to Do, c) Learning to Live Together, and d) Learning to Be. The initial focus was on Block One, and engaged the full staff complement in Learning to Know during the first year of launching the IDSTP.


We believe it is important, therefore, that staff be given the opportunity to develop broad global perspectives combined with intercultural competence to enable effective and professional service delivery across cultures.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

Following the four pillars outlined in the UNESCOguidelines on intercultural education: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, andlearning to be, allows the IDSTP to be easily transferable and applied at other institutions. Each workshop and experiential session with staff introduce established intercultural models through interactive activities that are readily available in the current literature for intercultural education.


With a Canadian higher education institution in mind, each phase of the IDSTP begins with addressing the local context, and time is spent developing trust and rapport with each group in order to set the tone for positive intercultural dialogue. Each workshop is learner-centred and while grounded in intercultural theory, participants experience the content in a safe, respectful and fun environment. The activities and materials are created and adapted from established authors in this field, which have been tried and tested all over the world. Furthermore, these activities build on each other and participants have time to try out, discuss and reflect on the content in small groups. This allows the sessions to be adapted to meet the needs of other institutions’ internationalization, or strategic plans.


As a way of demonstrating ease of transferability to potential external providers and how a similar initiative could be implemented in other institutions, an illustration of the project was presented to other institutions and stakeholders in Toronto in June 2018. The presentation, “Developing an Intercultural Outlook Among University Staff”,provided participants with a model for staff intercultural learning, and an overview and summary of the IDSTP. The presentation slides have been attached as a supporting document.

Quality Impact

The intended staff outcomes for the IDSTP encompass range of knowledge, skills and attitudes that are essential elements of intercultural competence. The workshops help staff to develop a range of knowledge and attitudes that are essential elements of intercultural competence, as well as raise awareness of the skills necessary for building rapport with individuals from cultures where behaviours and communication styles may or may not correspond with their own cultures.


These outcomes are linked to those stated in the report: Teaching for Global Competencies in a Rapidly Changing World (OECD, 2018). These are explicitly stated as:

  1. to investigate the world beyond our immediate environment by examining issues of local, global, and cultural significance; 
  2. to recognize, understand, and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others; 
  3. to communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences by engaging in open, appropriate, and effective interactions across cultures; and 
  4. to take action for collective well-being and sustainable development both locally and globally. 

More specifically, staff focus on several themes important in communication in general, and intercultural relations specifically and are given experiential take-home tasks to practice their heightened skills and awareness. At the same time, participants take a key step in cultural competence building by experiencing an intercultural model that cultivates self-awareness, as well as objectivity when encountering unfamiliar people, situations, or objects. Participants learn about different ways of thinking about culture; explore how their identities are culturally conditioned and raise awareness of the importance of being aware of one’s own cultural identity before beginning to explore other cultures. Through these activities, tasks and discussions, they recognize the real challenge of seeing the world from the perspectives of others. By the end of Block 1, staff have considered factors that can lead to cross-cultural miscommunication and experienced and tried out a set of guidelines for communicating effectively across cultures in oral and written communication.

The results collected since the first year of delivering the IDSTP have been positive and brought about widespread influence on campus:

  • Over 270 University staff attended the first offering of Block 1 in 2016. During this time, there were requests for additional sessions to be held to cater for the number of participants attending;
  • There have been increased numbers of requests for peer support related to intercultural issues and cross-cultural interactions.
  • Staff who attended the IDSTP volunteered to become peer facilitators. This has increased capacity to offer the training, as well as increasing diversity and sustainability of the training program.
  • Block 1 is now in its second iteration with new facilitators.
  • The IDSTP was offered at the same time as the President’s campus-wide initiative to engage the University community in the development of the Strategic Plan (2017-2022). Consequently, intercultural learning emerged as one of the three main topics that formed the President’s Strategic Plan.

There have been a number of data collection and measurement tools employed to track results.

  • Initial attendance of staff members from a range of faculties and departments on campus;
  • Repeat attendance for later sessions;
  • Immediate feedback: Each session was delivered by a facilitation team. This included a presenter/facilitator and two observers. Observational data was collected and described the physical environment and informal conversations and interviews to collect participants’ thoughts and feedback.
  • Through observation, we were able to observe factual information – the number of staff at each session – as well as how participants’ engaged and interacted within the environment during each activity, in small-group discussions, as well as plenary stages. We also observed participant behaviours such as how the facilitator interacted with the participants and vice versa, and identified participants who preferred to observe rather than participate. This also allowed the facilitator to respond during the session and ensure all participants felt safe and respected. Observational notes also allowed adjustments to be made to the workshops. Therefore, observation allowed for data to be gathered on: 
  • the physical setting, i.e. the classroom space and how it was organized;
  • the human setting, i.e. how staff members from different faculties and departments were organized and grouped;
  • the program setting, i.e. how the materials were organized and distributed and the effectiveness of the workshop delivery style - a learner-centred approach.
  • Collecting observational data leads naturally into a longitudinal study, which provides an ongoing narrative of participant feedback and experiences.
  • Interviews with senior management staff, as well as staff participants.

In addition to the above, the program developers are continually monitoring and drawing upon best practices in the area of intercultural communicative competence.

Productivity Impact

The program was designed internally and driven by University administrators and academics and it has been more fully embraced than if it had been delivered by an external group.  Furthermore, the importance of the initiative is underscored in the positioning of Intercultural Learningas a strategic priority of the President. (Initiative 2 of the University Strategic plan 2017-2022 (https://president.smu.ca/2017-2022-plan). Dr Robert Summerby-Murray appears in the kick-off video announcing the program and reinforcing the importance of the intercultural growth and development of individuals in the overall success of the University. 


By using internal resources, namely academics and staff, the University estimates tens of thousands of dollars of out of pocket costs for program development, implementation, leadership training, surveys, and video and website development were avoided.


Internationalization strategies have become a main feature in the strategic plans of institutions across Canada. However, the focus up to now has almost, if not entirely been on students and to some extent faculty. At Saint Mary’s, we have identified the need and benefits of providing training for staff - IDSTP provides international communicative competence training for all its staff across all departments.


Having a culturally-sensitive and interculturally competent staff across campus is integral to the success of any institution’s internationalization strategy. University staff are often prospective students’ first point of contact, as well as being integral to student welfare and support in all areas of university life from interacting with recruitment officers, admissions staff, academic advisors, to student services and campus security to name a few. Providing this opportunity for all staff also allows our administrators to develop professionally, become more confident in their cross-cultural dealings, and generate increased positivity towards the growing internationalized campus and evolving student demographic.


Block 1 – “Learning to Know”


The program begins with an introductory series of intercultural training workshops that explore the concepts of culture, cultural self-awareness, cross-cultural communication and intercultural competence.  Participants learn about cultural rules, communication styles, norms and values, and how to recognize how diverse they can be in different cultures. They learn to appreciate the effect of cultural diversity on the life of an organization, and are introduced to helpful strategies for bridging cultural gaps. Staff participants gain general insights about other cultures and languages, and fundamental skills for intercultural interaction.


Block 2 – “Learning to Do”


Participants engage in the four stages of experiential learning (experience, reflect, conceptualize, experiment) to enhance their cultural intelligence and personal flexibility, and to develop their practice of intercultural competence in a wide range of situations. They are given opportunities to monitor themselves for ethnorelative attitudes toward cultures other than their own, and to cultivate mental models for providing service across cultures.



Block 3 – “Learning to Live Together”


Participants delve more deeply into understanding people of different cultures, and navigating cultural and linguistic diversity. A key element of this block of workshops is exposure to the language learning process, and exploration of other languages as means of appreciating difference and the challenges of achieving mutual understanding in the face of linguistic difference.


Block 4a – “Learning to Be”


Participants experience how deep learning of another language and culture involves a process of personal transformation.  This is done by engaging them in the process of learning another language, and having them reflect on the impact of that experience on their own sense of self.  In so doing, they learn to appreciate what it means for a person from another culture who speaks a language other than English to adapt to all that is unfamiliar when they come to Saint Mary’s University.  It also prepares them for the experience of travelling to another culture and developing strategies for dealing with “culture shock.” 


Phase 4b – “Learning to Be”


A continuation of the language learning experience undertaken in Block 4a.  Participants engage in an international experience by visiting a partner university abroad and expanding their cultural competencies by serving as a Saint Mary’s delegate on such a visit.