In previous chapters, we discussed the role of identity in sensemaking (Chapter 3), interactions with others (Chapter 4), organizations (Chapter 5), and the overall institutional environment (Chapter 6) in shaping QIs’ integration. In this concluding chapter, we explore a final narrative to demonstrate the fluid, dynamic, and interdependent nature of sensemaking. Stella’s story is a useful reminder that while we discussed these different levels and aspects of sensemaking separately, sensemaking is interdependent and ongoing.

Stella1 immigrated to Canada from Venezuela with a Ph.D. in Engineering and more than 25 years of experience as a professor and lecturer in her home country. Despite her extensive experience, after arriving in Canada, she struggled to find an academic position in her field. At the time of our conversation, Stella had been in Canada for four years and had started a new career path as an optician. As Stella explained her sensemaking process, she referred continuously to several aspects of her identity: who she is as a person and her professional identity as a highly qualified intellectual. She explains:

I am a Ph.D.; I have 3000 citations … I have had a completely different experience [from the people I work with]. My mind is a trained mind. I think that probably a more intellectual job, I will be able to do for a longer period of time.

While reflecting on her identity (individual), Stella relies on others to help her understand the environment and her options (interactional). These interactions were the focus of Chapter 4, in which we discussed how reality is constructed through communication and how some exchanges will be particularly influential because of their legitimacy or symbolic power (Hallett, 2003). She reports talking to many people, with some playing a more powerful role than others, such as a recruiter, in helping her find her way. She continues to seek out others to help her make sense of her options, as she explains:

I think when you arrive in Canada, there are a lot of paths, but not all are the best for you. And it’s difficult to know because you don’t have the whole information. You receive advice from different persons. All of them have good intentions, but it’s difficult to learn…I asked [a recruiter] …how can I know? And then he answered me, ‘well, probably you need to speak with a lot of people in order to find your own answer’…This recruiter told me something that is true. He said, ‘well, you have a lot of hard skills that are difficult to have because you cannot learn this through YouTube.’ And it’s true.

The recruiter validated Stella’s identity claims of a highly educated professional and provided practical advice on the job search process. This recruiter was not the only powerful interaction to shape Stella’s sensemaking. She also drew on many organizations, which had their own rules, processes, and discourses that at times presented barriers but also provided support. When we last spoke, Stella was waiting for her credential assessment to work as an engineer. She participated in an employment program for highly skilled women offered by an immigrant service provider organization (SPOs). In Chapter 5, we discussed the critical role of professional and regulatory bodies, which present unique challenges and barriers for QIs, and the importance of SPOs in supporting QIs’ work integration. It was unsurprising that Stella stumbled upon many organizational requirements that she felt powerless to change.

One example that Stella explained in detail was a recruitment process for a job she believed herself to be fully qualified for. However, she was not selected, and the job was re-posted shortly after with an additional requirement for a recent graduation date. She described her disappointment and efforts to make sense of the outcome of her application:

I cannot change the time. I can learn new things, but I cannot change the time. I spoke [with a recruiter] about this situation, and she told me that maybe this was the reason. But she also said that probably to work in this company, you will need a security clearance, and because I am not a Canadian citizen, I am only a permanent resident, this could also be a disadvantage.

Stella also explained having to contend with discriminatory practices in workplaces and work-related institutions, which we discussed become acceptable and maintained over time in Chapter 5. All the while, Stella refers to the overall Canadian cultural and institutional environment as a point of reference.

This is a very polite society, but on the other hand, behind that very polite behavior, they are trying to take advantage. Then it’s a little difficult sometimes... Here we don’t have status. I am a technician. I do some manager activities, but I am not a Ph.D. It’s a different situation. This is also the Canadian society; it’s a much more vertical society. If you are a technician who is working at that level… Sometimes, of course, it’s painful…because there are some discriminations also. Yeah, if you are a minority, that is my case too. You notice that, well, it’s part of the package.

Stella’s efforts to make sense of Canada’s socio-cultural and institutional environment to explain her employment options and outcomes refer to the last level of sensemaking described in Chapter 6: the institutional environment with regulatory and symbolic realities. Stella’s depiction of the polite society is embedded in a master narrative of multiculturalism: a shared cultural script that acknowledges, encourages, embraces, and even celebrates ethnocultural diversity. Her expression of the difficulty and pain associated with her employment outcomes relates to the second master narrative we discussed: professional attainment as a critical marker of inclusion and integration for QIs.

Stella’s self-identification as an intellectual, the powerful interactions, and organizations that shape her sensemaking in a specific institutional environment (the polite but discriminatory Canadian society) demonstrate how the different levels of sensemaking are simultaneous, interconnected, and interdependent. Our conversation with Stella included her past experiences, current employment status, and strategies, as well as plans for her professional future, demonstrating that sensemaking is dynamic and ongoing. Each conversation provides a momentary glimpse of a continuous process. Toward the end of her conversation with us, she continued to have new thoughts and ideas and identified new potential courses of action:

I don’t know too much. I need to do homework. I was thinking that maybe I need to review some options [at college or university] … Yeah, I’ll look into [college] in order to apply for positions in the government.

7.1 Challenges of Studying the Process of Sensemaking

Stella’s story exemplifies the interconnectedness, interdependence, and dynamism of the process of sensemaking and highlights the challenges associated with studying sensemaking. As an ongoing, retrospective, and enacting process, sensemaking is difficult to capture and study. Sensemaking is constantly changing. At every moment, new stimuli may prompt different thoughts and actions, and result in different outcomes. Even at the end of our conversation, Stella decided to explore options at colleges and universities based on the elements of her story that became visible to her while recounting her experiences. Due to the dynamic nature of sensemaking, any conversation will always paint an incomplete and momentary picture; they offer only a snapshot of someone’s sensemaking.

Interviews are a co-production, and the questions we asked Stella about her plans likely played a role in shaping her narrative. As researchers, we influence sensemaking by the questions we ask, the ways we react to the answers provided, and the ways in which we interact with participants. Finally, as we discussed in this book, sensemaking is happening and is influenced by multiple levels of subjectivity (individual, interactional, organizational, institutional). Isolating one level for scrutiny may provide valuable insights but, at the same time, may hide important elements that can only be observed when the whole picture is considered. Below we discuss some possible alternatives to minimize these challenges.

7.1.1 Longitudinal Mixed-Method Design

One of the strategies to compensate for the ongoing and dynamic nature of sensemaking is longitudinal research designs, which would permit researchers to follow participants’ narratives over time. This allows for the collection of multiple snapshots. While not a comprehensive or perfect representation of sensemaking, it would allow for comparisons among individual strategies, the influence of interactions with multiple actors, and the outcomes of organizational changes or shifts in the institutional environment. Currently, most longitudinal designs of immigrant integration employ quantitative methods and large-scale data sets, such as census and labor surveys (Cheng et al., 2021; Piché et al., 2002). Such studies often miss the social aspect of sensemaking. Triangulation, or mixing quantitative and qualitative methods in one study, can provide multiple and rich snapshots of sensemaking.

7.1.2 Reflective Interviews

Interviews continue to be a useful research method for collecting rich and nuanced narratives. Multiple interviews may provide insight into the ongoing and social nature of sensemaking. As many qualitative researchers have, we contend that as interviewers, it is impossible to be neutral (Chase, 2003, 2008; Randall et al., 2013). For this reason, we should aim to intervene with the intention of supporting participants to reflect and make sense of their situations. As we have argued elsewhere, researchers can support participants’ reflection and sensemaking, which can change the ways individuals think, behave, and perform and potentially increase the impact of research in the process of an interview (Nardon & Hari, 2021; Nardon et al., 2021). Reflection allows research participants the opportunity to learn, revisit assumptions, make sense of their problems, and find new solutions.

Building on a transformative approach, in a recent article, we organized various approaches to a reflective interview and identified four principles that researchers can employ when designing interview-based research to support reflection and sensemaking (Nardon et al., 2021):

  1. 1.

    Give time to think: Providing participants with the opportunity to think before, during, and after the interview creates space for deeper reflection on the topic under study and supports participants in making sense of their situations.

  2. 2.

    Develop a relationship of trust between the researcher and participant, which can take time but is essential to create openness and invite reflection.

  3. 3.

    Invite reflection by using interview techniques designed to facilitate participants’ questioning of taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs. Many tools are available to this end, including metaphor elicitation (Nardon & Hari, 2021), narrative interviews (Birch & Miller, 2000; Cassell et al., 2020; Gemignani, 2014), and photo-elicitation interviews (e.g., Collier & Collier, 1986; Harper, 2002).

  4. 4.

    Support the identification of personal solutions to alleviate their situations by engaging in solution-focused questioning that allows participants to articulate a desired future state and help them develop a plan to achieve it.

7.2 Extending Sensemaking: Transnational Sensemaking

Based on Weick’s original conceptualization of sensemaking, we discussed four levels of sensemaking, individual (Chapter 3), interactional (Chapter 4), organizational (Chapter 5), and institutional (Chapter 6). These levels were conceived within an implicit assumption that individuals live in one nation-state. We would be amiss if we did not acknowledge that an increasing number of persons now live transnational lives: speaking two or more languages, having homes in two or more countries, and making a living through continuous regular contact across national borders. The term transnationalism recognizes these networks, activities, and patterns of life and highlights an unexplored facet of sensemaking.

Broadly, transnationalism (often also used in its plural form) consists of historical, economic, political, social, and cultural processes that extend beyond any one nation-state. Historically, it included organizational presence in several countries simultaneously. Nowadays, it broadly encompasses the emergence of social processes in which migrants’ social relations, including familial, economic, social, organizational, religious, and political, cross geographic, cultural, and political borders. The multiple involvements of QIs in both home and receiving societies are emblematic of transnationalism.

QIs are part of a social system with networks based in two or more nation-states and who maintain activities, identities, and statuses in several social locations. Social articulations of transnationalism, therefore, include the simultaneity of daily lives, consciousness, and identity (Bailey, 2001). Transnational communities are defined by intense cross-border social relations. Trans-migrants participate in daily life activities in two or more nations (Portes, 2001). Overall, transnationalism involves individuals, their networks of social relations, communities, and broader institutionalized structures, such as local and national governments.

What can transnationalism as an ontological framework add to the sensemaking perspective? We offer transnational as an added level of sensemaking that recognizes the daily enactments of transnationalism by individuals and institutions. Sensemaking, as understood in this book, is the organizing of information to understand cause and effect and the sequencing of ‘ambiguous, equivocal, or confusing issues or events’ (Brown et al., 2015, p. 266). We suggest that transnational sensemaking includes actors, structures, and processes that acknowledge and problematize how borders are crossed, constituted, and superseded. It fits well with the properties of sensemaking by including different levels of analysis and time frames. Furthermore, a transnational level of sensemaking would look at how the local, national, regional, and global are connected to inform sensemaking. Transnational sensemaking, therefore, would reflect the lived realities of QIs and capture how discourses, material flows, and cultural interactions are exchanged across borders and boundaries.

In our recent work, we found transnational sensemaking a valuable perspective for conceptualizing international students’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic (Hari et al., 2021). Our participants organized and compared information on the pandemic from two or more national contexts to understand the cause, effect, and sequencing of an unprecedented situation. Their transnational lives and identities shaped how they made sense of the strict public health measures, closures of borders and travel, as well as the shutdown of institutions and services.

7.3 Practical Insights

This section highlights some important implications for practice when considering immigrant work integration from a sensemaking perspective. First, sensemaking highlights that agency (of multiple actors) is embedded in the process of work integration. Agency is best understood as having the ability to act and to be recognized as an actor. Feminist scholars have noted the importance of contextualizing agency to understand how privilege and oppression shape one’s capacity to act. Saba Mahmood (2001, p. 203) captures this complexity by defining agency as ‘a capacity for action that historically specific relations of subordination enable and create.’

The inherent tension between structures and individual agency is troubling and complex, captured in our discussions of how individual sensemaking of their professional identities, options, and actions is simultaneously impacted by their interactions with local agents, organizations, and the institutional environment. Yet, it also explains how individuals navigate these constraints differently, based on their own resources and their ability to make choices along the way (exercising their agency). Recall the success stories of Olga and Ulan, who resisted notions of immigrants’ disadvantage in the Canadian labor market and persisted in their quest for commensurate employment. They were supported by family members (Olga), motivated by individuals they met in the local labor market, and sustained by their ability to wait for the right opportunity due to their financial situations. Some QIs use their agency to change structures that disadvantage immigrants. The manager who hired Olga, discussed in Chapter 2, chose to give a QI like Olga a first chance at acquiring the coveted ‘Canadian Experience’ by choosing not to follow traditional recruiting processes for filling positions. Instead, the manager took the time to talk to Olga about her past experiences and knowledge to identify how she could contribute to the organization. This is an example of how individuals can contribute to immigrant integration by resisting discriminatory structures and taking active steps to change.

Second, sensemaking highlights that successful work integration is a process, and it may take time. There is a lot to learn about oneself and the environment, people who need to be connected, and structures that need to be adjusted. This is particularly true for individuals in specialized and/or regulated professions or with unconventional backgrounds. These individuals have unique support needs, and structures must be in place to ensure that their transition to employment is positive for society, hiring organizations, and themselves.

In addition to time, the multiple, interconnected, and interdependent levels of sensemaking reveal that work integration requires a coordinated effort among various actors, including QIs, their families and communities, their social and professional networks, organizations (SPOs, employers, educational institutions, and professional regulatory bodies), and broader societal actors (governments, community, etc.) to recruit, retain, and incorporate their global talent and achieve broader objectives of multiculturalism, as well as equality, diversity, and inclusion. Stella’s complex sensemaking narrative reveals the need for coordinated and integrated reforms to current systems, structures, and processes of work integration.

7.4 The Road Ahead

The world is constantly changing. This book captures our own ongoing process of sensemaking regarding the immigration journey. As we contemplate the future ahead, it is vital to acknowledge the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the experiences of QIs. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of many through increased economic uncertainties and lingering health implications. Governments implemented emergency legislation, such as social distancing, lockdowns, travel restrictions, and border closures to mitigate the spread of the virus. These measures will inevitably impact the admission and work integration of QIs. For example, Canada saw a decline of 64% in admissions across all categories during the pandemic (El-Assal, 2020). Much research remains to be done on the impacts of the ongoing pandemic on QI admissions and work integration.

In a study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on skilled immigrant women’s employment during the first wave of infections and public health measures in Canada, we found that 41 out of 50 respondents were negatively impacted due to delayed career starts, reversed career trajectories due to layoffs or decreased availability of short-term opportunities, or had their careers interrupted due to increased family demands, reduced opportunities to perform and advance in a work-from-home environment, and limited social support. Much has happened since, including the availability of vaccines, vaccine mandates by many organizations and nations, the controlled reopening of borders, and alternative ways of working and delivering services. The world we live in today is very different from the world we all knew in 2019; this previous ‘normal’ has informed most of the research and practice regarding QI integration. We hope to encourage further research to understand how QIs as transnational actors and others engaged in the project of immigrant work integration make sense of QI professional identities and journeys, including the short- and long-term impact of the ongoing pandemic on their actions, outcomes, and futures.

This concluding chapter provided some methodological and practical insights derived from using a sensemaking perspective to understand and engage with QIs’ work integration. Although we end on an uncertain note, leaving more questions open than answered, we hope to encourage researchers and practitioners to continue these vital conversations in their respective areas and collaborate and coordinate to learn from each other.

7.5 Concluding Thoughts

We started this book by presenting immigrant work integration as a wicked problem, ridden with complexities and without an easy solution. Countries like Canada design immigration policies to attract talented individuals and to address persistent labor shortages; organizations spend significant resources to attract, recruit, and retain talent, which is consistently in short supply; qualified professionals relocate across the world, leaving behind all that is familiar to find themselves in menial jobs in the countries that welcomed them based on their skills and education.

We attempted to make sense of this problem by looking at how individuals, organizations, and societies make sense of everyday situations related to work integration and create structures that perpetuate discriminatory practices and maintain barriers that prevent QIs from finding commensurate employment that is to the detriment of everyone involved. We hope that our attempt to reveal and unpack this wicked problem, although complex, uncertain, and resistant to analysis and resolution, will increase awareness and invite action from all sectors of society toward supporting QIs’ work integration and success.

7.6 Key Points

  • The different levels of sensemaking are interconnected, fluid, dynamic, and interdependent, which makes studying sensemaking a challenge.

  • Longitudinal designs can compensate for the nature of sensemaking by allowing for the collection of multiple snapshots.

  • Reflective interviews can be a useful research method to simultaneously understand and support participants’ sensemaking processes.

  • Transnationalism is a useful ontological framework to better understand QIs’ work integration challenges and experiences. QIs live transnational lives, which is bound to influence their sensemaking.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the immigration landscape. More research is needed to understand the short- and long-term impact of the pandemic on migration flows and QIs’ work integration.


  1. 1.

    Stella’s story is derived from an ongoing project investigating the experiences of immigrants with doctoral education as they adjust to the realities of high barriers to secure academic positions and explore career alternatives. In this project, we have conducted interviews ranging from 60 to 90 minutes with 9 immigrant women. Findings from this study are in preparation for publication.