AYSRH ToolkitAdvocating for Youth-Friendly Cities
Youth Participation & Engagement
What is it?
TCI engages youth as essential, active participants across family planning programming domains – through our demand generation activities with fellow youth, advocacy efforts nested within formal and informal structures to foster broad participation, and the design of services to increase access by honoring youth’s sexual and reproductive health rights and needs. This engagement occurs at both the community and governance levels across our four Hubs.
This approach is deeply informed by the 2018 YIELD report Young People Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health: Toward a New Normal, which shares key learnings and implications related to the effective engagement of youth in the improvement of adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH). The Convention of the Rights of the Child, via Articles 12, 13, 14, and 15, provides the essential legal framework, outlining the rights of youth and the duties of governments to guarantee those rights.
TCI adopts YIELD’s conceptualization of youth engagement as processes through which young people realize their rights by influencing and sharing control over AYSRH initiatives and the decisions and resources that affect them.
Meaningful youth engagement invites youth who are directly affected by programs to design, implement, monitor, and evaluate these programs alongside implementers and program managers. It means that their input is present throughout the process. Youth should serve as partners and leaders (as well as beneficiaries), and their capacity and assets should be built along the way through meaningful engagement with adults (YIELD, 2018).
Throughout this Toolkit, you will find examples of TCI’s engagement of youth across community and governance structures, including demand generation activities (such as intergenerational and youth dialogues and community health workers), advocacy efforts (influencing gatekeepers, young transformational leaders and youth technical working groups), and service delivery (adolescent and youth-friendly services and whole site orientation).
What Are the Benefits?
- Programs that engage youth authentically will benefit from energy and fresh perspectives into program design and implementation (PSI, 2016). By engaging youth in the decision-making process, we anticipate that appropriate attention will be given to problems that might otherwise go unnoticed by adults working independently of these key stakeholders (Dasra, 2017).
- Young people “speak the same language” as the very population that AYSRH programming targets. Peer outreach can help remove barriers to engaging youth living in urban poverty (Speizer et al., 2013). Youth can guide the tailoring of service delivery to meet their needs and take the lead in identifying and building the capacity of adolescent- and youth-friendly service providers.
- When young people are engaged in every stage of a project—from design to evaluation—they are exercising their right to participate, which encourages their buy-in to the outcomes of the project as well while providing opportunities for their professional and personal development.
ARTICLE 12 | You have the right to give your opinion, and for adults to listen and take it seriously.
ARTICLE 13 | You have the right to find out things and share what you think with others, by talking, drawing, writing or in any other way unless it harms or offends other people.
ARTICLE 14 | You have the right to choose your own religion and beliefs. Your parents should help you decide what is right and wrong, and what is best for you.
ARTICLE 15 | You have the right to choose your own friends and join or set up groups, as long as it isn’t harmful to others.
How to Implement?
When designing an effective youth program, engage a diverse group (considering gender, parity, age, marital status, socioeconomic status, and sexual identity) of youth in the program design process and throughout implementation. Their engagement should go beyond tokenism by offering youth roles and responsibilities to collect and highlight their input, as youth themselves are best placed to name the barriers and challenges they face in seeking sexual and reproductive health services, and to offer creative solutions and innovations, thus making the program more likely to succeed (IDS, 2016).
Step 1: Consult youth prior to developing a program
This will mean that youth can identify the taboos, potential barriers, and nuances that may affect program efficacy. In order to ensure that efforts are contextually responsive and appropriate, we know that a best practice is to involve end users from the outset.
Step 2: Involve youth as partners
This will ensure that all of the “right” questions are being asked during all phases of the project. This includes using participatory research methods like Photovoice and engaging youth as interviewers, advocates, champions and critical stakeholders.
Step 3: Integrate youth throughout the project lifecycle to ensure accountability
Accountability is the vital connection between policy on paper and policy in practice- it leverages civic engagement to ensure that human rights are translated into the betterment of youth’s health and well-being.
Accountability—particularly social accountability—can be empowering for youth, as it can ensure that programs for youth residing in urban environments are responsive to their needs and realities and that services remain of a high quality.
Accountability happens at various levels, from individual service providers and hospitals to national health systems and legal frameworks. Citizen participation is not just the purview of social accountability; rather, the active engagement of young people is vital for any and all accountability mechanisms to function properly. Social accountability refers to a variety of activities that citizens—including youth—and civil society organizations (CSOs) can use to hold those in authority to account. In the context of sexual and reproductive health (SRH), social accountability has also been referred to as a “set of tools citizens can use to influence the quality of service delivery by holding providers to account” (Evidence Project, 2014).
TCI‘s Francophone West Africa Hub works with Young Transformational Leaders (in French, Jeunes Leaders Transformationnels) to mobilize and monitor resources, adapt services to be youth-friendly, ensure youth participation in civil processes related to their interests, and raise awareness among youth. This approach provides an excellent example of youth engagement with local government in order to foster social accountability, institutionalize meaningful participation, build youth capacity to advocate for reproductive health needs, and ultimately act as agents of change by increasing access to reproductive health information and services.
Step 4: Institutionalize and mainstream youth participation and leadership at the organizational level
Ensure that resources necessary to support participation are in place, including buy-in at the organizational level, available mentors, compensation, pathways for continued opportunity, and space for youth-led efforts. Enable youth-serving institutions to document and share their stories, create working groups to provide guidance to the rest of the field, and support training programs for youth. Support the creation and sustainability of youth-participation platforms (institutional board quotas, national youth councils, independent youth commissioners) at all levels of government. These platforms should include a diverse group of youth, who should have a seat at the table where decisions are being made.
TCI’s Nigeria Hub embeds Life Planning for Adolescents and Youth (LPAY) Ambassadors into governance and community structures at the State and local government area (LGA) levels to ensure that youth reproductive health needs are prioritized and implemented within the broader RH program. With ongoing coaching support provided by TCI, LPAY ambassadors are able to elevate youth SRH and development issues at the community, state, and national levels and help youth advocate for their own health and wellbeing and for that of others. They work closely with TCI State teams, which allows them to not only grow their networks and build their skills, but position themselves as resources for the state and other key actors in achieving AYSRH programs. Not only do they participate in the State Technical Working Group on Adolescent and Young People’s Health and Development (STWGAYHD), but the leadership team is mandated to have a youth seat, thus institutionalizing meaningful youth participation.
Step 5: Monitor and track the impact of youth engagement
Measuring youth engagement is inherently challenging; according to YouthPower, whose guide on youth engagement and measurement indicators informs this section, it is still at a nascent stage. Indicators are best sorted into three levels: youth, program/organization, and enabling environment. At the youth level, it is important to include measurements based on data from youth themselves around their experience of connectedness, mentors, authentic decision-making, and adult-youth partnerships. To measure programs/organizations, Youth Power proposes indicators to measure institutional commitment and capacity. To assess enabling environment, use indicators to study laws/policies and community recognition. As TCI advances its work in youth engagement across all four Hubs, this information will be updated with our specific indicators and early evidence.
This is an important step in ensuring the efficacy of a program, but also in advancing the field of youth engagement (YIELD, 2018).
What Is the Evidence?
Youth participation and engagement is intrinsically difficult to measure, and common metrics are lacking. While there is limited data specifically correlating youth participation and contraceptive outcomes, especially for urban young people, several resources outline models, principles, best practices, and theories for why meaningful youth engagement and participation is crucial for sexual and reproductive health outcomes.
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- Reaching the hard-to-reach. Depending on your context, you may need to ensure that the engagement of young people from key populations is prioritized. If your program is attempting to reach “the hard to reach,” reach them before you design an entire project or program.
- Recognizing and rewarding young people’s expertise. Don’t assume that young people can design your project with you on an ongoing voluntary basis. Offer honoraria, transit reimbursements, snacks, etc. for the time they spend with you designing or improving your intervention. Make the terms of their engagement clear by drafting a simple but clear memo of understanding, so that all expectations can be managed and everyone is set up to succeed.
- Coupling youth participation with other youth-friendly service delivery approaches. Some programs will include young people in the absence of truly integrating other strategies that make services youth-friendly. It is crucial that youth participation is one strategy among many to make sure that urban young people can access services that meet their needs.
- For youth participation to be meaningful, it must employ a human rights-based approach. Meaningfully engaging young people goes beyond improving a specific health outcome. Quite simply, participation is their right.
- Ensure that feedback loops are built into the project. Are young people able to review the activities? Is their critical input taken seriously? Are they part of finding solutions to any problems that arise in the project or program? Are they able to reach their peers who are not accessing the service to determine why?
- Formal structures can replicate existing power imbalances and exclude the most marginalized. Address this by carefully examining the makeup of included groups, then prioritizing those who are under-represented.
- Young people are not homogeneous, and any youth programming must account for their differences. It’s important for implementers to plan for diversity and be adaptive and receptive to feedback about what is working and what is not working. Just because people share an age group does not mean that one program approach will work equally for all of them.
- Fully resourcing youth participation efforts. Meaningful youth participation can often require more time and resources (especially in staff time). Account for this in your budget and workplan, and make sure you build in time and space for unexpected outcomes or insights.
Tools Related to This Approach
- Young at Heart (English | French), IPPF
- Young People Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health: Toward a New Normal, Catino, J., Battistini, E., Babchek, A.
- Youth Participation Guide, UNFPA
- Youth Engagement in Development: Effective Approaches and Action-Oriented Recommendations for the Field, USAID
- Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change, Pittman, K., Martin, S., Williams, A.
- Accessing Adolescent Friendly Health Clinics in India: The Perspectives of Adolescents and Youth, Population Council (INDIA)
- Youth-adult partnerships: A training manual, The Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development, National Network for Youth, Youth Leadership Institute
- The Community Score Card, CARE
- The Role of Social Accountability in Improving Health Outcomes, USAID
- Youth Engagement Measurement & Indicators, USAID YouthPower