Youth Participation & Engagement

This toolkit builds on the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) definition of youth-centered programming, which is:

Encouraging young people to think, question, explore and search for answers, and in doing so they may be empowered to transform their lives and to influence the cultural context and local power dynamics that affect their lives. It is also deeply informed by the 2018 report entitled Young People Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health: Towards a New Normal.

We adopt YIELD’s understanding of youth engagement, as follows: Processes through which young people realize their rights by influencing and sharing control over AYSRH initiatives and the decisions and resources which affect them.

When designing an effective youth program, implementers should engage a diverse group (considering gender, parity, marital status, socioeconomic status, sexual identity) of youth in the program design process and throughout the course of implementation. Their engagement should go beyond tokenism, by offering youth roles and responsibilities to collect and bring to the forefront 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).

Meaningful youth engagement invites young people 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 their familiar beneficiary role), 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, which include demand generation activities (such as youth dialogue days), advocacy efforts (youth technical working groups), and service delivery. Youth serve as important resources in health provider trainings for adolescent and youth-friendly services and as researchers to inform the development of content for digital health interventions.

Program designers and implementers must do their best to understand urban young people’s realities, including by working in direct partnership with them and creating space for their voices to be integrated into every step of the program. This means viewing adolescents and young people as agents navigating a range of social, economic and political factors in their daily lives, rather than merely as program beneficiaries.

What Are the Benefits?

  • In addition to bringing energy and fresh perspectives into program design and implementation (PSI, 2016), young people can infuse insight into their worldsat any stage of program design, implementation, and evaluation. By engaging young people in the decision-making process, we hope 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 tend to “speak the same language” as the very population that adolescent / youth programming is trying to target. Peer outreach can help to remove barriers to engagement of 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 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 and provides opportunity for their professional and personal development.
  • Young people need to trust the adults and their institutions in order for their collaboration to be meaningful. Adult allies must build trustby engaging young people throughout the process, prioritizing their perspective by demonstrating (not just saying) that their input is crucial, offering mentorship and the appropriate supports, and making sure young people are taken seriously. Essential to unlocking adolescent and youth potential is the creation of supportive environments for training, learning, and participation, as youth, especially those who have been marginalized, require safe physical and emotional spaces (YIELD, 2018).
Convention on the Rights of the Child: Rights to participation

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?

Consult young people prior to developing a program

This will mean that young people can identify the taboos, potential barriers and nuances that may have an effect on program efficacy. In order to ensure that efforts are contextually responsive and appropriate, we know that best practice is to involve the end-users from the outset.

Partner with young people as researchers

This will ensure that all of the “right” questions are being asked. This includes using participatory research methods like PhotoVoice and engaging young people as interviewers.

Integrate young people throughout the project lifecycle to ensure accountability

This means that young people are informing the research question, design of the activities, engagement with partners, feedback mechanisms and the analysis of the feedback.  

Institutionalize and mainstream young people’s participation and leadership at the organizational level

Ensure the 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 young people and they should have a seat at the table where decisions are being made.

Monitor and track the impact of youth engagement; this is an important step in ensuring the efficacy of a program, but also in advancing the field of youth engagement. (YIELD, 2018)

You will find tips on how to effectively engage young people in all of the proven and promising approaches outlined in this toolkit.

What Is the Evidence?

Youth participation and engagement is inherently difficult to measure and common metrics are lacking. While there are few data specifically correlating youth participation and contraceptive outcomes, especially for urban young people, there are several resources that 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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Helpful Tips

  • 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 approachMeaningfully 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?

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Challenges

  • 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.

References

See a listing of all AYSRH references.