Are you looking to meaningfully engage young people when planning, designing, evaluating or implementing projects regarding their sexual reproductive health & rights? If so, you are at the right place! Welcome to our Four Step Journey, which offers tips on how to translate Meaningful Youth Engagement (MYE) principles into action using Human-Centered Design (HCD) approaches.
What is the Four Step Journey
This is an interactive learning product for a broad audience that outlines four steps that can be taken by practitioners and organizations to increase the engagement of young people in program design, implementation and evaluation.
We identified an opportunity to use Human-Centered Design (HCD) approaches to identify how the principle of Meaningful Youth Engagement (MYE) could be translated into tangible advice and tips for Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health (AYSRH) programs. This led to the development of the Four Step Journey. This tool was conceptualized and developed in its early stages by our Youth Leadership Hub in 2021. It is an evolving tool.
Meaningful Youth Engagement
The Global Consensus Statement on Meaningful Adolescent & Youth Engagement affirms that young people have a fundamental right to actively and meaningfully engage in all matters that affect their lives.
Human-centered design is the process of integrating human perspectives in all steps of the problem-solving process. The aim is to better understand an issue from the human perspective and focus on how it looks and feels to users within their environment and context.
Our Four Step Journey
Step 1. ENGAGE young people
Step 2. EMPATHIZE to design their experience
Step 3. EVALUATE their engagement
Step 4. EXTEND the outcome post-engagement
Learn more about how this product was developed
- The conceptualization and development of the Four Step Journey was led by the HCDEXchange’s Youth Leadership Cohort (YLH) 2021 cohort.
- The HCDExchange Secretariat along with the YLH cohort of 2021 collated findings from publicly available literature, young peoples experiences and common practices shared by experts in key informant interviews.
- These findings were used to inform and develop this practical Four Step Journey with easy to follow tips on how to engage young people in AYSRH programs.
- The YLH undertook a series of co-creation workshops with members of the HCDExchange community of practice and other youth members.
- They also undertook individual consultations with different stakeholders (designers, program implementers, youth practitioners etc) to refine the Four Step Journey. This tool has been validated and a list of contributors and reviewers can be found here.
How can you provide feedback?
To provide feedback on the tool, please contact us on: Community@hcdexchange.org
Step 1. ENGAGE young people
Reach out to young people, including those from marginalized communities
Youth involvement in program design, implementation and evaluation is challenging, and when it does happen it is often limited to those with access, agency and exposure to the programs.
It is important to engage youth from the community that your program intends to serve. In doing so, insights come directly from them.
Specific considerations should be made by practitioners when working with young people from marginalized identities. They are more likely to experience limiting factors in the broader ecosystem in which the organization operates. This difference can, at times, create barriers to youth meaningful participation, despite everyone’s best intentions. It is therefore important to ensure that participation is accessible.
Common barriers such as time, resources, distance should be taken into consideration as this can impact a young persons’ ability to contribute.
Another aspect to consider is that often young people with better skills, education and experience may be invited to participate at the program development stages. These voices may not always be representative of the context or lived experiences of those that the program is intended to target. To get to the perspectives of young people that are representative, there are some practical steps that organizations can take to help overcome barriers to participation.
We can address such challenges by reaching out to young people where they are. This may involve using varying recruitment and engagement channels and intentionally selecting young people who are most vulnerable to the challenge.
Identify and understand the barriers (operational and social) to young people’s participation
There are a myriad of barriers – both operational and social – that can prevent young people from being able to meaningfully participate.
Operational barriers may include: existing responsibilities, unsuitable hours, limited digital or internet access, freedom of movement, ability to travel, and language barriers, among others.
To overcome some of these barriers the following could be considered: Provision of fair compensation, leveraging organizational resources to minimize skill gaps, adapt to young people’s work and roles to suit them and accommodate times and places that enable them to participate.
Social barriers arise from the external environment of young people. For example, the threat of being outed may prevent queer youth from engaging in conversations around their sexual health, or lack of community support may discourage engagement of young women. Often, the very stigma of SRH challenges that programs aim to tackle can prevent youth from engaging at the onset.
Programs can refer to and apply organizational safeguarding policies, train partners who work with young people, create safe spaces to enable youth participation, and acknowledge young people’s lived experiences throughout the engagement.
Articulate the value of young people’s participation to them
Young people and their caregivers are more likely to invest in opportunities that advance their goals, interests and personal development.
Young people may not always have decision-making powers regarding their engagement. They may require permissions from their caregivers or guardians to be able to engage. To do so, they need to be able to articulate the importance of their participation, the unique value they can bring to the project and how it helps them progress.
To help young people (and their guardians, if necessary) understand the role they will play, clearly articulate their role and how it will contribute to their personal goals as well as the broader program objectives. If possible, support your claim with proof of results from a similar context. You may also seek the help of existing allies in the community to advocate for youth participation.
Develop indicators to assess engagement against shared goals
Young people’s ideas about what makes an engagement meaningful may differ from how this is defined by a program.
Therefore collaboratively articulating what success means in terms of youth engagement may help teams stay accountable to meaningful youth engagement by viewing it as a target in and of itself. It is worth remembering that youth engagement can be a goal, as well as a process for programs.
To assess youth engagement, organizations can develop robust Monitoring and Evaluation frameworks for youth engagement in consultation with youth. This may involve:
- Setting indicators that are disaggregated by sex, age and socio-economic status.
- Assessing both the quality and level of youth engagement
- Creating checkpoints within the program cycle to assess progress towards agreed indicators could also be useful.
Plan resources for youth engagement
because high quality meaningful youth engagement requires intentionality and resources.
Organizations may sometimes struggle to achieve meaningful youth engagement. They may be working with short timelines and stretched resources that do not allow for meaningful engagement of young people. They may also not possess all the skills to effectively bring out young people’s talents and contributions. The program budget may be too limited to recruit and retain a diverse group of young people throughout the program cycle.
To allocate resources for youth engagement, programs can assign a portion of the program timeline, program budget and human resources specifically to youth engagement, and build dedicated resources and necessary capacity required for this commitment.
Step 2. EMPATHISE to DESIGN their experience
Be aware of power imbalances that may influence participation
Power imbalances can influence how meaningful participation plays out. In order to leverage the most out of getting young people to participate, being aware of the differing power dynamics between adults and young people is a first step. Finding ways to share decision-making power can be a useful way to address this challenge. This can even be extended to awareness of our own biases which may risk affecting working relationships with young people. By noticing biases and their effect, we have the opportunity to promote equity.
In many HCD+ASRH programs, youth experience remains limited to the collection components of divergent phases (research and ideation). For the research phase this may mean only contributing to data collection within a predetermined methodology (interviews/transcription). For the ideation phase, participation may be limited to generating early ideas or rough prototypes. Youth participants are often excluded from the convergent phases (synthesis, shortlisting ideas), where key decisions that impact the scope and share of the solution are made (setting priorities, defining priority problem statements, deciding which prototype to invest in advancing). Such limited participation does not afford young people the power to influence the project’s trajectory.
To address this, programs could be more intentional about including young people in decision-making at different levels. For example, this could range from everyday choices, allocation of resources and budget, and program goals. Organizations should use participatory tools to facilitate equitable decision-making, help youth build their network to grow their social capital, and test out youth recommendations that may align with the project objective.
Create an inclusive and enabling environment for young people to participate
The idea that young people can best represent the needs of those like them, can sometimes limit their engagement to doing just that.
If they are engaging with an HCD+ASRH program for the first time, they may feel apprehensive about suggesting solutions or expressing their ideas.
Programs can use plain language and participatory techniques, provide chances for independent decision-making and expression of opinions, and have adult support in place to assist when it is solicited.
Identify opportunities for young people to showcase their skills within the program
because young people seek opportunities to discover and demonstrate their skills and aptitudes.
For many young people, formal engagement with any organization is a chance to grow professionally and develop a strong skill set that can help them in future careers. Guidance and mentorship can not only enrich youth engagement by boosting their interest, but can also build strong foundations for youth leadership within the organization.
To help young people in this area, programs can budget and plan activities that develop professional and personal skills and build leadership, identify opportunities for young people to coordinate important tasks, facilitate sessions and even mentor others.
Step 3. EVALUATE their engagement & iterate
Facilitate the expression of honest, critical feedback throughout the program cycle
because young people may feel intimidated to give critical feedback out of fear of negative consequences.
When program teams comprise mainly adults, power imbalances based on age and experience can arise unintentionally. Young people may not feel confident in providing critical feedback to their supervisors or colleagues. If the young participants are new to the field, they may inhibited due to their lack of experience. All of these factors can create an environment that prevents young people from voicing their thoughts about the development of a solution or program.
To facilitate a transparent feedback process, organizations can explore different feedback mechanisms to see what works for young people. Avoid using only objective questions, provide options for anonymous feedback, and supplement formal feedback with observations and informal conversations.
Ensure that evaluation indicators are consistent with young people’s priorities
because young people’s priorities may not always align with those of organizations.
HCD+ASRH programs are developed to achieve specific outcomes as defined by the program proposals. Sometimes when program activities commence, implementers discover that young people may need help with a completely different SRH issue. If indicators are designed to track only how many young people were engaged, they may not capture where, how often, or how meaningfully the engagement happened.
To mitigate these challenges, allies can co-create indicators with young people, get feedback on how the indicators are measured, and regularly evaluate the relevance of indicators, & iterate as per changing priorities.
Take action on feedback provided by young people
Because the feedback process can be tokenistic if not followed up with action.
Ensuring that there are structures and processes to incorporate youth feedback is good practice. Showcasing that action has been taken based on feedback provided by young people goes a long way in keeping them inspired and motivated to contribute.
To bridge the gap between feedback and action, organizations can create channels of communication beyond the engagement, iterate on youth engagement during the program, and develop indicators to follow up on feedback given.
Step 4. EXTEND post-engagement
Document and recognize young peoples contributions
Because contributions can often be difficult to recall and appreciate if not documented well, which may leave young people discouraged.
Young people may determine the meaningfulness of their engagement by assessing the influence of their contributions. After a long period of engagement in a program, they and others may lose track of their contributions if the processes are not well-documented. Sometimes, it may not even be directly evident to young people or other stakeholders exactly how their contributions influenced the program. The value of some contributions may become evident after the completion of the program engagement.
Programs can document progress and contributions.
Learn from young peoples experience to make regular adaptations to how MYE is practiced
Because making changes to MYE practice based on feedback from young people involved will strengthen it and improve overall satisfaction of young people.
Since MYE is driven by the context of organizational structures and programs, a one-size fits all process may not always work. Developing a responsive MYE practice that enables youth feedback and encourages adapting MYE processes to align with that feedback, can be motivating for young people.
To achieve this, organizations and programs can set up feedback structures that capture learnings from young people. These can be used to develop adaptations and improvements to the program on an ongoing basis.
Deliver on the value and beneficial outcomes established at the beginning of the engagement
Because young people may have prioritized their engagement with the expectations of specific outcomes and benefits promised at the onset.
Due to organizational limitations and barriers, young people may sometimes not get the mentorship, depth of involvement, and opportunities that were initially promised to them resulting in their expectations not being met.
To ensure you have fulfilled all promises, revisit terms outlined in contracts or MOUs, and take feedback from them to identify any unmet expectations.
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