How to navigate youth-adult power imbalance in human-centered design in adolescent and youth sexual reproductive health (HCD+AYSRH) interventions to inform better programme outcomes for youth

Aug 20, 2022


Sanjukta Das

Creative Lead, Dalberg Deisgn (Mumbai)

Christabel Netondo

Fellowship coordinator Billion Girls CoLab,

Jariatu Rugiatu Sillah

Youth Panelist Takura Program, Purposeful

Susan Towett (Facilitator)

Youth Engagement Officer, HCDExchange

MaqC Eric Gitau (Moderator)

Former HCDExchange Project Director

What are programs missing out on when youth are not engaged meaningfully?

– Yashi Jain, Dasra



  • When young people are not engaged meaningfully, programs miss critical youth perspectives that can directly lead to better solutions and outcome.
    Young people have the best understanding of their own challenges, desires and what influences their decisions.
  • Without their input, there is a risk of putting time and resources into developing and implementing interventions that do not address young people’s needs.
  • Not designing and implementing with young people can drain resources and time towards less impactful programs, and less sustainable solutions.

Proven practices to navigate youth-adult power dynamics

– Christabel Netondo, Billion Girls CoLab



  •  Plan on engaging youth: plan program goals with young people, define structures for engagement, collaboratively with young people and outline the rules of engagement.
  • Create and foster an enabling environment:
    1. Define and train young people on communication and information sharing.
    2. Make space for vertical mentorship and upskilling to fill knowledge gaps
    3. Strengthen organizational capacity to better engage young people.
    4. Conduct power sharing exercises.
  • Organizations can also consider developing youth engagement guidelines to help adults navigate power imbalances.

HCD in Power Dynamics

 – Jariatu Rugiatu Sillah, Youth Panelist, Purposeful



  • HCD helps break conscious and unconscious biases that adults make while working with young people without intentional frameworks. HCD helps question assumptions and co-create with the end users (young people).
  • HCD also promotes working with young people as equal partners in programs.
  • HCD relies on understanding the needs of the end user, and involves them throughout the entire process. It also allows for testing and iterations for the end user, hence promoting adaptability.

Key Points

  • Adult practitioners have a role to play in youth centered programs in the following ways:
    – Create enabling spaces and also empower young people to own those spaces
    – Recognize and show value for the contribution of youth by making use of their ideas in order to give the youth a sense of belonging.
    – Provide mentorship and build the capacity of young people
    – Create spaces and advocate for the inclusion of young people in internal processes
    – Amplify the voices of youth in their programming decision
  • Meaningful engagement of young people can yield impactful solutions and create better program outcomes.
  • The best way of planning youth engagement is at the beginning.
    Creating youth engagement guidelines and strategies is a best practice.
  • HCD provides a conscious mechanism of consciously developing a youth engagement strategy, building trust with young people, and iteration of engagement strategies.

Follow-up Questions

  • How can implementers work with young people from the early stages of project proposal development to ensure that their views, and perspectives are embedded in the programs?
  • Is there step by step guidance material on how to plan for youth engagement?
  • What are the implications of shifting power dynamics on parent organization’s policy beyond the programs?