4 Learnings About Getting Curious, With and For Young People

This blog series is a part of the A360 Open Source, a treasure chest of learnings and tools that you can apply as we work, together, to drive youth-powered sexual and reproductive health breakthroughs.

Dear Future Implementers,

A360 was never about arriving at the table with a solution in hand.

If you, like us, believe it better to seek than prescribe, and are willing to go where young people take you, you’re in the right place.

From the get go, we’ve harnessed curiosity and flexibility—empathy and a willingness to grow and learn from the young people we work with and for.

That’s what makes A360 different. Through an approach that fuses a diversity of disciplines together in partnership with young people, we’ve set aside what we, public health practitioners, deem as important for adolescents and youth. Rather, we work with young people as co-decision makers to develop the solutions that serve them.

A360’s inquiry phase has left our team with a treasure chest of learnings that you, too, can apply. Here are four fresh insights you can use today.

1. Work as a team to identify when to step back so others have space to step in.

A central element of A360 is youth engagement. How would we make this work? They need to be in the room, part of the conversation, or this won’t work,” — Metsehate Ayenekulu, A360 Ethiopia Project Director, PSI/Ethiopia

Get strategic about teaching the right things to the right people; establish roles within the teams and train team members on their “superpowers,” and build in more practice times to get the teams more comfortable with the process before going out into the field.

Eager to hear how bringing young people into the mix influences teams? A360 Nigeria Susan Oluwafemi Meleki offers her insight:

2. Ensure young people feel heard, respected and safe.

“Our community is still wrestling with this — what if ‘fresh eyes’ also means a lack of understanding of ethics and best practices public health?” —Ahna Suleiman, Adolescent Development Scientists

Working in partnership with young people sparks innovation. But without proper guardrails in place, the process can put at risk young people’s safety and wellbeing. Our work, therefore, starts by ensuring that we respect, balance power with, and do no harm to the young people we work with and for.

The Commitment to Ethics in Youth-Powered Program Design guides our work. Dive into the Commitment’s core pillars, and then consider signing on.

3. Get creative when hiring folks under age 18.

“The ideation phase was so new for all of us. We had so many resources that we could refer to, but it was very hard for us to question our assumptions and existing knowledge to innovate. Hard, frustrating—but excitin,.” —Bethlehem Mulushoa, A360 Smart Start Senior Insight Coordinator, PSI/Ethiopia

Getting youth-powered isn’t without its roadblocks. We face operational challenges, including human resource laws that forbid age-specific hiring in some countries. Like many, we also struggle with employee and volunteer attrition as well as time constraints of young people.

Step by step, the AYSRH field is uncovering solutions to surmount the challenges — and we’re sharing them with you, here.

4. Getting user-centered is time and resource intensive. But the juice is worth the squeeze.

“This project was co-designed by young people with young people. I truly believe you get better from this inclusion. We didn’t go in with a pre-set focus group of questions. It’s a lot of seeking. Some of the insights have given us a new perspective. For example — we learned not to tie contraception to sexual activity.” —Amy Uccello, SR. AYSRH Technical Advisor, PSI

Since launching in 2016, and through our journey to scale and beyond, 280+ young people have injected their insights, perspectives and vision into how we, collectively, are reimagining the future of adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health programming.

Our young designers are trailblazers. But don’t take it from us. Hear from our youngest visionaries, here.

Young people infuse our work with fresh, and valuable perspective when we make space for them to take the lead. Getting youth-powered during inquiry forces us to truly listen, to honor our youngest team members as experts of their own lived experiences and trust that, together, we can transform the future of youth-powered healthcare. 

Want more? Get going by diving into the A360 Open Source’s Inquiry Phase, here.