Failures in Meaningfully Engaging Young People

Since A360’s start, we’ve committed to working alongside young people as equal project partners – and to rely on their insights to continually improve programming.

In design, we collected data, analyzed, prototyped, and made decisions alongside young designers.

In implementation, we hired some of our designers to join our staff as permanent decision-makers alongside our teams.

Still, we knew that more could be done to ensure that youth perspectives were driving decisions at the frontlines of implementation.

We tried routine qualitative monitoring – ensuring that we came away with data and perspectives from youth as part of our routine site supervision. But after several quarters, our team realized they needed something faster and easier – and in real-time.

We didn’t want to give up on our efforts to advance MYE. But we had to find a way to adapt MYE to meet our logistical needs.

In Tanzania, we launched a youth “SWAT” team made up of young people we recruit and train to act as on-site “eyes” into implementation quality from the perspective of adolescents.  (*Our use of SWAT is a play on the acronym for the 1964 specialized unit in the Philadelphia Police Department!)

The goal is for our SWAT team members to authentically represent girls’ experiences at our events and use their observations and real-time conversations with girls to make recommendations to our regional and central teams about how to optimize our implementation. 

Adjustments are quick, and directly enhance the consumer experience. It’s a useful innovation to support adolescentresponsive programming and is in line with PSI’s commitment to consumer-powered healthcare. 

How it worked.

In Tanzania, A360’s Kuwa Mjanja follows two models: one where we host pop-up, girls-only events in communities, and the other in which we embed our activities within a clinic.

But the challenge with the latter lies in how we continue to deliver a girl-powered experience in a setting that is not tailored to girls alone.  

For example, during one of our clinic events, a SWAT team member observed that girls were entering the event through the front of the clinic, where all clients enter – and then wait – for services. While girls hadn’t reported this as an issue, our SWAT team member quickly observed a way to improve girls’ experiences by working with the facility to re-route their client flow. The SWAT team member shot a note on WhatsApp commenting on her observation; A360 Young Designers responded immediately – how about having adults enter from the back of the clinic, instead? 

And just like that, the adaptation was implemented, and the kink in programming was caught real-time. All because a young SWAT team member – who can really step into the lived experiences of the girls we serve – had the authority and tools to flag the issue and course correct with us. 

Since bringing the SWAT team on board, more young people are now a continuous part of our adult-youth partnerships for program quality improvement. (The team started with 10 SWAT team members from June to August 2019. By September, the team restructured to work with three SWAT team members and two c, who are being trained to become full-time A360 Young Designers;).

Plus, we’re seeing local government partners joining us in building our youth leader’s skills and confidence to help drive forward program improvements.

That’s failure to learn from.

We’re continually evolving what it looks like to meaningfully – and authentically – engage young people.

That’s why through A360 we are:

  • Grappling with what it takes to consistently engage young people throughout A360’s life cycle;
  • Adapting how we staff up to ensure that young people’s experiences inform A360’s journey to scale;
  • Challenging our notions of what youth-adult partnerships look like, and how we can continue evolving to make it valuable, for young people and “adults” alike.

Want to learn more? Our Q&A with A360’s MYE champions offers insight.