How do you learn in a virtual space while still keeping it interesting?
That is the question the Johns Hopkins Center for Programs’ Knowledge SUCCESS project and FP2030 set out to tackle 18 months ago when thinking through ideas for what would later become Connecting Conversations, a series of timely discussions on adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH).
The series grew out of a desire to share experiences and break down traditional barriers between participants and “experts,” driven by the needs and knowledge gaps of those who work most closely with young people. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers had to be creative to enable people to really connect with one another.
Many of the conversations came back to how important it is to meaningfully involve youth in the design, implementation and accountability mechanisms of health systems and programs. For example, responding to a question on how to ensure that providers continue to be responsive to adolescents’ needs as they age, Angela Murikui from Save the Children said: “If health systems came up with their own way of doing things, would adolescents agree with what we are saying are their priorities and needs?” It is imperative, she said, to include young people when making important decisions about their health.
Another recurring theme was the need to engage and consider the many different contexts and influencers that inform a young person’s life, including their own gender or sexual identities, their parents, their community, their religious affiliation and more. As Jesse Castelano from IYAFP Philippines said during a session on the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people from sexual and gender minorities: “There are unique family experiences related to sexual orientations and gender identities that may have a positive effect … or a negative effect” on the health of young people.
Many speakers highlighted the need for integrated programs that meet a wider range of health and social needs of young people. Andrea Padilla from the International Youth Foundation stressed the importance of integrating AYSRH into other sectors of programming. “This approach has given us the opportunity to not only tackle a specific issue,” she said, “but also to look at different actors that are not in our own sector that might be super strategic to involve in our work. It can help us provide better outcomes and better services for our young people.”
Each virtual session, which included young people and older people who work in the youth space, was designed around a casual moderated discussion between speakers with a diverse range of perspectives including researchers, program implementers and technical experts from global, national and local organizations and donors.
“Usually, during a virtual event, the Q&A part is left until the end after presentations, but we wanted the Q&A piece to be integral to the format so participants felt like there was time and space to engage with the speakers in a more interactive way,” says CCP’s Sarah Harlan, partnerships team lead on the Knowledge SUCCESS project. “Then, it became not an event where the participants are talked at, but one where they were included in the conversation.”
Over the course of 21 sessions spanning 18 months, more than 1,000 participants from more than 75 countries around the world joined Knowledge SUCCESS and FP2030.
If you missed the series, or want to look back on some of the many important insights (there were many!), you can read blog post recaps on the Knowledge SUCCESS site or watch session recordings on FP2030’s YouTube channel in English or French.