Transitions: Community Participation
Volume 14, No. 3, April 2002
This Transitions is also available in [PDF] format.
A Rights. Respect. Responsibility.® Paradigm
By Debra Hauser, MPH, Vice President, Advocates for Youth
We must never merely … provide people with programs which have little or nothing to do with their own preoccupations, doubts, hopes, and fears … It is not our role to speak to people about our own view of the world, nor to attempt to impose that view on them, but rather to dialogue with the people about their view and ours.
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
This Transitions focuses on community participation, a movement in the public health field that respects the rights and responsibility of community members—including youth—to diagnose the causes of a community problem and to actively engage in designing, implementing, and evaluating strategies to address the problem. Community participation can be a vital strategy that helps shift the ways in which communities deal with adolescents and their sexual health as community adults partner with young people and with program planners to create appropriate solutions to community problems. For example, when planning a program to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in adolescents, youth and others in the community partner with program planners to identify the causes and extent of the problem. Together, they design and implement strategies to reduce adolescent STI rates in the community.
Community participation is a partnership. The program planner and the community members, including youth, have knowledge and expertise related to the issue. The program planner knows how to facilitate the process and can help community members analyze the problem, such as identifying factors that contribute to high STI rates among young people. The program planner provides the tools and suggests strategies to collect information to help diagnose the cause and extent of the problem. The planner also has professional knowledge of the reproductive and sexual health field, including best practices in teen pregnancy and STI/HIV prevention.
Community adults are important partners in the process, bringing community perspectives to the issue. They are experts in the community's culture and priorities. They understand the community's resources and constraints. During the process of community mobilization, they often become more knowledgeable about adolescent sexual health and more vested in identifying and implementing successful strategies to help young people stay healthy. The process itself helps the community to take ownership of both the problem and the solutions. In so doing, community mobilization also improves program success and sustainability.
Youth's participation as equal partners in this process is essential. Young people should be intimately involved in any community mobilization strategy. Youth have the right and the responsibility to help diagnose a problem that affects them. Community participation respects young people's unique ability to guide the community in understanding how the environment influences youth's reproductive and sexual health behaviors. Youth are also uniquely able to look at the best practices and to identify which strategies might have the strongest impact on their decisions and, consequently, on their health. Youth share responsibility for shaping the programs that will affect them. They gain a vital opportunity to learn, to act as leaders, and to earn respect for themselves and their peers. When young people are respected and have a meaningful part in the process, their lives are profoundly affected. Young people who are active in community mobilization often become powerful leaders for adolescent reproductive and sexual health in their communities.
Community Participation—A Strategy for Program Development
Community participation is a strategy that can be used to help program planners appropriately and effectively address issues in adolescent sexual health. The process of community participation respects the rights and responsibility of community members to diagnose causes of a community problem and to actively engage in designing, implementing, and evaluating programs that are intended to improve the problem.
In this edition of Transitions, you will read of communities in Burkina Faso, Malawi, Nepal, Peru, and the United States that have successfully employed community participation. Results include:
- Culturally appropriate prevention and intervention strategies
- Increased community understanding of adolescent reproductive and sexual health
- Sustained community investment in adolescent sexual health programming
- Long-lasting partnerships between youth and adults, and
- Young people taking leadership roles.
Next Chapter: Community Participation: What Is It?
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Transitions (ISSN 1097-1254) © 2002, is a quarterly publication of Advocates for Youth—Helping young people make safe and responsible decisions about sex. For permission to reprint, contact Transitions' editor at 202.419.3420.
Editor: Sue Alford