Establish Common GroundAdolescent sexual health and behavior is usually a topic of some controversy in communities. For some community members, the topic of teens and sex raises communication barriers that are difficult to overcome. A more promising approach might be to address adolescent health and well-being in more general terms. Reframing is the keyword here. By talking about the tasks of adolescence (PDF: 139K), and risk taking as part of normal adolescent development, you may create an opening to discuss goals that all can agree on. You may find that you are able to collaborate on goals related to healthy youth development, such as giving young people the tools to make healthy decisions, build positive relationships, and develop education and career goals -- all of which have real impact on teen pregnancy and sexual health. As part of the reframing approach, you may want to rename your local initiative or advisory group. A Teen Pregnancy Prevention Taskforce might turn into Healthy Teens Now or Adolescent Health Alliance.
Clarify ObjectivesA critical first step is to clarify the objectives of your community effort. Are you trying to get evidence-based sex education programs into the local schools? Increase access to local reproductive health care services? Educate parents about ways to communicate with their teens or pre-teens? Create more youth development opportunities?
Identifying clear objectives will steer your outreach efforts, and help you broaden your idea of potential community partners. To go beyond the "usual suspects," you might want to review the asset-based community development approach, focusing on Community Resources Assessment. This will help you identify new partners. It will also give you an asset lens to look through. You will be more successful if you can build on partners' personal and organizational assets (PDF: 81K).
Make a PlanYou might want to be strategic, answering the questions below before you act.
- Whom do you want to engage? Be specific.
- Why would they engage? What's in it for them?
- Where will you find them?
- How will you approach them? And who is your best messenger? You might designate the initial outreach or contact to someone with a personal connection to the community stakeholder you want to engage. Remember -- relationships are key!
- What is your core message? Think "elevator speech."
- What will you ask of them? Be flexible! Ideally, participation will not be limited to attending regular coalition meetings. Parents or businesses, for example, can make great contributions to your community effort though they might not be able to attend meetings.