Opportunities for youth: Tangible steps towards meaningful governance of health futures by Brian Li Han Wong

Today’s youth are growing up in an increasingly digital world, with 70% of all youth globally being connected to the internet. Yet, not all youth have the civic and digital literacy skills necessary to effectively navigate and understand the intricate complexities of the digital environments they immerse themselves in.
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Moreover, due to digital divides and underlying socio-politico-economic factors, not all youth are necessarily afforded opportunities to be engaged with the digital transformations constantly taking place around them. While increasing digitalisation does present certain risks to the health and well-being of youth, there are also opportunities to harness such digital transformations. Such opportunities include but are not limited to improving youths’ access to services and information as well as creating new platforms for communication, learning, self-expression, and civic participation.

Youth involvement is central to the Commission’s work

The Lancet and Financial Times Commission entitled Governing Health Futures 2030: Growing up in a digital world (hereafter: GHFutures2030, or The Commission) is focused on improving and safeguarding the health and well-being of children and young people. Operating with an ethos of sustainability and within a human rights-based approach to health framework, the Commission believes that for digital technologies to be governed with health futures in mind, it is crucial that youth have access to opportunities to be involved as key change agents in the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of policies, programmes, services, and tools involving the use of digital health technologies.

As a dynamic demographic with varied direct and indirect lived experiences of digital environments, youth are well-placed to contribute to policy- and decision-making processes. While there have been calls from youth for meaningful enfranchisement and agency in digital health governance, there remains much to be achieved. In particular, inclusion and equity in governance/decision-making processes have surfaced as a recurring emphasis from stakeholders across the Commission’s work. The Commission has noted increasing recognition of the importance of active youth participation, inclusion, and acknowledgement of the heterogeneity of youth in order to positively shape the futures of health governance.

Four ways the Commission has collaborated with youth

This blog showcases four key examples of how the Commission and the Secretariat have strategically engaged youth throughout the Commission’s work and the ways in which it hopes to further such involvement post report launch. First, the Commission set up several work streams to include youth voices including funding to support the establishment of a dedicated Youth Team to facilitate the amplification of youth voices, a novel practice for commissions of a similar nature.

Secondly, throughout its report drafting period, the Commission carried out several youth consultations, comprising: a global UReport survey, focus groups with 12 to 18-year-olds, and interviews with key populations, including those living and working in humanitarian settings. Moreover, in January and February 2021, the Commission organised a two-part youth consultation hosted by Wilton Park. The consultation convened twenty-six participants representing twenty-three global youth networks. The aim of the consultation was to answer the question, ‘what do youth want to see in the future of health governance'. The consultation created space to hear from youth as to how they identify as a group, understand their main concerns and proposed solutions with respect to the digital transformations in health, and allowed Commissioners to hear from youth directly on the health futures they want. From this discussion, Commissioners were able to ask questions and discuss key concerns with youth to help inform the final report. Additionally, the main output of these discussions is a standalone Youth Statement and Call for Action that will be published alongside the Commission report, set to launch in October 2021.

Thirdly, to facilitate diverse youth participation in the work of the Commission, Co-chair, Prof Ilona Kickbusch, launched the GHFutures2030 Youth Network as a platform to co-create and co-lead future research, advocacy, and dissemination of the report. Individuals and organisations alike are invited to commit to collaborate. The aims of the Network are to build a movement dedicated to digital health governance inspired by the needs of children and young people, generating dialogues, events, and actions that are co-designed and co-governed for and with youth. To join the GHFutures2030 Youth Network please follow this link.

Lastly, the Commission supports direct contributions from youth and has recently released a call for youth blogs for a special thematic series titled Health futures: Youth voices at the forefront of digital health governance. Youth are invited to submit op-ed pieces (addressing what they specifically hope to get from the Commission report and what is needed to continue advocating for the governance of health futures) as well as case studies regarding their lived experiences and work related to digital transformations, health, and governance. The deadline for the initial round of submissions is 30th July at 11.59 pm CEST.

Future opportunities for youth engagement

The Commission is excited about the ways in which youth will act as key change agents and advocates for its report recommendations. Its forthcoming podcast series will engage youth in conversations with the Co-chairs and Commissioners on various aspects of the Commission’s work and key findings of the report. In doing so, it will provide a platform for discussion on specific thematic areas of interest as well as highlight ways to engage with and advocate for the report recommendations after the launch. Ultimately, the aim of the podcast is to facilitate online and offline discussion, generating additional food for thought, recommendations, and/or calls to action from both experienced and youth experts alike.

In conclusion, the Commission has identified and employed several examples of good practices for meaningfully engaging with and providing opportunities for youth. Digital health governance should be co-designed and co-governed for and with youth to drive forward the agenda of achieving desired health futures for all. The Commission plans to continue involving youth in all our current and future policy, advocacy, and research workstreams. In doing so, we plan to leverage our established partnerships with the Big Six youth organisations – who are currently carrying out the “Global Youth Mobilization for Generation Disrupted” project – and other global youth organisations/coalitions (e.g. YET4H, the WHO’s Global Health Workforce Network (GHWN) Youth Hub, and the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA)) as well as foster new partnerships through our forthcoming youth network.

The Commission urges other key stakeholders in the digital health space to create more strategic opportunities for youth involvement, particularly given International Youth Day is just around the corner (August 12). Youth, stay tuned for opportunities to get involved in our work, as there are many exciting opportunities in the pipeline!