This paper presents the findings, shares the methodology and outlines the benefits of a multi-country participatory research process on a unique data source: stories about HIV and AIDS written by young Africans. Between 1997 and 2005, more than 105,000 young people from 37 countries participated in competitions inviting them to think up storylines for short fiction films to educate their communities about HIV and AIDS as part of the 'Scenarios from Africa' communication process. The winning stories were selected by juries made up of: PLWH and other local specialists in prevention, treatment and care; former contest winners and other young people; and communication specialists, including the top African directors, who went on to transform the ideas into short films. In 2005, over 200 jurors selected 30 winners from the 22,894 stories submitted that year by 63,327 contest participants. After reading around 200 stories each and participating in the selection process, jurors compiled their observations and recommendations. The jurors' findings reveal notable persistent shortcomings in existing communication efforts and identify key emerging needs. In some areas, they show remarkable consistency across the continent. Jurors view this as a powerful needs assessment, networking and capacity building process that motivates action.