Adults Researching Youth IS NOT Youth Voice

One day your organization decided to create a survey to ask youth what they thought about their communities. You called this a “Youth Voice Project”. However, just because an adult decides something is youth voice doesn’t make it so. While it is true that youth voice is any expression of a young person about anything (Fletcher, 2005), it is equally true that youth voice is not adults determining what young people care about.

Let’s be clear:

  • Adult research studies of youth are not youth voice.
  • Adult-created surveys delivered by adults are not youth voice.
  • Adult-created surveys delivered by youth are not youth voice.
  • Adults using youth to present adult-led research about youth is not youth voice.
What does constitute youth voice in research? Participatory action research, or PAR, relies on youth/adult partnerships in order to identify research questions, create research tools, execute studies, and assess data. This is youth voice in research. Youth-led research is youth voice in research. Even youth using adult-led research about youth is youth voice, so long as youth are interpreting the data.
However, that last example is starting to peel a stinky onion. Since we know that one youth doesn’t represent all youth, we know that even data gathered by youth, for youth, from youth isn’t going to be interpreted “right”. There will be discrepancies that represent bias or subjectivity. The the middle class white suburban youth isn’t going to be wholly effective at extrapolating meaning in data collected from low-income youth of color in working class neighborhoods. This is the nature of research though, and some flaws are inherent in any process.
Learn more about youth-led research at and remember: Adults researching youth is NOT youth voice!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

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