Assessing Youth Involvement

One of the most important questions that is never asked in the youth voice movement is “Which youth are listened to?”, which includes “Which youth are involved?”

When you look at the young people in your program, organization, or community who are “involved”, what do they look like? What do they act like? What attitudes or opinions do they share? Inherent in this is the question of authenticity, as in, “How much does youth involvement represent what youth actually think?” All these are critical questions that have to be answered before, during, and after a youth involvement activity, program, or organization is underway.

To help people think more deliberately about these questions, I generally break down all Youth Voice with four simple questions for teachers, youth workers, and youth themselves. I encourage people to answer these questions with radical honesty and transparency.

Remember that Youth Voice is defined as any expression of young people, including their ideas, reflections, actions, opinions, knowledge, and wisdom.

Essential Questions for Youth Voice

1. Who is the Youth Voice activity, program or organization for?

Our Activity is for Traditionally Involved Youth…

  • Are involved in many youth leadership or youth involvement activities
  • Represent adult opinions through parroting or mimicry
  • Are typically motivated by adult acknowledgment
  • Settle for mediocre or negative forms of involvement, including decoration, tokenism, and manipulation
Our Activity is for Non-traditionally Involved Youth…
  • Do not become involved in formal school, organizational, or community involvement activities
  • Represent their own opinions, or do not share their voices at all
  • Are typically not motivated by adult acknowledgment
  • If they commit, when they commit, they are motivated by their own interest rather than extrinsic rewards
  • If they become involved, they are generally self-motivated to become involved
What is the Youth Voice activity, program, or organization for?

Our Activity is for Convenient Youth Voice…
  • The outcomes are predictable: youth generally say what adults want them to, how adults want them to say it, where adults expect them to say it, when they’re expected to say it, from who can be expected to say it.

Our Activity is for Inconvenient Youth Voice…

  • Young people are encouraged to represent their most radically honest opinions, ideas, actions, and wisdom
  • Adults are encouraged to simply listen to Youth Voice without needing to respond, react, or otherwise engage during the process of Youth Voice being revealed
  • Intact incentives have been identified and revealed to youth participants that benefit them directly
Notes: These statements are not judgment statements – they make no value statements about the worth or the purpose or the outcomes of any particular activity. While we can place some forms of Youth Voice activities squarely into particular forms, i.e. youth forums are Convenient Youth Voice, and student governments are Traditionally Involved Youth, not all activities are so easily prescribed, and there can be deviations from expectations. This reveals that each activity has to be judged by its own merits.
Youth and adult allies can use these questions to get at the essential realities behind Youth Voice, Youth Involvement, and Youth Engagement programs. Find more Youth Voice Assessments online in the Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolbox, and contact me, Adam Fletcher, for training or technical assistance on how to use them in your program or community!
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.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *