Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families

In 2018, Adam was the subject matter expert and a principal consultant on a team with The Athena Group contracted with the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families, or DCYF. His efforts contributed to a statewide examination of resources for youth transitioning from state systems of care, including foster youth, formerly incarcerated youth, and youth involved with behavioral health care.

Supported by a team of data analysts, Adam’s specific tasks focused on gathering systemwide feedback and ideas. Advertising through regional DCYF offices, Adam planned, facilitated and analyzed findings from ten regional gatherings for youth and adults affected by state systems of care. Participants included young people, birth parents, foster parents, systems workers, community based workers, healthcare and mental health professionals and advocates. Facilitated as dynamic, interactive workshops, these gatherings produced more than 5,000 data points for DCYF officials to draw from as they informed policymakers about the issues in the field.

Additionally, Adam also crafted a 20-page summary report incorporating data analysis, process evaluation and policy recommendations. There were also multiple original data studies included that focused on the emergency care available to youth transitioning from state care, as well as additional resources they need to move from state care into successful adulthood.

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Brain Research and Meaningful Student Involvement

There are fascinating intersections between brain research and Meaningful Student Involvement. Luckily, they are becoming clearer with time and more commitment from researchers.

Brain research routinely shows that even the youngest of students have the capacity to participate in critical deconstruction of the learning activities, teaching styles, and curriculum content they’re taught. Research also shows that given increased opportunities to exercise responsibility, children and youth increase their capabilities to exercise their rights.

This effectively shows that its really not a case of whether students are ready to be engaged in fixing schools; instead, its whether adults are actually capable of engaging them in doing so.

Students of all ages and capabilities are being engaged as partners with adults in improving schools increasingly throughout schools.

Research shows a variety of brain issues are affected positively by Meaningful Student Involvement, including student ownership, student agency, motivation and more. This means that when paired with student/adult partnerships, a variety of strategies can greatly enhance classrooms and schools.

As I continue rebuilding the SoundOut website, I’m going to keep making these findings more explicit and obvious. I hope this will create a compelling, unstoppable narrative that education leaders, politicians and parents cannot deny.

There are many reasons why Meaningful Student Involvement should be at the center of education reform today. Brain research shows yet another.


Related Articles

  • Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher
  • 32 Resources on Meaningful Student Involvement
  • SoundOut

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Tips on How to Survey Real People

Recently, I needed to learn some basic things from a group of people at the outset of a weekend-long training. Specifically, I wanted to find out:
  1. How capable they were at self-identifying the problems they faced; 
  2. How able they were at identifying root causes; 
  3. Whether they could determine what practical resources they needed.

To find this out, I printed three questions in circles on a 3×5″ card for respondents:

Sample 3×5″ survey card.
  1. Why are you here? 
  2. What can make you come back? 
  3. What do you need right now?

From those three questions, in addition to finding out what I sought to originally, I found what participants’ material needs were in comparison to their educational needs. I also identified how many participants actually understood why they were there.
I think surveys are an important tool for our toolkit on engaging all kinds of people, at least in a superficial, introductory way. You might decide that you can listen to people by surveying them. Here are some of my tips on surveying real people.
Tip 1) Remember the KISS Principle: Keep ISimple and Straightforward. 
Don’t over-complicate what you’re asking people. Being simple and getting straight to the point will ensure that you get answers that are… simple and straightforward. Don’t ask too many questions either. If you have to do multiple different question topics, make them visually distinct and keep them short. Also, keep the number of questions the same between each topic, like 3+3 or 4+4.

Tip 2) Make it interesting to look at.
The days of handing out lists of questions on clipboards are over. However, you don’t need to design a complicated app just to ask questions either. Keeping questions brief encourages respondents to answer how they’re most comfortable. Instructions given should be super simple, but reinforce the seriousness of the survey.

Tip 3) Avoid linear lines of questioning.
In my experience, many people don’t respond well to A-to-Z thinking, let alone attempts to force them into doing the same. Many surveys do this, either on purpose or by accident. Avoid this by keeping questions short, and removing any bias you might have about getting specific types of answers from respondents.

Tip 4) Ask broad questions about the future.
It can be challenging for people from diverse backgrounds to activate their future-thinking abilities, especially when they come from adverse situations. Because of this and other reasons, asking them specific questions about the future sight-unseen might turn them off to answering any other questions you ask. However, asking broad questions about the future may activate their future imaginations and allow them to trust you more because you believe they have something worth sharing about the future.

Tip 5) Don’t answer the question in the way you ask the question. Asking respondents, “What will you study in college?” assumes they’ll attend college and that they value it; and asking others, “What do you need to be successful?” and providing five things to choose from narrows their options and assumes they want your definition of success.

Similarly, asking questions about life assumes they think they think about life the way you do. For instance, some people have come to accept this formula:

  • Life = grades K-12 + college + career.

However, for some other people, the formula looks more like this:

  • Life = K-2 then move, 2-5 then repeat 5th grade, 5-7 then get expelled for bringing a gun to school, 7-10 then juvie for shoplifting too much, then drop out and get GED, then tech school for a quarter, then dropout to fight addiction… 

In many cases, the lives of real people are too disjunctive to attach your expectations to the questions. Don’t allow your biases to influence your survey. Try to release those and ask different questions.

Tip 6) Ask questions in bubbles or circles or triangles or… 
Organize paper and online surveys using a graphic interface in order to make them more visually stimulating to real people. However, be aware of the effects of shapes or colors on participants. Variation between the shapes might cause them to inadvertently put more weight towards the object they find more appealing or familiar. Here‘s an interesting summary of what I’m talking about.
Tip 7) Customize for your audience. 
Effective surveys for real people are like effective programs: they must be to respondents’ unique needs and capabilities. Here are some sample questions and the audiences they’re intended for:

  • “What are you responsible for right now?” —To help determine what a neighborhood group sees itself capable to doing through a community service project.
  • “Describe your life in the next 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years.” —To help a program identify what services they can provide for formerly incarcerated people in order to help them succeed.
  • “What do you need to change your life right now?” —To identify whether service industry workers see there are options between short-term and long-term planning.
  • “What’s your plan for the next three years?” —To help a GED program determine how to appeal to youth participants.
Tip 8) Let respondents know you’ll take it seriously. Rarely are interviewers held accountable to survey respondents. This is your opportunity to let them know you’re going to do something with what they say, and that you honor what they write down. Without this reassurance, respondents might reply in one of three ways:
  • Refusing—”That’s your job to decide,” or “You tell me,” respondents may protest.
  • Testing—Offering outrageous suggestions or responses to see if the interviewer is really serious about the invitation to answer the survey honestly.
  • Parroting—Repeating what the interviewer has said or guessing what they want to hear. A respondent might be asked to suggest a problem in the program and write, “We should keep our noses to the grindstone and finish the job,” even though they’re not planning to do this themselves. 
These responses are conditioned from years of not having opinions taken seriously. Challenge respondents by letting them know you take them seriously, and then follow through.
Surveying real people can be richly rewarding and almost immediately beneficial to your program, nonprofit organization, school, or other location. For more information contact us.
    Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

    A Tool for Measuring Youth Involvement

    The Youth Measure of Involvement for Community Engagement, or Youth MICE model, represents the most powerful possibilities for young people’s involvement around the world. Individuals and organizations can use this model to start thinking about how young people can be infused throughout programs, organizations, and communities.

    This tool was designed by to foster reflection, consideration, and growth by individuals and organizations seeking to promote youth engagement throughout communities. It can be used in any setting where young people could work with adults. It grew from conversations I had more than a decade ago with people like Greg Williamson, Sasha Rabkin, and Yve Susskind, and evolved through my direct work with more than 100,000 youth and adult allies in events, workshops, conferences, and programs across the US and Canada.

    The spiral represents the non-linear motion of engagement. A person doesn’t just start in one place and end in another; instead, engagement is a process that continually evolves while hopefully growing larger. It has been going on a lot longer than the present, and the Youth MICE Model is meant to acknowledge the past. The spiral also represents the motion of opportunities becoming narrower as fewer people are engaged. The following descriptions can help you understand the different points throughout the model.

    Starting from the tail of the Youth MICE Model…

    • Engagement is Shared Equitably. This is the most ideal position for youth involvement community change to occur because it engages everyone in a community as equitable partners. Instead of simply seeing community as geography, this approach embraces the roots of the word, which comes from the Latin communis, meaning “common, public, shared by all or many.” Age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, language, ethnicity, and other qualities are embraced as strengthening identity that contributes to a larger good, not as segregating differences. All people experience inclusive, meaningful, empowering participation. Each shares as they are able or desiring according to shared expectations.
    • Engagement is Self-Led. By focusing on the skills and leadership of young people, this approach leverages the power of youth and young adults with their ability to affect change across the whole community. Young people are the impetus and generators of action that reaches to other young people and across all age groups in their communities.
    • Engagement is Shared Equally. This approach leverages the skills and leadership of young people with the power of adults in order to benefit the whole community. While youth and young adults are recognized as the motivators of community change, adults are engaged for their unique experience, talents, and abilities. Each shares 50/50 responsibilities, rights, and reactions to engagement.
    • Engagement is Consulted On. The leadership of adults is predominant, engaging young people as input-sharers instead of movement-makers. Adults infuse the knowledge and ability of young people through action in particular ways in order to inform action.
    • Engagement is Informed. In this approach adults may listen to young people, or young people may listen to adults, during planning, decision-making, or evaluation. This one-way flow of information does not nurture cross-accountability between young people and adults. However, it is an introduction to youth involvement in community engagement.
    • Engagement is Assigned. Young people are assigned action by adults. Adults use their authority over young people through class credit, money, or mandates in order to foster community engagement. Young people influence adults through direct and indirect communication and action.
    To learn more about the MICE Model and The Freechild Project’s other tools, or to contact us, visit freechild.org or call (360) 489-9680.
    Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

    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 http://freechild.org/PAR/ and remember: Adults researching youth is NOT youth voice!
    Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

    Top 10 Youth Voice Publications

    There is a lot of chatter out there about listening to youth, engaging young people, and promoting meaningful youth involvement. But sometimes it is hard to find resources that value what you think and feel as someone committed to young people and social change.

    Following are the Top 10 Youth Voice publications I have found through December 2006. They come from across the spectrum of youth voice, and each values diversity, transformation, and community. I have included a separate list of my own publications at the bottom for your use, and indicates free download. I’ll update this list again soon – Let me know what you think I should add!

    10 Creating Better Cities With Children and Youth by David Driskell. This UNESCO publications provides examples and activities that can help young people become engaged throughout their communities. It gives youth participation a global perspective by contextualizing young peoples’ engagement within an international movement for citizen engagement. The tools within this booklet cover a variety of topics, and can be useful across the board.

    9 Youth Voices in Community Design Handbook by The California Center for Civic Engagement and Youth Development. This is a spectacular, free how-to guide on getting youth involved in local policy making and community planning. While its really specific to community planning, this handbook provides a step-by-step guide to youth engagement and is supported by an extensive online library of articles and activities that can be used by any

    youth voice group.

    8 Occasional Paper No. 01: An Emerging Model for Working with Youth: Community Organizing + Youth Development = Youth Organizing by LISTEN, Inc. This paper would blow away the populist youth voice “effort” if people actually read it. It explores the influences of community organizing and youth development on youth organizing; describes a continuum that identifies different levels and models of youth engagement; and outlines the fundamentals of youth organizing: its processes, guiding principles, practices and impacts.

    7 Global Uprising: Confronting the Tyrannies of the 21st Century by N. Welton and L. Wolf. Another book to wake up the so-called “youth voice movement”. This book moved my insides by sharing the stories of the new global youth movement for peace and justice. People are telling their own stories and sharing their own work through Told through personal narratives, poster art, poetry, photographs, and interviews with new and seasoned activists. Global Uprising captures the spirit of youth activism and honors young people’s power to effect serious change.

    6 Best Practices in Youth Philanthropy by Pam Garza and Pam Stevens for the Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth. This is the mother of all youth voice resources, in that it provides everything that anyone needs to know about youth voice in this particular area. It should be a blueprint for other books to follow.

    5 What Works in Youth Participation? Case Studies from around the world by Sylvia Golombeck. This report asks a variety of interesting questions that contextualize youth voice in the global setting. By reaching across interest areas, this shares “what works” in many different areas, in many different ways. It is also written by authors of different ages – something most publications can’t claim.

    4 Future 500: Youth Organizing and Activism in the United States by J. Kim, M. de Dios, P. Caraballo, et al. Features analysis of the modern youth movement, interviews with 25 young people changing the world, and profiles of 500 of the most important youth-led organizations across the country. It also includes statistics on youth organizations, listings of youth-friendly foundations and national networks, and amazing art from the movement.

    3 Knock-Your-Socks-Off: Training Teens to be Successful Activists by Wendy Lesko. A great introduction to training for youth voice. Comprehensive, easy, and approachable in a way that a lot of manuals dream of being.

    2 15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth on Boards by Youth on Board. This is the essential guide to youth involvement in decision-making for organizations and individuals. Focuses on YoB’s popular method for youth participation, giving needed tips and success stories throughout. Includes a rationale, steps to follow, and assessments for your organization.

    1 Youth Voice Begins With You! by Jennifer Kurkoski, Karla Markendorf And Norma Straw for the Washington Youth Voice Project. Provides a far-reaching introduction to youth voice & involvement, including useful tips and trainings. This is the original framework that a lot of organizations adapted in their own programs and publications. Unfortunately, the Washington Youth Voice Project is defunct, and this manual is now unavailable – but do not despair! The Freechild Project worked with our local partners to recreate this fine work as the Washington Youth Voice Handbook!


    Younger Voices, Stronger Choices: Promise Project’s Guide to Forming Youth/Adult Partnerships by Michael McLarney and Loring Leifer. An old-school original that it seems like everyone has borrowed from. This book is an important primer on youth participation in meaningful ways. This is the foundational text for many other books on youth involvement.

    Building Community: A Tool Kit for Youth and Adults in Charting Assets and Creating Change by The Innovation Center. This publication incorporates ideas and tools from a variety of sources to make it possible for individuals and groups everywhere to bring an inclusive, asset-based approach to creating positive change in their community. Filled with detailed information and case studies, it gives users what they need to create youth adult partnerships and lasting community youth development.

    Youth as Equal Partners by Wendy Lesko and Adam Kendall for United Way of Amerca. This is a comprehensive, easy-to-use manual that provides a hyper-useful introduction to youth voice and involvement.

    Bomb the Suburbs by William Upski Wimsatt. This book served as a manifesto and call-to-arms for my generation of youth activists who live in cities. The author is now a renown thinker of this generation, and this, his booming clarion call, sounds the charge with analysis, weaponry, and empowerment for today’s youth activists.

    The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How To Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education by Grace Llewelyn. “Your life, time, and brain should belong to you, not to an institution.” Another dangerous wake-up call for youth voice advocates. This book is a “how-to” on youth voice for young people who want control over their own lives. Details all the issues surrounding learning from life instead of schools, including the legal implications, dealing with adults and learning once outside school. The final section includes stories about what people have done with their lives after they bail out of school.

    The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear by Henry Giroux. Offers a vital and critical critique of the US political and popular culture ‘s influence on the lives of young people. In this controversial book, Giroux argues that there’s a war on in the US these days against young people.

    More Than Service: Philadelphia Students Join a Union to Improve Their Schools by What Kids Can Do. This is the story of PSU, a group of students working citywide to promote a youth-created, youth-driven agenda for school and community improvement.

    Youth Rights Library by NYRA by collection of research-based and opinion papers by authors around the world on various topics included in youth rights.

    Student Voices Count: A Student-Led Evaluation of High Schools in Oakland. by REAL HARD. This is smooth. In 2003, students in Kids First Oakland’s REAL HARD program conducted their own youth voice in schools project, designing and collecting 1,000 report card surveys evaluating teaching, counseling, school safety and facilities at three Oakland high schools. The students compiled their findings, analyzed the results, and made concrete recommendations to improve the schools in this exciting, comprehensive report.

    Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

    My Review of “Beyond Resistance”

    Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy for America’s Youth was edited by Shawn Ginwright. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

    For youth workers with a preconceived notion about the roles of young people in society, this collection may be challenging. For teachers who think they know the power of students, Ginwright may be shocking. For young people who think they understanding “the movement”, this book may be eye-opening.

    Ginwright collects dozens of the best examples of youth-led and youth-driven activism and refines them to their finest points, charging the reader to do more than complain about apathy or revel in cynicism. He leaves us no choice other than getting up to do something. Thanks Shawn – we need that. This book is an incredible read for anyone interested in the movement at any level.

    Before this book the reader might want to see Global Uprising : Confronting the Tyrannies of the 21st Century : Stories from a New Generation of Activists; after it you might want to reference Future 500: Youth Organizing and Activism in the United States.


    Order Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy for America’s Youth.

    Youth Voice Has No Limits

    • The tech-saavy girl at school builds a website about how students can run schools.That punk kid pulls out a marker and tags a locker on his way down the hall.
    • Two fifth grades classes at the local elementary band together to replant the native vegetation down by the lake.
    • A 16-year-old testifies in front of the state legislature against raising the driving age.
    • Three teens protest the site of the new gravel plant in their rural community; within an hour 15 youth and adults join them.
    • Brandy and Levon call the police when they witness a shooting.
    • Miguel and Alejandro start a new hip hop band to speak out against youth unemployment.
    Youth Voice has no limits – it simply exists. I have heard many advocates make the argument that we need more Youth Voice or that youth need to be at the table. On the other side adults complain that youth just don’t care and that youth already have all the opportunities they need to be heard. Neither is exactly right, no matter what the situation.
    In reality I believe that the efforts of individuals, organizations and communities designed that want to actively engage the “distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people” need to look no further than the ends of their noses. For me this gets to the very crux of the Youth Voice question: How can we meet young people where they are rather than insist they come to where we want them to be?
    For as long as there has been a conversation about engaging Youth Voice, civic engagement organizations and community development programs and political parties and national service projects and government agencies have sought nothing more than to bring youth to where they want them to be. Voting booths would be full; trees would be planted and trash retrieved; town halls would be filled with youth, and; committees would have young representatives speaking on them. These familiar actions are complimented by the familiar issues addressed by youth. They’d talk about subjects we’re familiar with in ways we’re familiar with them, only with that particular enthusiasm adults easily attribute to young people.
    I first started working with schools almost 10 years ago I spent a few years talking with teachers about engaging youth voice in the classroom. Almost immediately I ran into a core of teachers who always reported that they already did that. Not knowing any better, I easily dismissed them out-of-hand because I thought they didn’t understand what I was trying to explain. Today I think I know what they meant – and it only took me 10 years!
    I want to see this notion of Youth Voice better understood, and the only way I can think to demonstrate that is through my writing and training. What can you do?
    Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

    Wikipedia is Our Friend

    More than five years ago I registered on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anybody can edit. Since then I have created more than 500 articles there, with more than 100 being featured on the front page of the website. I frequently refer to Wikipedia, not as an expert source of information, but as a source for potentially complex perspectives regarding some of the issues that are primary to the work of engaging young people throughout society.

    I became fascinated with the potential of Wikipedia when the page I created on adultism became more popular than the page I created on adultism at the Freechild Project website. After that I started gunning at Wikipedia, writing dozens of articles, eventually leading me to create more than 100 articles on Wikipedia about youth-related topics, and collaborating with many other editors to edit 100s of others. I wrote about young people and adults I admired, organizations I was familiar with, and events that made a difference in the social history of young people in the U.S. and abroad. I spent hours and days laboring away, finding the research and other citations to support some of the basic assumptions I had about the key topics I was interested in, and learned a lot of new information about things I thought I already knew a lot about.
    In these hours and days of research I found a new interest within me, one focused on the translatory capacity of Wikipedia: absent any other mainstream avenue for people to learn about the particularly advanced concepts in this area, including adultism, adultcentrism, ephebiphobia, children’s rights, fear of children, evolving capacities and youth-adult partnerships, I decided to use Wikipedia as the way as the an access point. This led to a particularly pointed increase in Internet-wide traffic about these topics, as hits on the Freechild Project and SoundOut websites increased, and as the frequency and higher numbers of recent postings to blogs and other websites showed me.
    This causes me, yet again, to encourage everyone to edit Wikipedia. We have to expand the knowledge base about this movement, field and culture we engender throughout our work, research, writing and activism. Wikipedia is our friend – let’s do it right.

    CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360)489-9680.

    Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!