How do we ensure young people have “a voice and a choice” in our program? How do we incorporate young people’s desires, needs, and perspectives while still meeting program goals? It’s easy to fall into thinking of youth engagement as yet another thing to do, but engaging deeply with young people can help you accomplish your program’s goals more effectively. Draw on the expertise of your young people to create fun and relevant activities in an empowering environment with ideas from the following resources.

A Primer on Creating & Sustaining Youth-Adult Partnerships (PDF) | Center for Nonprofits and 4-H Youth Development
Youth-adult partnership (Y-AP) is a framework to use with young people and adults in any role, including staff, parents, and volunteers. It challenges young people and adults to work in responsible collective action to benefit your organization or larger community in an intentional way. We like the Y-AP manual, which helps organizations define the core ingredients for Y-AP and build a lasting culture.

What is Youth Engagement, Really? | ACT for Youth Center of Excellence
Truly engaging young people gives you the benefit of their expertise and partnership. This article defines youth engagement and provides guidance about involving young people in decision making, conducting youth participatory evaluation, and encouraging youth voice through workshops. We like this article because it demonstrates the conditions necessary to promote young people speaking up and making choices within a program.

Children’s Participation: From Tokenism To Citizenship | UNICEF
This longer read is for the true youth engagement enthusiast. This illuminating essay explores children’s participation in all areas of life using a “ladder of participation” framework, from manipulation to child-initiated, shared decisions made with adults. We appreciate the thoroughness, rich detail, and historical elements of the essay, as well as the connections between youth engagement and social and emotional development.

PAR Guide: Promoting the Participation, Learning and Action of Young People (PDF) | UNICEF
Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a framework you can use to learn with and about your young people alongside your other evaluation activities. It’s also required for programs receiving funding through the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Learning Centers grant program. We like the tools, which are actually mini lesson plans that you can adapt to use to evaluate your program.