What does it look like to truly engage young people in making meaning of data that affects their lives – a process sometimes known as participatory meaning making? In 2022, six young people who had been involved in a participatory meaning-making project created a resource to help adult researchers and practitioners become allies who fully understand the value of youth voice in research that is for, by, and about them.

The guide, called We Know Us: Guide to Participatory Meaning Making with Young People, gives an overview of key points the young people have synthesized through open dialogue, thought-provoking activities, and collaborative writing. The guide outlines why making meaning of data with young people is essential, the types of outcomes it yields, the roles and responsibilities involved, and critical tips for success - setting the foundation, building trust, and supporting technical skills.

The guide grew out of a process in which Hello Insight brought together a group of 18 young people to provide feedback on the Youth Experience Survey (YES), a survey created in 2012 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and several partners. The survey is designed to help public agencies and communities gather information from children and young people about the strengths and challenges that influence their development as part of the Foundation’s Evidence2Success framework. Survey results describe the links between young people’s needs and assets with well-being, and highlight areas where public agencies and communities could focus program investments to produce better outcomes.

After more than a decade of using the survey, Casey felt it was time to review and update YES to reflect the needs and perspectives of young people in today's society. Because of our long history in youth participatory action research (YPAR) and youth participatory evaluation (YPE), the Foundation asked Hello Insight to recruit young people who could help provide feedback.

The young people added important context to the survey and questioned the notion of communities using its data in isolation to determine their course without further engaging youth in the solutions. They wanted to ensure that all processes meant to contextualize findings and make critical decisions also included youth voice, significantly, as these matters impact their lives and those of their community and family members.

Check out We Know Us: Guide to Participatory Meaning with Young People to learn more about including young people’s experiences, ideas and voice in research and evaluation processes that affect their lives.

Download We Know Us: Guide to Participatory Meaning Making with Young People

Watch this short video that articulates why the young authors feel it is important to engage young people in these critical conversations.