Measure of Social Change Led By and With Young People

For more than 20 years, the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement has been compiling resources from around the world in an effort to promote social change by and with young people.  A lot of people have asked about how we decide which resources are selected, and which are denied from being listed.

In our continuing commitment to transparency and openness, we offer the following diagram as an illustration of which websites and organizations are selected to be in our listings.  This tool in order to foster reflection, consideration, and growth by individuals and organizations serving young people in a myriad of ways.

Freechild Measure of Social Change Led By and With Young People

About this Spiral

We believe this model represents the most powerful possibilities for young people’s participation throughout our society.  One of the goals of the Freechild Institute is to realize the full participation of all people throughout society as equal members in decision-making and action.  We have developed this model in order to represent our vision of democratic, community-oriented participation for ALL people.  Individuals and organizations can use this model to start thinking about how young people can be integrated throughout society.

The spiral represents the non-linear motion of social change. You don’t simply start in one place and end in another; instead, it is a process that continually evolves while hopefully growing larger.  It has been going on a lot longer than the present, and this model is meant to acknowledge the past.  The spiral also shows the motion of opportunities becoming narrower as fewer people are engaged.

After years of listening to nonprofits, govt agencies and youth themselves, we have heard a lot of people who are exhausted by the linear/sequential thinking inherent in Hart’s work. They say it’s diminutive of relationships between youth and adults, and doesn’t reflect practice. As a spiral focusing on equity between youth and adults, our tool seeks to recognize that no one or program or org relationship is ever in one single space. Instead, they flex and flux in and out and across the spiral, bucking the spectrum and telling the truth. It’s important to see reality, and that’s what this measure wants to do.

See the descriptions below.


Starting from the outside from the tail of the Measure…

EQUITABLE ACTION: All community members equitably make decisions and take action.

This is the most optimal position for social change by and with young people because it engages every person within a community in decision-making and action through democracy. Instead of simply seeing community as geography, this approach embraces the roots of the word (com = with) as a group of people working with unity. 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 members experience inclusive, meaningful, empowering participation that is the pinnacle and goal of action and education for social justice.  We believe that this is the heart of democratic society.

SELF-LED ACTION: Young people initiate change while sharing decisions and action with adults.

This approach leverages the skills and leadership of young people with the power of adults in order to benefit the whole community.  While young people are recognized as the motivators of social change, adults are engaged for their unique experience, talents, and abilities.

EQUAL ACTION: Youth and adults work together, equally splitting tasks, abilities and outcomes throughout the process.

Working together as 50/50 partners, youth and adults taking equal action to transform the world. Whether working throughout communities, within schools, or in other places, equal action requires limited accountability and investment in the people involved. It also demands credit be split between youth and adults, allowing community building be seen as a joint effort.

SHARED ACTION: Youth and adults give each other room to participate in deliberate ways without sharing authority or power, but still share credit.

Acknowledging who does what can be a powerful tool for securing ownership, gathering support and challenging indifference. When youth and adults give each other room to participate in deliberate ways, they can begin this process in non-threatening ways that embrace ability without sacrificing authority.

DELIVERED ACTION: Adults initiate change and share decisions with young people.

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 community social justice action.

CONSULTED ACTION: Young people are consulted and adults take action.

In this approach adults may listen to young people during planning, decision-making, or evaluation.  This one-way flow of information does not nurture cross-accountability between young people and adults.

ASSIGNED ACTION: Young people are assigned action but inform adult decision-making.

Adults use power over young people through class credit, money, or mandates in order to engage young people in community change.  Young people influence adults through direct and indirect communication.

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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how the Freechild Institute can help support youth voice in your community or organization, contact us.

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