Citywide Youth Engagement Strategies

Freechild Institute Youth Engagement Toolkit

Transforming a city—one that is likely complex and has been in place for centuries—into a place that engages all youth everywhere all the time can be difficult.

Questions commonly raised by youth and adults looking to foster citywide youth engagement strategies include:

  • Who should be engaged?
  • What should our youth engagement strategy look like?
  • How will we know if it works?  

To help address these and many other questions, the Freechild Institute has written this article to guide the development of citywide youth engagement strategies.

We have worked with several communities to develop these strategies. The approaches we develop strive to build youth engagement systems that help communities design, implement, and sustain strategies to youth engagement that are data-driven and focused on your community’s unique strengths and needs, making your systems much more likely to succeed.

This is a map of any city youth engagement strategy by Adam Fletcher for Freechild Institute

Step 1: Plan an Assessment

Plan a systemwide assessment. Identify the extent to which current operations align with or deviate from the features of an effective citywide youth engagement strategy. Specifically, it can offer guidance on:

  • Reviewing the scope of youth engagement;
  • Reviewing the roles and responsibilities, and;
  • Affirming the timeline for youth engagement throughout your community.

Step 2: Review Citywide Policies

Review the policies that affect what’s happening in your city. Examine the rules and policies that govern youth engagement throughout your community to figure out what is and is not needed at each point throughout your community.

  1. Youth in city hall
  2. Youth on school boards
  3. Youth engagement at home
  4. Youth owned businesses
  5. Youth engagement in the outdoors
  6. Youth led nonprofits
  7. Youth infused community planning
  8. Youth centric public transportation
  9. Schools focused on engagement instead of achievement
  10. Obvious youth made art, writing, theater, music and other creations
  11. Training and educational opportunities for everyone focused on youth engagement knowledge, skills, ideas and actions
  12. Community-wide investment in youth engagement
  13. Youth action research
  14. Youth led training and technical assistance on youth engagement
  15. Youth led spaces, activities, programs and organizations
  16. New technology supporting youth engagement
  17. Places where youth and adults interact as equals
  18. Training for adults on all aspects of youth engagement
  1. Educational opportunities to learn how to change the world
  2. Safe places for youth to be, do, create, dream
  3. Clear rules, laws, policies and procedures to build youth engagement
  4. Sustained funding to build, support and grow youth engagement
  5. “Edge spaces” for youth engagement that make some adults uncomfortable
  6. Transitional activities to support young adults becoming independent
  7. Specific activities to engage young people together for racial, cultural, social, educational, economic and other kinds of harmony and peace
  8. Places to engage LGBTTQQ youth
  9. Places to engage youth in racial, cultural and ethnic identities
  10. People who think beyond youth engagement and towards solidarity
  11. Opportunities to engage kids before they become youth
  12. Youth voting rights

Step 3: Collect Quantitative Data

Collect quantitative data on how and who is using the system. Explore how to gather data on the volume and characteristics of youth engagement throughout your community, allowing you to identify those areas that are working well and those that are broken and in need of repair. Specifically, collect high-level, aggregate statistics on the following data elements:

  • Types of engagement
  • Demographics of young people, communities and stakeholders
  • Purposes, intentions and visions
  • Champions
  • Service needs and other systemic opportunities
  • Youth engagement times and costs
  • Locations for youth engagement, length of engagement, and costs
  • Outcomes

Step 4: Collect Qualitative Data

Collect qualitative data on how local stakeholders perceive youth engagement. Gather the impressions, opinions, and general insight of youth engagement system stakeholders. This can help order to form a more holistic narrative of the community. Specifically, gather this information from the following groups:

  • Young people
  • Stakeholders who work in the youth engagement system
  • Family members

Step 5: Collect Information

Collect information on local service capacity. Determine the existing local capacity for facilitating youth engagement with young people, parents, nonprofits, schools, government agencies, and others. Specifically:

  • Develop a list of youth engagement champions, providers and facilitators
  • Survey champions, providers and facilitators

Step 6: Analyze the Data

Analyze the quantitative and qualitative data together, allowing each to inform the other. Actively and intentionally use the policies and quantitative, qualitative and service capacity information you have collected to inform and drive your work. Specifically:

  • Uncover the narrative of your youth engagement system
  • Present and reflect upon key findings as a citywide youth engagement strategy

Step 7: Create a Citywide Strategy

Create a citywide youth engagement strategy. Using the data you’ve collected, create a citywide youth engagement strategy. As you develop your tool, consider each of the data points you’ve collected and your analysis of the data. Your strategy should be applicable throughout your entire city and reflect your goals. Essential elements of the strategy should reflect:

Your citywide youth engagement strategy should also unveil a clear action plan for implementing youth engagement for all youth, everywhere, all the time.

After presenting your citywide youth engagement strategy, contact the Freechild Institute to share your plan! If you’re looking for examples of what citywide youth engagement strategies do, check out our features on Portland, Oregon and Hampton, Virginia.

When you’ve implemented your strategy, remember to reflect and celebrate throughout the process, and stay committed to social justice while you’re at it!

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One response to “Citywide Youth Engagement Strategies”

  1. This planning needs to be on-going, meaning that it needs to be updated with new information, from year to year, so that in 15 to 20 years the available support given to youth in different parts of a city have grown and increased in range and quality. If new groups re-do this process every few years, the consistent support programs need to be available and effective will always be too little.

    I’ve focused on this idea for 25 years via the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which I launched in Chicago in 1993 and continue to support since 2011 via the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC. In the mission statement on my web site I ask “what are all the things we need to know and do to assure that every child born in a high poverty neighborhood today is starting a job/career by his/her mid 20s.” My focus was more narrow, seeking to support organized non-school volunteer based tutor/mentor and learning programs throughout Chicago.

    Your list is great. However, some things we need to know and do which are not highlighted on your list include:

    Building and maintaining an information base, including a concept map/blueprint showing services needed at each age level as kids grow up; as well as a directory of organizations already providing these services.

    Building a communications campaign intended to build public will to support needed youth and family services in all places where they are needed, and to draw volunteers, dollars and other operating resources directly to each program on a continuing basis…instead of programs relying on a competitive based fund raising practice, which assures inconsistent funding.

    Creating forums where people review and discuss this information on a regular basis, in a manner similar to how scripture is read and discussed weekly in faith groups, or school subjects are reviewed daily in classrooms. In cities with 500k or more people, how does this process engage even a small percent with any depth and longevity?

    I share the thinking behind the work I’ve been doing (with inconsistent public and private support) at the web site and blog. I’d be happy to be part of the discussion and planning for any city who is entering this process.

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