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.
Step 1: Plan a System 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 the policies that govern youth engagement
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.
Step 3: 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
- Service needs and other systemic opportunities
- Youth engagement times and costs
- Locations for youth engagement, length of engagement, and costs
Step 4: 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 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
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 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:
- Who youth engagement is for
- What youth engagement does
- When youth engagement happens
- Where youth engagement occurs
- Why youth engagement happens, and
- How youth engagement takes place, could happen and should happen.
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!