Youth participation

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Youth participation is the active engagement of young people throughout their own communities. It is often used as a shorthand for youth participation in any many forms, including decision-making, sports, schools and any activity where young people are not historically engaged.


Youth participation, also called youth involvement, has been used by government agencies, researchers, educators, and others to define and examine the active engagement of young people in schools, sports, government, community development and economic activity.

In 1975, the National Commission on Resources for Youth in the United States defined youth participation as:

...Youth participation is the involving of youth in responsible, challenging action that meets genuine needs, with opportunities for planning and/or decision-making affecting others in an activity whose impact or consequence is extended to others— i.e., outside or beyond the youth participants themselves. Other desirable features of youth participation are provision for critical reflection on the participatory activity and the opportunity for group effort toward a common goal.

In 1995, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) established a definition of meaningful youth participation as:

Meaningful youth participation involves recognizing and nurturing the strengths, interests, and abilities of young people through the provision of real opportunities for youth to become involved in decisions that affect them at individual and systemic levels.

In 2006 the Commonwealth Youth Programme and UNICEF remarked: "As there are many types of developmental processes, cultures and unique individuals in the world, participation is not any one phenomenon. There are various definitions of participation. A basic concept of participation however, is that people are free to involve themselves in social and developmental processes and that self-involvement is active, voluntary and informed."[1]

The platform for youth to get involved has continued to increase in contemporary society, however these opportunities cannot be seen to be amplifying the voice of youth in society.[2]

Models of Youth Participation[edit]

There are various models of youth participation which can be followed when attempting to get young people involved with decision making or acting for change.

Marc Jans and Kurt De Backer present the Triangle of Youth Participation. This suggests that young people will actively engage with society when presented with three specific dimensions; firstly they must have something to challenge. Following this, they must feel they have the capacity to make a difference and finally must be able to connect with others in order to tackle the issue effectively. [3]

Hart’s Ladder of Participation is a model that can be used when developing and working on youth participation projects.[4] It aims to enable young people to take an active part in decision making, and give them the opportunity to have a 'voice' in society.

Hart states there are 8 steps on the 'Ladder of Participation" The first three steps, manipulation, decoration and tokenism, are considered not be engaging young people in active youth participation, but instead provide a pathway to move up onto the other stages of youth participation. [5] The following five steps after this look at how to fully integrate young people into the decision making process and how to get them actively involved. These steps evolve in that the next step the adult organize an event for young people to volunteer in (young people assigned but not informed). Following this the young people's opinions will have some influence on decisions made and they will receive feedback on these opinions (Young people are consulted and informed). Next step involves adults coming up with the initial idea, and young people taking the necessary steps to implement it with their own ideas and organization (Adult-initiated, shared power with young people). The penultimate step look at young people having full power and creative license over their ideas and projects (Young people lead and initiated action). The final step looks at the amalgamation of some of the final few steps, in that the young people initiate the idea and invite adults to join in, thus leading to an equal partnership. (Young people and adult share decision making.) [6]


In these forms, youth participation activities may include:

Youth participation often requires some measure of student voice or youth voice, as well as youth/adult partnerships. Results are often measured by youth development goals, academic outcomes or returns on social capital. They may take the form of civic engagement, youth rights or intergenerational equity.

Decision-making in families[edit]

According to a 2013 study, 90% of parents regularly consult their children when making decisions. Of surveyed parents, only 35% were consulted when they were kids.[7]

Spectra of activities[edit]

Working on behalf of UNICEF, in 1992 sociologist Roger Hart created a model for thinking about youth participation as a continuum of activities. Entitled the "Ladder of Participation," this spectrum identifies eight types of youth participation ranging from tokenism and manipulation to engaging youth as partners.[8] Adam Fletcher of the Freechild Project has identified a range of youth participation in social change through his "Cycle of Engagement".[9] David Driskell, another UN-affiliated researcher, has identified several "steps" towards youth participation, while Daniel Ho-Sang has analyzed models according to a horizontal continuum.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ UNICEF/Commonwealth Youth Programme Participation Toolkits (2006) Book One p7
  2. ^ Forbrig, Joerg (ed.) (2005) Revisiting Youth Political Participation. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
  3. ^ De Backer, Kurt and Jans, Marc (2002) Youth (-work) and Social Participation: Elements for a Practical Theory. Brussels: Flemish Youth Council.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Styles, Ruth (5 Apr 2013). "Seen and not heard? Not anymore". London Daily Mail. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  8. ^ Hart's "Ladder of Participation" is from (1992) Children's Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship. UNICEF. For information regarding the Hart’s Ladder see this Archived April 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. or this
  9. ^ Fletcher, A. and Vavrus, J. (2007) Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People. Olympia, WA: CommonAction Consulting. Retrieved 8/9/11.
  10. ^ Checkoway, B. and Gutierrez, L. (2006) "An introduction," in Checkoway and Gutierrez (eds) Youth Participation and Community Change. New York: Hawthorne Press. p 3.

External links and Further Reading[edit]