Using Participatory Research to Uncover Strategies for Meaningful Youth Engagement
I’ve learned so much through participating in the group concept mapping process. First, I love that it uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to combine and make sense of ideas. And it’s truly participatory! Over half our participants were youth from across the U.S., and our final product really reflects their voice. I was amazed by the depth of their responses. I didn’t know where we would end up as we moved through each stage—you need to have faith in the process.Pamela Drake, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, ETR
Meaningful youth engagement doesn’t happen by accident; it requires learning what young people need and translating those findings into action. The Youth Engagement Network (YEN)—a network formed by Education, Training and Research Associates (ETR), a TPP Tier 2 (TPP20) Innovation and Impact Network grantee exploring the key priority area of youth engagement—has made this philosophy a cornerstone of its work, which focuses on increasing the number of young people engaged in sexual health programs and services.
YEN employed a participatory research method called Group Concept Mapping (GCM) to help identify engagement strategies that resonate with youth. External facilitators from Concept Systems Incorporated guided YEN in implementing GCM, a structured process to generate stakeholders’ ideas on a topic, sort and rate the ideas, and map similar concepts and themes.
YEN worked with a diverse group of more than 100 youth and adults to come up with ideas for engaging all youth, including disconnected youth, youth of color, and LGBTQ+ youth. The GCM process led YEN to identify six principles of meaningful youth engagement:
- Relatable and compassionate program facilitators: Programming is facilitated by relatable, authentic, compassionate individuals who are skilled in and comfortable with the program content and who show respect for the thoughts and ideas of young people.
- Diverse and inclusive content and delivery: Program content, media, and delivery are diverse, inclusive, relatable to youth identities in the program, and consider the impact of systems of oppression.
- Comprehensive and empowering sex ed content: Program content goes beyond contraception and the prevention of STIs/pregnancy, and presents comprehensive and socially just sex education.
- Co-exploration of content: Youth have opportunities to co-explore program content in creative ways that give them voice and choice.
- Youth-centered co-creation of programming: Youth are treated as experts about their own needs and learning, and power is shared in program development, implementation, and evaluation.
- Trauma-informed, healing-centered space: The program environment is familiar, comfortable, accessible, safe, sensitive to individual needs, and youth-centered to allow for healing and impactful conversations.
Check out YEN's youth engagement resources, as well as related resources on rhntc.org to help you implement youth engagement strategies in your TPP program: Youth Engagement Literature Review, Meaningful Youth Engagement in TPP Webinar, and Youth Engagement Matters: The Power of Youth Voice in TPP Webinar.