Avoiding Roadblocks with Youth

Teens join an academic research team in creating survey questions that so far have generated over 350,000 responses.

Intergenerational Symbiosis?!?

Check out this innovative organization that succeeds at circumventing roadblocks that stop many nonprofits and agencies from pursuing substantive and sustained collaboration with those under age 18. 

One of those onerous challenges that I personally dealt with in graduate school was to get approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to interview students about their experiences participating and advocating for restorative practices. An effective way to avoid this obstacle is to be explicit that young people are sharing their opinions, perspectives and ideas, not revealing their personal experiences. Because activities are determined to be of minimal risk to minors, no parent/guardian consent is required as in the case of this powerhouse organization.  

Associate Professor Tammy Chang at University of Michigan founded My Voice National Poll of Youth, a text-message platform that surveys youth and communities typically “invisible” to researchers. 

Dr. Chang includes teens on the academic research team to develop questions through an iterative writing and piloting process. “A reason why you have youth is because adults – including me as a physician – might think it is totally normal to ask a question but it could be really disturbing or damaging.” Her team is intentional in its participant pool: “We are not trying to get all student council presidents and valedictorians and that is why we use SMS that’s accessible to all.” 

One of her colleagues, 17-year-old Abby Frank, describes her role. 

I’m involved in the entire data collection process, brainstorming questions, coding responses, discussing outcomes and implications of research with the entire team…They are flexible and always ask what time frame works for my schedule. If I miss a meeting, I let them know in advance and then get caught up on what was discussed. 

In addition to carefully vetted questions that resonate with Gen Z, participants understand the big picture which is why over 350,000 responses have been generated so far.

  • REAL WORLD PURPOSE.  Clear explanation of why: “Our research team uses your responses to inform policymakers and community leaders in real-time about the needs and priorities of youth.”
  • AUTHENTICITY VALUED. “Tell us what you really think!”
  • CLEAR EXPECTATIONS.  Respond via text to 2-5 questions each week for 12 weeks in a row on a given topic
  • CONFIDENTIALITY.  All responses anonymous
  • COMPENSATION.  Gift cards
  • FEEDBACK LOOP.  Share summaries of opinions and interesting findings
  • NEW EXPERIENCES.  Continually offer unique opportunities

We create lots of opportunities. Get as many young people on our team – the answer is always YES! If they can come to one meeting or 100 meetings, every time they engage we are always learning something new. The secret sauce with My Voice is they understand our whole goal to uplift their voices in the spirit of generosity, trust, mutual respect. 

 –  Dr. Tammy Chang

The ongoing interactions and obvious rapport between this visionary leader and her younger colleagues are part of the magic. Dr. Chang makes intergenerational symbiosis look easy and actually, it is. After all, everyone regardless of age brings unique skills that have the potential to be inclusive, intergenerational and impactful as long as all of us are open and willing to figure out how to circumvent the age-based roadblocks.

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We’d love to hear how you are thinking about infusing young people in your organization.

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