10 Reasons to Work with Young Researchers to Generate Solid Data

This survey and analytical process provide a stellar example why young people are needed to help evaluate existing programs as well as shape policy deliberations and decisions.

Post-millennials, who never have operated in a world without the internet, are pros at using an array of social media platforms. Less recognized is that many are adept with various online options that promote collaboration. It is second nature for many Gen Zers to use Google Docs, Slack, Zoom, etc.

One skill-set boosted by these digital tools is Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). It is no longer rare to see sophisticated data collection, analysis, and recommendations generated by this youth-led process. One driver of this trend is young people – especially minors –who know this advocacy strategy improves the odds that they will be taken seriously by the powers-that-be. 

Organizations, coalitions, and think tanks could benefit enormously by incorporating a YPAR strategy. Here are just a few reasons and the first one is the most valuable.

10 Reasons for YPAR

  1. To produce data that reveal potentially more honest responses from the most diverse generation ever; 
  2. To augment the expertise of professional researchers;
  3. To rethink typical survey questions and refine the language; 
  4. To deepen the qualitative and quantitative research skills of everyone involved;
  5. To use innovative dissemination strategies to reach target constituencies;
  6. To gather pertinent data to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, reassess priorities, and develop new initiatives; 
  7. To use data to strengthen the overall work and impact of your organization;
  8. To garner attention from the news media and policymakers;
  9. To save money since most employees and many consultants cost more than part-time young researchers; and
  10. To infuse young people – often the primary stakeholders – into the heart of your organization for the benefit of everyone

Formidable Skills Produce Pertinent Data

A first class example is Race to Learn by the Kentucky Student Voice Team (KSVT) based on 10,725 responses from 114 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. It was released during debate on state legislation to curb what is taught about race and ethnicity in the classrooms. 

Two excerpts reveal the integrity of their methodology, including an intentional strategy to include the most underrepresented students.

We designed our methods in consultation with our “Research Advisory Dream Team,” a group of adult allies with expertise in youth participatory action research (YPAR). We generated and refined our survey tool over the course of both asynchronous and synchronous sessions soon after the start of the 2021- 22 school year, and we did so in consultation with young people outside of our membership and with school and community-based educators throughout the state. 

The qualitative team analyzed the 23,094 responses to the six open-ended questions…the quantitative team analyzed 21 scaled questions. Our analysis included the identification of patterns in the data as we disaggregated it in order to compare the experiences of students of color and those of white students and make connections to what students were expressing in their open responses. From there, we were able to come to group consensus and prioritize some key data points and themes.

Race to Learn: Findings, Recommendations and Reflections from the Kentucky Student Voice Team’s Race, Ethnicity and School Climate Student Survey (March 2022)

Interspersed with the presentation of data are quotes by students that reflect a wide range of views but reinforce one finding that “46% of students report that their school needs to do more to confront racism.” Each of the recommendations drawn from the analysis deserves to be read in full (see page 13). 

There’s no doubt that the careful creation and wording of questions plus the dissemination through both formal and informal networks were what resulted in over 10K responses during only a two-week time frame. 

Model and Motive

The Kentucky Student Voice Team outlines its overarching goal on the first page of the report:

By operating as a transparent, inclusive, and collaborative team, and by documenting our process, we hope to provide a model for how young people and other stakeholders can act as citizen researchers to ensure more just and democratic schools and communities.

This research is a labor intensive undertaking, but young people like these Kentucky citizen researchers prove that the effort is worth it.

As you read about this impressive work, please share with us how your organization might infuse young people as interpreters of the grievances facing their generation and pragmatic solutions.

Additional Resources

For more information about the impact of intergenerational interdependence, contact us.

Attn Non-Profits: Five Recommendations for Anti-Racist Representation

Significant Youth Infusion is happening at this United Way in Seattle that is advancing beyond ‘youth voice.’

Back in 2002, I collaborated with United Way of America and co-authored Youth as Equal Partners which didn’t get much traction. Two decades later, there’s real reliance on young experts by the United Way of King County in Washington State. 

This prioritization of BIPOC youth can be traced to some tenacious Gen Z leaders who know firsthand that their grassroots organizations cannot compete or survive with the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex.” For over a year, the King County Youth Commission identified how voices of the historically excluded continue to be “devalued, dismissed and disregarded” and demand “a paradigm shift to dismantle this system that is so exploitative.”

We are tired of fighting for representation. It should be a given that the most impacted members of our community be given access to opportunities that are not only compensated but have actual decision-making power. 

Organization Seized the Opportunity to Collaborate with Youth

Typically young change makers guard their autonomy because they are distrustful and impatient with established institutions. In this case, these experienced young advocates are demanding systemic organizational transformation and fortunately, some equally committed staff at United Way share the same vision. An extensive 8-month research project by a team of young experts, who were paid about $25/hour by United Way’s Reconnecting Youth Initiative, generated Youth Tell All: Youth Centered Analysis on Youth Development in King County. 

Urgent, unequivocal, and uncompromising is how I would describe the eloquent young researchers who presented straightforward recommendations based on their in-depth interviews with nearly 40 Black, brown, Indigenous, and queer youth. 

Recommendation 1: Make young people integral to all decision-making, implementation, evaluation, and feedback processes.

Recommendation 2: It is vital to develop healthy and safe, as well as honest and consistent, relationships with young people.

Recommendation 3: Our decision-makers should represent our communities.

Recommendation 4: Build authentic relationships with our communities while centering the experiences of the people most affected.

Recommendation 5: Pay us for the ideas, time, labor, and leadership we contribute to your organization.

At this online presentation, the research team invited the executive director of the Seattle-based organization FEEST that lives by these five recommendations. High school students are involved at “a high level in strategic planning,” compensation is above $15/hour, and cardboard pizza has been replaced with nutritious Indigenous food in school cafeterias along with other significant wins.

Youth Tell All is not another report gathering dusk.  This spring, United Way of King County will begin a youth-led participatory grant process where youth will directly decide $100,000 funding to youth-identified priorities. 

When you work with young people, they provide feedback, and we realize they’re the product of the society we built. They have yet to be jaded and yet to be trained to mask what they’re feeling, so they are brutally honest. And when they’re brutally honest, they can call out where the discrepancies are in our work, so that we can listen to exactly where we need to and must make changes to better support youth.

Ruel Olanday, Jr. with United Way of King County

Influence is Inadequate

Read Youth Tell All  for a deeper understanding on how mainstream institutions, headed mostly by white adults, have the power to intentionally infuse young people into structures with real power to help produce lasting community change that benefits everyone.

These recommendations mean nothing if they are not acted on. The power of this report is that we did the research for you. From our Methods, all the way to our Glossary, which even includes related readings for you to deepen your understanding, the data is there. We interviewed the youth, we read the countless studies supporting our findings, and the youth led this project from the start to the finish.

The only thing that is left to do:

  • Pay the Youth who make it so your organization can thrive. This means Paying them with more than just experience, opportunities, or minimum wage. 
  • Give them decision-making power, not influence. This means making your decision-making processes so seamless that youth are already included from the start, and not when it’s time to “bring in the youth for feedback.”
  • Ensure that your organization, from staff, to board, represents the communities you serve.  Yes, this means hiring the same youth from your programs into these roles when they are ready! Yes, this means stepping down from a role that would best be served by a BIPOC community member. 
  • Mentor the Youth and develop safe, healthy, and honest relationships with them. This means giving them honest guidance, and not projecting your own trauma, or paternalistic feelings onto them and what you think they should be doing. 
  • Build authentic relationships with the communities you serve. This means all-year-round support, not just when your organization needs to check off a box for a grant deliverable.

Devan Rogers, Anti-Racist Community Organizer, and Abolitionist

Tracking Progress

More updates will follow here @ YouthInfusion.org on how United Way of King County is leading the way on authentic intergenerational interdependence to represent all constituencies in a county with over 2.25 million people.

Photo Credit: FEEST: Making Justice Irresistibly Delicious 

Resources

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“Radical Inclusion” in Action

This organization’s principled practice of Radical Inclusion is explicit: “expansively modifying boundaries in a way which creates a difference in the possibilities for engagement, as well as creating spaces that are more accessible, welcoming and inclusive of BIPOC youth and adults.”

Every youth-serving organization can learn critical lessons from UP for Learning where Youth Infusion is embedded in its culture and organizational structure.

Usually in the education sector, school administrators and teachers seek input from a handpicked cadre of students. The ideas and grievances expressed are noted but routinely discarded.

This statewide organization may have cracked the code. Executive Director Lindsey Halman is not exaggerating when she emphasizes UP for Learning’s commitment to “Radical Inclusion.” The traditional hierarchy has been replaced – teens and teachers are conspiring together to transform their archaic education system. In the words of a principal and team member: 

 

I had many opportunities to listen to youth; they reflected such a high level of introspection and passion. My takeaway was simple – no longer can change occur in education without youth-adult partnership.    

                            

UP for Learning’s involvement at 95 percent of high schools across Vermont is moving the needle where students are recognized as experts and yes, equals. They sure know the difference! 

At my school, no one is asked what we think and when adults ask questions, they seem rhetorical.Maisie Franke, 10th grade

As the student rep, I never felt belittled by the school board but the structure isn’t there whereas on the UP Board of Directors, I never feel adult dominance. Galen Reese, 11th grade 

The UP Board of Directors is welcoming and super open, even if it is something negative. Alex Smart, 12th grade

It was only six months into my senior year that I ever spoke with any school decision maker. Now I meet regularly with the School District Leadership Board, the Vermont Equity Practitioners Network, and Rooted Organizing Communities. I SEE WE ARE PEERS.  Evelyn Monje, 12th grade 

Inclusive Representation

The organization’s principled practice of “Radical Inclusion” is explicit: “expansively modifying boundaries in a way which creates a difference in the possibilities for engagement, as well as creating spaces that are more accessible, welcoming and inclusive of BIPOC youth and adults.”

UP’s commitment to diversity in a state with a population that is 94 percent white provides additional lessons.

  • Recruitment. Reduce barriers (i.e., waive grade and attendance eligibility requirements, offer additional transportation, make extra efforts to collect signed permission forms for youth in foster care or unstable living situations)
  • Multi-lingual. Provide translators, recruit and compensate young bilingual co-facilitators, produce fliers in numerous languages, etc. 

Another secret that reveals Youth Infusion is how teens and teachers actually take turns at the steering wheel. The foundation is solid enough that its “full partnership” model is flexible. High school senior Alex Smart explains that sometimes it makes more sense for adults to approach school administrators and other times, full-time UP staff step back during student-centered forums. 

Measurable Outcomes

In addition to the intangible benefits resulting from intergenerational collaboration, here are a few examples of UP for Learning’s impact.

  • 2 new questions added to the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey
  • 40 youth-adult teams engaged in yearlong Participatory Action Research projects
  • 7 monthly virtual racial justice dialogues between students in Vermont and Mississippi 
  • 1 hr/month the Winooski School Board meeting is devoted entirely to K-12 equity and antiracism work with youth facilitating these sessions

Youth Infusion continues to grow deeper roots in this organization. Student leaders have always been compensated for their work doing community outreach, analyzing survey data, etc. Now high school senior Evelyn Monje is the first part-time employee at UP for Learning. In my interview, it’s fair to say she does not sugarcoat anything so her statement carries extra credibility: “Youth-adult partnerships is the answer. There is so much growth and creativity and adults value this experience.”  

A teacher shares how transformative this experience has been.

Participating on this team was the BEST part of my school year. I began the year, quite literally, in August, during our first few days of inservice thinking – I don’t want to be a teacher any more, this system is too broken. I think I need to quit my job. I thought this a lot as the year continued. I am ending the year knowing that I want to keep working with youth, largely because of this team and seeing a new way to do it, and I want to explore my teaching role and explore special education or alternative education as a new career pathway.

Part of the reason I stuck with it and didn’t quit teaching was my commitment to this group and youth-adult partnership, which I found very healing and important. Thank you to everyone for making this possible.


Watch for a future blog about the groundbreaking intergenerational work in one Vermont school district to actualize 8 Antiracism Demands that, by the way, are translated in Swahili, Nepali and Somali.

Contact us to learn more about this and other organizations that live and breathe Youth Infusion and be the change you want to be!

Photo credit UP for Learning

Adults Pay Close Attention to Their Youth Allies

This citywide network functions more like “a family” which deserves special attention. Why? Because community activists as well as parent organizations are not always successful in building a coalition that also includes the primary stakeholders–students themselves.

482Forward is a collective of neighborhood organizations, parents, and students who attend Detroit charter and public schools. 482 is the prefix for zip codes in Wayne County, populated by many ethnicities, languages, religions, etc.

This citywide network functions more like “a family” which deserves special attention. Why? Because community activists as well as parent organizations are not always successful in building a coalition that also includes the primary stakeholders–students themselves.

The structure provides some clues about this effective intergenerational engine for education justice. Each member organization has a youth organizing hub and an adult ally. These student reps form the 482Forward Youth Collective which has the advantage of students working more autonomously on issues they deem most important and also, students can determine their own pace which can pose a conflict if adults are moving too slowly or perhaps too fast.

Ongoing Adult Openness

The Youth Organizing Director describes this enlightened adult mindset.

Adults are open to learning and changing with youth, for example, there’s an instant desire to get it right with they/them pronouns. They are constantly asking what do youth want to do…Is this in line with what youth are doing?

This attentiveness to 482Forward student leaders was evident following the murder of George Floyd. While some adults wanted to take to the streets, the youth wanted to protest the school-to-prison pipeline that overwhelmingly impacts black and brown students inside their own schools. What began to emerge was the idea of a campaign to defund the Detroit Public Schools’s own Police Department which includes security officers, private security, cameras, alarms, metal detectors, etc. and to reallocate this $33 million policing budget for mental health, including to trauma-trained staff.


Intergenerational Research in Action

In keeping with 482Forward deliberative process for developing a long-term strategy, a research team was composed mainly of students from the 482Forward Youth Organizing Collective along with two adult allies.

  • Survey – Youth developed questions to gauge both students’ and parents’ views. (COVID and the prospective reopening of schools, mental health support during virtual learning, safety in schools, interactions with school police officers, and what an improved school experience would look like).
  • Focus Groups – 800 participated in youth-led listening sessions or completed the survey over two months.
  • Data Analysis – Together the youth and adult team conducted a thematic analysis of the qualitative data and disaggregated it from the quantitative data to see detect overlaps in responses from the survey and listening sessions.

The data generated specific Invest/Divest demands including using the school police budget for more counselors, social workers, nurses, de-escalation training, restorative justice, conflict resolution training, etc. At this juncture, students, supported by parents and community supporters, organized protests at the Board of Education and Superintendent’s Office.

One concrete win is the Detroit Board of Education agreed to create a Police Oversight Committee to investigate public complaints about its Police Department and officers. This interim decision strengthens the resolve of the Invest/Divest organizers and this intergenerational teamwork.

The commitment from our elders to the engagement and support of the youth has never once wavered, which is what makes the foundation of this network so unique. Our slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us” reflects that sentiment perfectly. The youth are the key players in this game, and we can’t take any steps forward without their consent, leadership and partnership. 

– Dillon Cathro, 482Forward Director of Youth Organizing

Another success factor to note is this very diverse coalition makes certain its budget has the funds to compensate the student leaders for their time.

Can you recommend other organizations like 482Forward that we can profile and highlight the secrets and structures that produce genuine youth-adult collaboration? 

Innovative Intergenerational Research Model

Our collaboration as teachers, parents, and students resulted in findings that were meaningful and actionable–an impressive feat for non-professional researchers. I am excited to see additional community-based, co-design processes develop in the future and continue to prove their value.

Students usually are included with parents and teachers in the proverbial three-legged stool.

In reality these stakeholders, who represent 92 percent of the K-12 population, are excluded from deliberations on most every consequential education issue. One innovative intergenerational research model puts students on equal footing.  

“Intergen 9” is the revealing name chosen by the researchers who produced the revealing Coping with COVID Teacher and Family Study.

The age range of this racially diverse research team consisted of three parents, three teachers, and three students representing eight school districts across Kentucky. Additional support came from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, including another trio of facilitators. 

Over 2,000 completed the survey and interviews were conducted with parents, grandparents, and teachers of children with special needs. The data led the “Intergen 9” to advocate for several policies such as “Create more internet hot spots, especially in rural areas that are under served.”

In the words of Garris Stroud, one of the “Intergen 9” teachers:  

Our collaboration as teachers, parents, and students resulted in findings that were meaningful and actionable–an impressive feat for non-professional researchers. I am excited to see additional community-based, co-design processes develop in the future and continue to prove their value. 

Another key point emphasized by Audrey Gilbert, one of the high school student researchers:

I think that what’s so excellent about this intergenerational model is that you had three groups of stakeholders that could’ve all disagreed on everything and advocated for only their side of the issue. Instead, we all came together to say these issues are an issue for all of us. If all these groups of stakeholders work together, we have a bigger impact than working separately.

School systems across the country will find relevance in the revelations and recommendations summarized in Coping with COVID. It is important to recognize that the research team, including the students, received compensation for their time and Seek Common Ground helps to establish this norm. Moreover, this participatory action research illustrates that the three-legged stool cannot stand up without these primary stakeholders.

It is time for young people who are contributing their time and expertise to be paid. This policy should be non-negotiable both by grantors and grantees. We are keen to hear your reaction about this intergenerational model and also the controversial issue of compensation. 

We also want to highlight equally significant research by the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team that was co-designed by students and adult research advisors. Coping with COVID Student-to-Student Study reflects data based on nearly 9,500 students from across the state.

Please share your comments below and/or contact us so we can continue the discussion together! 

Youth on Governing Boards

The pinnacle of power often centers on a nonprofit’s Board of Directors. The data show that only 21.4 percent of these key governing roles are held by people of color–not much change from the BoardSource’s survey way back in 1994. A commitment to representation that reflects our increasingly younger and more diverse population is one of the transformative shifts needed to replace White Supremacy.

Anecdotal evidence reveals that young people who serve on boards contribute in significant ways such as strategic planning and also change the culture. The CEO of one environmental education nonprofit claims the high school students, who are treated as equals on the Board, often surpass the adults in their serious attention to the Board of Directors handbook, their careful analysis of budgets along with penetrating questions. Another executive director credits young people not only making Board meetings more fun but causing older members to follow through. If you’re interested, you can learn more about youth as board members from the Freechild Institute »

One student position on a local school board remains an anomaly. Even then, these high school reps have only an advisory role. It took 38 years to get legislation through the Maryland Statehouse to allow the Student Member of the Montgomery County Board of Education to be able to vote on the hiring of the Superintendent, capital and operating budgets, collective bargaining, school closings, COVID re-openings, and boundaries. Montgomery County is the 16th largest school district in the country. It seems totally out of whack that the primary stakeholders–those in the classroom–are outnumbered. Imagine if AARP had eight trustees under 25 and only one over age 50.

“Students are the most valuable and least consulted education policy experts in America.”

Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World

But most adults would not agree with Ripley as explained in typically colorful language by my colleague, Adam to Education Week last year: 

“Some adults talk to me about the inmates running the asylum. It’s this fear, this concern that kids don’t know what’s best for themselves, and as adults we have the best experience and knowledge.”

Adam Fletcher, June 11, 2019

Minors and young adults serving as reps or directors signal an institutional shift that has the potential to accelerate the snail’s pace of achieving diversity on nonprofit boards. 

P.S. To build a truly multi-racial intergenerational organization, youth also need to be involved not on a monthly or quarterly basis but interacting regularly with staff, otherwise known as Youth Infusion.

Do you agree with Adam about “the inmates”? We are eager to hear your reactions – please share them in the comments section!

Student Election Poll Workers

More than half the states have lowered the age to 16 for poll workers. Opening up these paid positions certainly signals an attitudinal shift.

November 3, 2020 is guaranteed to be a historic election. COVID has thrown a wrench into the entire system of voting. Even prior to the pandemic, election officials foresaw a crisis. Staffing polling sites has been increasingly difficult and now an estimated 250K workers are needed. The shortage is predictable with 60% who are 61 or older. One solution gaining traction is to widen the pipeline by relying on those not yet old enough to vote. 

More than half the states–34–have lowered the age to 16 for poll workers. Opening up these paid positions certainly signals an attitudinal shift. Teens can be trusted for this serious work as election judges. Most states pay minimum wage to cover hours spent for both prior training and election day. Bottom line: demographics demand it. 

It is not only the graying of America that necessitates engaging high school students but their digital skills fill a real need at polling stations. This trend is an example of multigenerational collaboration but if state and county board of election officials applied our Youth Infusion process, this opportunity to participate in our democracy could be dramatically different by intentionally engaging the most marginalized and underrepresented. 

NOW IMAGINE REAL YOUTH INPUT

Let’s imagine how a group of young consultants could have contributed if they had been involved at the very start in weighing numerous decisions that could result in a broader pool of student poll workers who could have this rare civic leadership experience. A few hypothetical examples: 

  1. Eligibility requirements range from 2.5 GPA, 3.0 in other states, to “exemplary academic standing.” Would these grades deny too many deserving students this opportunity?
  2. High School Poll Worker recruitment flyer details about time commitment and compensation. Would youth emphasize other information and pick other photos?
  3. Application questions like Utah’s include “Are you comfortable working with electronic equipment and entering voter information on a tablet/computer?” Would they reword this requirement?

In this case, young people can be enlisted to flag and circumvent potential barriers that could prevent their peers from applying, for example, having to print out the document and have postage stamps. In addition to inside knowledge of Generation Z, collaborating with a cohort of teens begins to pull down the wall of age segregation. We envision structural organizational change where boards of elections would intentionally recruit young people to expand those involved on the frontlines not only on Nov 3rd but every election day.

What’s your reaction about this trend of trusting teens with this responsibility? We are eager to hear your opinion!