Meaningful Youth Engagement

Cover of OPA's Listen Up! Youth Listening Session Toolkit.

In recent years, a growing recognition of meaningful youth engagement and the power of user-driven programs has fueled efforts to identify best practices for engaging youth in health initiatives. Programs that involve youth are proven to be more effective at engaging the population and, therefore, to have a greater impact.

Involving the target group, especially for youth-oriented programs aimed at addressing health disparities, requires that engagement be undertaken equitably. Youth Listening Sessions (YLS) offer an opportunity to meaningfully engage youth, signal that their opinions are valuable, and incorporate their voices into program discovery, planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Between 2017 and 2019, the Office of Population Affairs (OPA) led a YLS collaborative pilot with 13 Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program grantees to test different youth engagement strategies and develop resources to support organizations in meaningfully and systematically engaging youth in their projects. The Listen Up! Youth Listening Session Toolkit is the product of that collaboration and is designed to enhance organizations’ capacities to:

  • Conduct all stages of a youth listening session, including planning, implementation, extrapolating insights, and making program improvements;
  • Promote inclusive practices to support safe and supportive environments that accommodate equitable opportunities for youth participation;
  • Inspire innovative approaches and creative problem-solving when soliciting youth input and ideas; and
  • Engage youth as equal partners meaningfully and authentically in the discovery, planning, implementation, and evaluation stages of youth-serving programs.

The Toolkit’s accompanying workbook contains 18 ready-to-use templates, forms, and sample documents to help organizations start planning their YLS.

Download the Listen Up! Youth Listening Session Toolkit.

OPA would like to thank the 2019-2020 Grantee Learning Collaborative for reviewing this toolkit and co-leading its dissemination.

What Communities Can Do

Teens acting out a scene in drama class.It is important that communities involve adolescents in state, regional, and local efforts and in decisions that affect adolescents’ lives. Communities can lay a foundation for successful PYD efforts with a range of youth engagement strategies, including youth councils or governing boards and youth service and leadership efforts.

There are a few different community-wide PYD models that have been tested and shown to be effective in supporting youth. Two examples of evidence-based community strengthening programs, Communities that Care (CTC) and Promoting School-Community-University Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER), work with existing programs to incorporate PYD principles such as building relationships with adults, setting goals, engaging with family and community, and focusing on finding strengths and building skills.

Learn more about what communities can to do to support PYD