By Jenna Sethi, Ph.D., Research Associate, Search Institute

What does it mean to create a culture of youth voice? What roles do young people and adults play in creating this culture? How can it be implemented and sustained?

Search Institute recently partnered with the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend (CFGRB) in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois to answer these questions. We conducted focus groups with youth participants and interviewed adult leaders from 10 different youth-serving organizations. We analyzed the data and—with the help of a youth participant—presented themes at a Youth Voices retreat.

At this day-long event, youth and adults engaged in activities to get to know each other across organizations and build relationships. They interacted with the data, choosing themes from the study about why youth voice is important. Participants then created an action plan to support youth voice within their own organizations.

At the end of the day, all participants worked together to develop a community-wide action plan to create a culture of youth voice throughout the Quad Cities area. The CFGRB then presented the group with the exciting news that each organization could apply for a $1000 grant to start making their action plan a reality.

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At Search Institute, we are currently engaged in studies to learn more about what we now refer to as developmental relationships, close connections through which young people develop the desire and the capacity to thrive in life. From this research, a framework has emerged outlining five essential strategies for building developmental relationships. They include: Express Care, Challenge Growth, Provide Support, Share Power, and Expand Possibilities.

One idea that emerged as a priority from the focus groups, interviews, and the retreat in the Quad Cities was youth asking adults to Share Power. This notion aligns with three of the core statements from youth in this study:

  • Listen, recognize we have good ideas, and actually consider them.
  • I’m here, you’re here, we’re equal.
  • Youth take initiative and the lead.

Another core idea from youth participants was to create more opportunities for youth involvement and more opportunities for diverse youth voices to be heard. This aligns with the Developmental Relationships Framework strategy to Expand Possibilities. All youth need to be exposed to more programs, places, and experiences that will expand opportunities for them to develop and share their ideas with others in their families, schools, communities and across the Quad Cities region.

Creating a culture of youth voice—where young people’s ideas are both taken seriously and implemented with the support of caring adults—takes a sustained commitment. It takes adults willing to share power and expand possibilities and it takes young people willing to take initiative and lead. We hope the Quad Cities can serve as an example of what it takes to make a culture of youth voice a reality.

To learn more about this project, click on this link to read the full report: Designing a “Youth Voice” Strategy for the Quad Cities prepared by Terri Sullivan, Ed.D., Director Qualitative Research and Jenna Sethi, Ph.D., Research Associate.

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