Involve Young People

Build Relationships:

Building community support

When young people are involved in a community or organisation, everybody benefits. To build support for this idea, find allies and champions to work with, communicate a clear message and create opportunities to bring people together. This will help shift attitudes, so young people are seen as active contributors to a community.
Shifting attitudes about young people

For communities and organisations to really benefit from involving young people, they need to make a commitment to involving young people. This involves time, effort and resources to build a ‘youth-friendly’ culture, where all community members value and celebrate young people.

There are generally four community attitudes towards young people: problems, recipients, resources or partners.  

  • When young people are seen as problems, older people want control over them. The community does things to young people, in order to regulate their behaviour, or protect them (or other community members) from harm.
  • When young people are seen as recipients, older people do what they believe is good for young people. The community provides things for young people, to help them develop skills, knowledge or experience.
  • When young people are seen as resources, older people recognise their value by giving them some input into community planning or decisions. But they’re still mainly in a helping role, where things are being done for them.
  • When young people are seen as partners, they share decision-making, power and responsibility equally with adults. The community does things with them.

As we’ve seen with the Yerp guiding principles, taking an attitude that young people are partners maximizes the benefits of involving young people.

So, to create a ‘youth-friendly’ culture, first reflect on where community attitudes are currently at. Then work to shift attitudes, away from viewing young people as passive recipients towards seeing them as active contributors.

Allies and champions

There’s strength in numbers, so it helps to find some allies – people who think the same as you and can help you build community support. Perhaps start with those people or groups already involving young people, like youth services and schools. And don’t forget young people themselves – there will be lots of them waiting for an opportunity to change community attitudes.

Build relationships with respected people within your community or organisation who have the power to influence others. They could be local councillors or your mayor, senior managers in your organisation, community elders or popular figures.

Which of your allies can you turn into champions? Champions are important – they’re the people who will enthusiastically promote the idea of a ‘youth-friendly’ culture and persuade others to join in.

Work together with your allies and champions to define a shared vision, purpose and goals.

  • How do you want young people to be involved in the community of organisation?
  • What goals will you work towards?
  • How will you measure your success?

Plan how you will:

  • communicate a message to the community or organisation,
  • create opportunities that build mutual trust and respect, and
  • evaluate what you’re doing.
Communicate a message

Work with your allies and champions to let the community or organisation know why it makes sense to involve young people. Communicate a consistent message that’s clear and easily understood.

Describe why it makes sense for the community or organisation to involve young people. Clarify that this is evidence based on academic research and best practice. 

  • Normalise young people’s involvement

Show that it’s common practice to involve young people by using examples. The more people see how other groups have involved young people, the less unsure they’ll be about doing it themselves. Discover the history of young people’s involvement in your local area. It’s likely you’ll find some interesting – and often surprising – facts about the impact young people have made in the past. 

  • Tell a story

Frame your message as a story about young people as the solution to a thriving, sustainable community. Show people how they can become the hero of the story by involving young people. Appeal to their values – e.g. their desire to help others, their hopes for a happy life or their sense of local pride.

  • Use the news media

Young people are often represented negatively in the media. Counter this by contacting your local newspaper or radio station with positive news – they’re always looking for stories. Use the news media to your advantage by getting in touch and sharing:

  • inspiring examples of young people contributing to the community
  • new research findings or media releases from youth-focused organisations
  • exciting events or activities that are coming up.

Encourage your allies and champions to keep spreading the message through their networks. Use social media to help with this. You could also create a website like the Banyule 100 to show the good things young people are doing in the community:

Create opportunities that build mutual trust and respect

Sometimes it’s not enough just to tell the community about the benefits of involving young people. To help shift attitudes, it’s best to help people experience the benefits for themselves.

You can do this by providing opportunities to bring older and younger people together. This will help both groups break down any misconceptions they might have about the other. Work with your allies to plan activities or events that are fun, social occasions that can build mutual trust and respect. Think about how you can promote shared learning and communication across generations. Some ideas could be:

  • Skills-sharing, where younger and older people teach each other new skills.
  • Music or arts groups, performances or exhibitions.
  • Joint research into local history or a vision for the future.
  • Street parties or barbeques to celebrate public holidays or important local dates.

As well as involving young people in the planning, support them to organise and lead things on the day.

Keep building and evaluating

Keep building support by making sure your allies and champions are connected, up to date and inspired.

Work together to evaluate what you're doing so you can demonstrate the outcomes and impact you’re making, and learn where you need to concentrate your efforts.

Remember that building support – and shifting attitudes – takes time, so stay stress free, remain focused and celebrate the journey.


Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) (2012), A national plan for child and youth wellbeing. A review of the literature, November 2012.

Burns, J., Phillippa, C.,  Blanchard, M., De-Freitas, N., and Lloyd, S. (2008), Preventing youth disengagement and promoting engagement, ARACY.

Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development (US) (2005), Reflect and Improve: A Tool Kit for Engaging Youth and Adults as Partners in Program Evaluation, Takoma Park, MD: Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development.

Lofquist, W. (1989). The Technology of Prevention. Tucson, AZ: Associates for Youth Development.

Pittman, K., Martin, S., and Williams, A. (2007), Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change, Washington: The Forum for Youth Investment, Impact Strategies, Inc.

Sirianni, C. 2005 Circle Working Paper, Youth Civic Engagement: Systems Change and Culture Change in Hampton, Virginia.

Sullivan, T. K. (2011), Youth Engagement: More than a method. A way of life for healthy youth and community development, A white paper written for the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development.

Wheeler, W. (2005), Youth Engagement: A Celebration Across Time and Culture. Framing the Issue, Kellog Foundation, Seminar Series. Battle Creek, Michigan: W.K. Kellogg

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