Civic Engagement for Youth

Civic engagement is important to the health of a democratic nation. Well-functioning democracies are highly dependent on active participation of their citizens. According to Nabatchi (2012), “Citizen participation can be broadly defined as the processes by which public concerns, needs, and values are incorporated into [government] decision-making” (p. 6). But, civic participation is more than participation in government decision-making. The Civic Health Index provides five categories to measure civic health: social connection, political action, belonging to a group, volunteering and service, and working with neighbors (National Conference on Citizenship, 2010). The Civic Health Index emphasizes the mutually reinforcing nature of these activities – participation in one makes it more likely that an individual will participate in others.


In the language of the positive youth development (PYD) framework, helping youth perceive the importance of and develop an understanding of how to contribute is essential for youth to thrive in their transition from adolescence to adulthood (Lerner, Brentano, Dowling, & Anderson, 2002). Young people who experience particularly oppressive environments such as those frequently present in poor, urban environments may experience the added benefits of healing, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically as they “comprehend and address the complex, hidden social and economic forces” by gaining critical consciousness (Ginwright & Cammarota, 2002, p. 92).


Civic engagement programs for young people vary dramatically in their size, shapes, intensities, types of services, and the goals they are trying to achieve. Some are focused primarily on building skills to help youth engage in the future, some provide opportunities for youth to volunteer, others combine skill-building and participation, some focus on helping youth connect to their community in positive ways, and others take a youth organizing approach. The questions provided here will help you reflect on key elements of your program necessary to produce the outcomes you want, and how they can be tracked/managed to ensure that services are delivered with consistency.


By Urban Institute


Questions your program should answer:



Sources Cited

Ginwright, S. & Cammarota, J. (2002). New terrain in youth development: The promise of a social justice approach. Social Justice, 29(4), 82-95.

Lerner, R.M., Brentano, C., Dowling, E.M., Anderson, P.M. (2002). Positive youth development: Thriving as the basis of personhood and civil society. New Directions for Youth Development, 95, 11-33.

Nabatchi, Tina. (2012). A Manager’s Guide to Evaluating Citizen Participation. IBM Center for the Business of Government.

National Conference on Citizenship. (2010). 2010 Civic Health Assessment Executive Summary.

Pittman, K., Martin, S., Williams, A. (July 2007). Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change. The Forum for Youth Investment (FYI) & Oasis/Community IMPACT