What We Know about “What Works” in Youth Civic Engagement and Voice, Youth Organizations, Youth Leadership, and Civic Education

This literature review is part of USAID’s Youth and Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) Research and Learning Project. The objective is to seek answers to the broad question of “what works” in youth programming. The review focused on evidence of impact of interventions in four areas: youth civic engagement and voice, youth organizations, youth leadership, and civic education for youth. Particular attention was given to interventions in conflict and violence-affected areas and in the context of countering violent extremism.

The following conclusions and observations are based on the review of the academic empirical literature published since 2000:

  • There is some academic empirical work on the impact of interventions in youth civic education, and very little in the other thematic areas. Qualitative research methods, including case study analysis, have been the predominant method to assess the impact of interventions to promote youth civic engagement and voice, youth organizations, and youth leadership.
  • This review was unable to identify academic studies of the impact of interventions in the listed thematic areas in conflict and violence-affected areas or in countering violent extremism.
  • Case studies of youth civic engagement and voice, youth organizations, and youth leadership interventions emphasize the importance of preparing adults to include youth and to make space for and support their participation.
  • Research on impact focuses on the benefits to youth (self-reported increased confidence, skills, and knowledge). Research on youth organizations and youth-led organizing also focuses on benefits to the community in the form of improved service delivery. There is little evidence of the impact of interventions on governance and processes of decision making.
  • Research on civic education shows that if taught effectively, civic education can improve civic knowledge, and perhaps change civic attitudes, but the impact on levels of youth civic engagement remains unclear.
  • The literature highlights the importance of contextual factors that enable or constrain the potential impact of interventions in the four areas of youth programming.
  • Many of the findings in this review are further reflected in and reinforced by the results of the Systematic Review conducted by Prof. William Dunn, the expert evaluator on this team. The Systematic Review, as he explains in his summary report and full report, provides a comprehensive overview of existing evidence in youth programming in the four DRG areas

Disclaimer: The content of this document was developed by Counterpart International’s academic research team. It should be understood as a draft document as it will being reviewed and discussed during the Peer Review process. The document may be revised, if necessary. The document in its present form does not represent the views of USAID.


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