The Simplicity of Engagement

I admit it, I am guilty. For years I’ve been working to over-complicate youth engagement. In my partnerships with some of the leaders in the field of youth engagement we have sought to identify, explore, examine, re-identify, re-explore, and re-examine youth engagement in its parts and particulars. We have been looking for the sophisticated components, the complex inner-workings of a rather simple thing.

The closest I’ve come to finding that simplicity has been with my friend Greg Williamson, who used to be the student engagement guru at Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and who is now among the best independent consultants in the Pacific Northwest, among other things. A few years ago during one of our brainstorming meetings Greg proposed a simple measure for determining youth engagement from a young person’s perspective. He said we could ask children and youth a really easy question, and let their testimony be the marker for determining whether youth engagement does or does not exist. That question? Do you feel engaged or do you feel detached?


In our conversations we decided that was the most simple, most apt way to illustrate the nature of youth engagement.

Now, I know there has to be some framing done, perhaps to the extent of asking the participant what their personal definition of “engagement” is or even sharing a definition with them, but I think this is a good start to finding an authentic, powerful, and simple way to get to the heart of youth engagement: Its about the young people. I want to get back to that place.

Oh, and thanks to Doug Smith for kicking out this graphic, and the others I’ve used throughout this blog.

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