The MOST IMPORTANT Youth Engagement Books

Every few years I revisit my list of the most important books related to youth engagement, youth voice, youth involvement, and youth empowerment. Following is the November 2010 version.

In 2007 Youth On Board hired me to rewrite 15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making with them. This version of the essential guide to youth involvement highlights the essential elements of successful project planning, this manual provides stories, hints, and tools to make your project successful. Order it from

The Students Commission in Canada published Adults as Allies in Action. A well-designed introduction for adults, this publication gives basic information and ideas for adults to learn how to better support young people throughout society. Download it free at

Barry Checkoway is a renown sociologist at the University of Michigan. His publication for the WK Kellogg Foundation, Adults as Allies, was the only of its kind when it was originally published. It highlights the role of adults in youth involvement by posing questions, offering activities, and providing stories that highlight effective intergenerational interaction. This publication seems to have disappeared from the Internet; share a URL with me if you find one please?

In the early 2000s The Innovation Center and National 4-H released a pivotal study called At the Table: Making the case for Youth in Decision-Making. Their publication called At the Table: Making the case for Youth in Decision-Making: Research Highlights from a Study on the impacts of Youth on Adults and Organizations is essential reading for anyone who wants to make the case. You can download in at

Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change was edited by Shawn Ginwright, Pedro Noguera, and Julio Cammarota. Academics study the current implementations of Youth Voice activities across the country and their effects on communities, policy, and more. Order from your local bookstore.

Building Community: A Tool Kit for Youth and Adults in Charting Assets and Creating Change was published by The Innovation Center. This publication makes it possible for individuals and groups everywhere to bring an inclusive, asset-based approach to youth involvement in their community. Filled with detailed information and case studies, it gives users what they need to create youth adult partnerships and lasting community development. You can order it at

The Child Rights Information Network published an issue of their newspaper focused on Children and Young People’s Participation. It reviews how far children and young people’s participation has progressed, through a series of international overviews and thematic case studies. The overviews present the state of youth involvement around the world, examine key barriers to effective participation and suggest specific recommendations, based on experience, to improve future practice. Case studies describe examples of children’s participation in a variety of contexts. You can download it at

Sociologist Roger Hart’s wrote the first substantive publication on youth involvement for UNESCO called Children’s Participation in Sustainable Development. A new edition of Hart’s classic, this book is a central text for anyone interested in studying youth involvement in communities. It introduces organizing principles, successful models, practical techniques and resources for involving children in a variety of social projects. You can order it at

The Innovation Center and National 4-H Council worked together on a few publications, including the important Creating Youth/Adult Partnerships. For those just beginning to explore youth-adult partnerships as a strategy for community and organization building, this book offers a step-by-step tools to prepare youth and adults to work as a team. Designed with even the most novice trainer in mind, this curriculum provides activities that challenge preconceptions, explore benefits, assess readiness and build trust to strengthen their work in partnership. Order it at

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada created a vital document when they published The Declaration of Accountability on the Ethical Engagement of Young People and Adults in Canadian Organizations. It shares a wide-ranging perspective of youth involvement, calling for organizations and communities to see beyond past activities and to identify and practice powerful ethical approaches to engaging youth. Despite the reference to Canadian organizations, this document is useful communities around the world. You can download it from

The Evolving Capacities of the Child by Gerison Lansdown is another UN imprint that I believe is absolutely vital to understanding the present and future of young people. The principle behind recognizing the ‘evolving capacities’ of the child recognizes that as young people acquire enhanced competencies, there is a diminishing need for protection and a greater capacity to take responsibility for decisions affecting their lives. The purpose of this publication is to open the discussion and promote debate to achieve a better understanding of how children can be protected, in accordance with their evolving capacities, and also provided with opportunities to participate in the fulfillment of their rights. A necessary read for all youth involvement practitioners. You can download it at

The gang of Jee Kim, Mathilda de Dios, Pablo Caraballo, et al was led by William Wimsatt to write Future 500: Youth Organizing and Activism in the United States. This is the most comprehensive detailing of youth-led organizing ever published. The book details hundreds of organizations across the U.S., identifying them by location, issue-orientation, and constituency. You can order it from your local bookstore.

The Education Commission of the States’ Initiative wrote a brief summary called Integrating Youth Voice in Service Learning. It highlights the variety of ways Youth Voice can find traction when young people combine community service with state learning goals. You can download it online from

The Young Wisdom Project of the Movement Strategy Center wrote an essential publication with Making Space/Making Change: Profiles of Youth-Led and Youth-Driven Organizations. It is a powerful tool highlighting the successes and challenges of operating authentic Youth Voice programs. There are in-depth features on six programs across the nation, providing vital details and tips. You can learn more about it at

Before their were national organizations promoting youth involvement, there was Wendy Schaetzel Lesko. Wendy, a friend of The Freechild Project’s, published Maximum Youth Involvement: The Complete Gameplan for Community Change. This manual answers nearly 100 questions on how adults and organizations can support young people as equal partners and effective advocates in changing community norms and policies plus a 40-page Appendix with reproducible checklists and interactive skill-building activities. You can order it from

My Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change was written to provide the first comprehensive guide to integrating student voice throughout the education system. It provides a concise introduction for educators on how to empower student voice in schools by engaging students as decision-makers, and more. Includes useful theoretical models, practical considerations, and valuable examples from across the United States. You can download it at

Perpetua Kirby published a vital report for the Carnegie Trust in the UK with Measuring the Magic: Evaluating and Researching Young People’s Participation in Public Decision-Making. This report examines the different ways in which involving young people in decision – making could be measured and evaluated. It recommends a number of different ways of effectively evaluating work in a variety of settings. You can download it at

The Youth Adult Partnerships Project in Alaska wrote The Power of an Untapped Resource: Exploring Youth Representation on Your Board or Committee. This handbook was created by youth for boards or committees interested in including young people. It lists basic criteria for creating an effective board that includes youth representation, including: how to prepare boards for youth involvement; create a position; choose representatives; address legal issues; recruit youth; and educate youth members. You can download it at’s/AASBPubs/HansB_bklt.pdf

Promoting Children’s Participation in Democratic Decision-Making was written by Gerison Lansdown. This publication makes the case for a commitment to respecting children’s rights to be heard and the need to consolidate and learn from existing practice. It draws on much of the already published research and thinking in the field and on a wide range of international initiatives. In so doing, it seeks to provide practical guidance on the lessons learned to date in working with children as partners. It is a contribution to the development of tools for those who see children ‘s rights to be heard as a means of promoting and protecting their other rights. You can download it at

Re-focusing the Lens: Assessing the Challenge of Youth Involvement in Public Policy was a powerfully conclusive study by Phillip Haid, Elder C. Marques and Jon Brown. This short paper explores successful models of youth participation in policy development and identifies barriers to meaningful youth involvement in the policy process, based on case studies. Download at

My SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum was written as the first collection of lesson plans for classroom teachers focused on engaging student voice ever published. Includes a variety of hands-on, project-based activities that teach students about learning, the education system, school reform, and how students can be meaningfully involved in all three! You can order it from

Taking the Initiative: Promoting Young People’s Involvement in Public Decision Making: International Reports was written by the Carnegie Young People Initiative in the UK. This report provides insights into the policy and administrative infrastructure that makes it possible for governments to conceptualize and implement program for young people. It underscores the importance of youth participation in informing policy and programming for young people. Countries featured in the report are Barbados, Uganda, Lithuania, Portugal, Denmark, South Africa and Germany. Download at

Younger Voices, Stronger Choices: Promise Project’s Guide to Forming Youth/Adult Partnerships by Michael McLarney and Loring Leifer was one of the first nationally available publications on youth involvement. An important primer on involving youth in meaningful ways, co-written by a youth and an adult. This is the foundational text for many other books on youth involvement. Order from your local bookstore.

Shepherd Zeldin, Annette Kusgen-McDaniel, and Dimitri Topitzes worked on a number of important studies together, and wrote Youth in Decision-Making: A Study on The Impacts of Youth on Adults and Organizations. This report discusses the impacts young people have on adults and organizations when they are involved in significant decision-making roles. It will be of interest to policy-makers and practitioners, and concludes by commenting on the conditions that are needed to allow organizations to include more youth in their decision-making processes. Find it online.

Youth Participation and Community Change edited by Barry Checkoway and Lorraine Gutierrez is a forum where academics, students, and organizational leaders from across the U.S. explore current research and action happening in communities around the country. It includes a number of examples and wonderful descriptions from a variety of programs, and you can order it from your local bookstore.

The Youth Voices in Community Design Handbook was printed by the California Center for Civic Engagement and Youth Development. This is a spectacular, free how-to guide on getting youth involved in local policy making and community planning. The handbook provides a step-by-step guide to Youth Voice and is supported by an extensive online library of articles and activities. Download at

Jonna Justinianno and Cynthia Scherer wrote Youth Voice: A Guide for Engaging Youth in Leadership and Decision-Making in Service-Learning Programs for the Points of Light Foundation and the Corporation for National Service. The purpose of this guide is to provide service learning practitioners with basic information on Youth Voice – how to engage youth in leadership and decision-making in programs. This guide highlights what youth voice is, why it is important and models of Youth Voice that have been implemented by service learning practitioners. Download it at

There are hundreds more publications available on youth involvement, youth voice, youth engagement, and youth empowerment. What would you add to this list?

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker, writer, trainer, researcher and advocate who researches, writes and shares about education, youth, and history.

2 thoughts on “The MOST IMPORTANT Youth Engagement Books

  1. I recommend A Handbook of Children and Young People's Participation: Perspectives from Theory and Practice (2010), edited by Barry Percy-Smith and Nigel Thomas. It includes examples of child and youth participation in a variety of contexts from around the world from practitioners, scholars and youth. There are chapters on engaging children and youth with disabilities and mental health issues, living in extremely poor and/or post-conflict areas, children as reporters, indigenous children and youth, child laborers, etc. It's a thick volume, and the prose can be pretty thick too, but everyone will probably find something useful.

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