Lessons from the Youth-Driven Spaces Project

Back to main article

Four years ago, the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, Mich., worked with eight local organizations seeking a more youth-driven approach. This coaching and training program was done in collaboration with the. David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality.

Researchers from Michigan State University evaluated the project and made four recommendations to organizations seeking to become youth-driven:

  1. Create a teen advisory council.
    This structure lets young people run activities, make program decisions, set policy and even hire staff. Staff and administrators provide support for this core group of teen leaders. The council serves as the pipeline for keeping youth involved in decision-making, researchers said.
  2. Dedicate staff members to the transformation.
    Staff members must have time and responsibility to support youth leadership. A key staff member must be dedicated to working actively in support of the teen advisory council. This person must also work with the coach and administrators to set goals.
  3. Install youth on the board of directors.
    When youth take on this higher role, they shift the power dynamics between youth and adults, which is key to sustaining a youth-driven model. When youth join the board, it institutionalizes the approach.
  4. Align the mission, policies and procedure with youth-driven practices.
    These changes are best made in collaboration with youth in the organization. This can be a challenging effort and problems may arise, researchers said. The support of a coach is particularly helpful.

The evaluators concluded that the project helped youth develop socially and emotionally and master a variety of 21st century skills. They concluded the project promoted organizational change and could be used in diverse programs.

Organizations or programs seeking to become more youth-driven can go through several stages, the researchers said. To get to a stage of sustainability, the staff must be formally trained and able to train others, they said.

The organization must have a pipeline of youth to ensure a continuity of youth engagement. Experienced youth should mentor younger ones.

In addition, the organization must institutionalize youth-driven practices in the group’s mission, bylaws and values, they said.

Source: Evaluation of the Youth-Driven Spaces Project, Community Evaluation and Research Collaborative University of Michigan.

Back to main article


Youth Today is the only independent, internationally distributed digital media publication that is read by thousands of professionals in the youth service field.

Youth Today adheres to high-quality journalistic standards, providing readers with professional news coverage dedicated to examining a wide spectrum of complex issues in the youth services industry from legislation to community-based youth work.


Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue.


We are committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization. Donors may be quoted, mentioned or featured in our stories. Our news judgments are made independently – not based on or influenced by donors. Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions…(read more)

Recent Comments




Kennesaw State University Mountain Logo & Ceneter for Sustainable Journalism Logo
LOGO Institute for Nonprofit News 3 turquoise boxes stacked in "J" shape

Copyright © 2018 Youth Today and MVP Themes --- Published by Center for Sustainable Journalism,
Kennesaw State University, 1200 Chastain Blvd. Suite 310, Kennesaw GA 30144

To Top