Informed by a scan of youth engagement practices across the country and a recent informal survey of select member cities, the National League of Cities (NLC) offers local leaders a new set of resources designed to strengthen authentic youth civic engagement.
In addition to these resources, NLC supports youth civic engagement through the Youth Delegate Program at its annual City Summit and the Congressional City Conferences.
“Utilizing NLC resources and information” is key to building a successful youth council says Alison Longworth, a youth engagement expert from Greenbelt, Maryland, a city on the leading edge of youth civic engagement.“Attending the [conferences] for the last four years has really propelled the success and direction of our committee.”
NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families also designed a self-perception inventory city leaders can use to determine where their strengths already lie in authentically engaging youth in their communities.
The perception inventory can help local officials determine where to start with the following authentic youth civic engagement resources.
- “A Primer on Authentic Youth Civic Engagement” introduces opportunities for building authentic youth engagement and a starting point for all four tools discussed in subsequent briefs.
- “A Brief Introduction to Starting a Youth Council” introduces initial considerations for city leaders starting a youth council.
- “A Brief Introduction to Hosting a Youth Summit” gives guidelines on how to start an engaging youth summit in your city.
- “A Brief Introduction to Participatory Budgeting” provides more information on this practice and additional resources for implementation.
- “A Brief Introduction to Lowering the Voting Age” explains the benefits of allowing 16- and 17- year-olds to vote in municipal elections and provides resources for cities exploring this growing practice.
Recruitment and Selection Process Matters for Youth Councils
Through the informal survey of youth councils from 36 towns, villages and cities from across the country, NLC found that elected youth councils view themselves as having more diverse and high-quality membership as opposed to those that use an appointment process. This also correlated to youth members having a higher sense of empowerment to create change. The informal survey showed that selection process that includes appointment by city officials may be hampering these goals of diversity and empowerment. Additionally,the only member selection method rated highly effective at recruiting empowered youth by all the councils that use it was peer elections.
Youth Councils Need More Opportunities to Inform Government Decisions
Most cities have more to do to support routine youth engagement in governance. Only seven of the surveyed cities have routine youth council presence at city council meetings, hearings or briefings. More concerning, only four reported routine or required youth council input on city governance.
However, most surveyed cities do facilitate interaction between elected officials and their youth councils periodically, with 63 percent of cities reporting that their youth councils sometimes present at briefings, meetings or testimony, and elected officials in about half of the responding cities attend some youth council meetings.
A few standout cities provide youth with particularly meaningful opportunities to affect city policy. Hillsboro, Oregon has members of its youth council research and draft policy surrounding issues that affect youth. A few cities, such as Boston and Meridian, Idaho, engage youth in participatory budgeting, giving them an opportunity to shape how the city spends taxpayer dollars. City leaders are key champions of authentic youth civic engagement in Greenbelt, Maryland, where they recently lowered the voting age for municipal elections to 16.
About the Author: Micael Guzman was an intern for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. He is an undergraduate at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.