Creating Strong Youth-Adult Partnerships for Effective Decision-Making

For youth-serving organizations, the importance of including youth in decision-making cannot be overstated. In order to fully involve youth in these processes, organizations must create strong youth-adult partnerships between the adults within the organization and the youth they are serving. 

Research shows that bringing youth and adults together to collaborate over important decisions simultaneously creates stronger youth and stronger organizations, leading to stronger communities overall. However, creating authentic relationships with youth involves more than just having them at the table: it takes real work to be done correctly. While asking youth for their input is beneficial to organizations, simply inviting youth into the conversation is not enough because of the inherent power differences between youth and adults. Adults need to acknowledge these power dynamics and actively work to address them in order to create thriving relationships with the youth they serve.

Here are three tips for creating stronger youth/adult partnerships within your organization:

1. Create a safe space for open dialogue between youth and adults. Youth need to be able to share their feelings and ideas without discouragement from adults. Additionally, adults need to be open with youth about their own feelings and ideas to create a relationship of mutual respect. You can create this space by doing team-building activities involving both youth and adults; creating group norms to ensure everyone is on the same page; and openly acknowledging and discussing the power dynamics between youth and adults that may come up during decision-making conversations.

2. Implement methods for two-way feedback. Adults need to share feedback with the youth to help them grow, and youth need to give feedback to adults on how to best communicate with other youth. This can look like anonymous feedback forms; time in meetings for conversations for providing feedback to each other; or other informal or formal feedback mechanisms. 

3. Create a shared sense of power between the youth and adults where decisions are made equally by both. This creates a culture of trust where youth feel their input is valued by adults who are willing to put their feedback into practice. Don’t just write down what the youth suggest – take action on it to show you trust their insight and take them seriously as partners within the organization.

Each of these steps may take extra time or resources, but if organizations do not fully invest in their relationships with youth, they will not see the results they desire. When done correctly, creating these strong partnerships benefits both the youth and the organization and ultimately leads to stronger communities.

For youth, these partnerships increase their:

  • Self-esteem
  • Decision-making skills when confronting important issues
  • Resiliency
  • Sense of belonging and importance within a community
  • Love of and passion for civic engagement
  • Desire to be in leadership roles in the community

For organizations, these partnerships:

  • Positively change organizational norms and traditions by bringing in new voices for change
  • Help create new policies, groups, or programs within the organization
  • Allow new community issues to be addressed by hearing directly from youth most impacted by the issues

When youth and adults create strong relationships, everyone – the youth, the organization, and the community – wins. 

Alyssa HornyakCreating Strong Youth-Adult Partnerships for Effective Decision-Making