What Does Success Look Like?

What Does Success Look Like?

Building & Strengthening Your Agency's Civics and Workforce Programs


To ensure a local government agency successfully engages youth, consider the spectrum of offerings and what works best for the their staff and budget resources. To get started, agencies can begin with a “Youth in Government” event or field trips to your local government’s headquarters to learn about the people and functions of local government.

Workforce Programs

Civics Education and Civic Engagement Programs

Local governments can support youth engagement by providing opportunities for young people to participate in:

Key Elements of Successful Youth Councils/Commissions

Each youth commission or council responds to community needs and the issues that led to its creation. While many factors contribute to their success, a few are particularly important.

  • Staffing. Commissions need staff who have the time and interest to work with them and understand youth leadership, development and empowerment. Young people brought into leadership and service roles need appropriate support, skills, confidence, networks and access to decision-makers, all of which require the time, commitment and consistent attention of skilled staff.
  • Diversity of Membership. As appropriate to each city, county or special district, youth members should vary by geographic region, ethnicity, socioeconomic background and gender. Inclusiveness encourages equity, gives credibility to the commission and provides opportunities for youth to work toward a common purpose with those of different backgrounds and experiences.
  • An Appropriate Budget. Youth commissions require adequate resources to become active and effective and fulfill the purposes for which they were established. In addition to support for staff, resource needs may also include the costs of stipends for youth; meeting expenses, transportation and other costs associated with membership, meetings and participation; training and skills development to build commission competence and confidence; support for communication, education and outreach to increase youth and other public awareness of the commission; and expenses related to the specific projects and activities of the commission or council.
  • Youth Should “Own” It. If the budget, project selection and the commission meeting agenda are not appropriately “owned” by the youth members, participation will likely be lax and less focused. This doesn’t mean youth members should work without guidance from staff or that encouraging greater ownership always succeeds. However, the best results usually occur when youth have had their own “Ah ha!” moment, have decided what needs to be done, and are carrying the work forward with support — not direction — from staff. Youth should set the agenda and hold themselves accountable. Empower the youth commission to be about policies as well as about providing events and supports to other young people in their community.
  • Access to Public Agency Decision-Makers. Creating an environment where youth voices are heard and respected is fundamental. When youth commissions are asked to provide input into actions or decisions of their local government, they must have regular access to appropriate information and the officials with whom they must communicate. Local agency commissions, councils, and boards should provide information to youth commissioners and invite their participation. The staff of departments whose work may be of particular interest to youth commissions should attend and report to commission meetings on a regular basis, and they should invite youth commission participation in their own meetings and decision-making process. When creating public engagement processes for new local plans, budgets, or other initiatives, youth commissions should be asked to help design vehicles to ensure youth participation.
  • Enhancing Youth Commission Capacity. Each youth member will bring his or her own strengths and interests to a youth commission or council. However, not everyone has the skills or experience necessary for successful participation. Provide an orientation, information-sharing sessions or training for youth appropriate to the commission’s focus. Topics may include understanding local government, media advocacy, meeting facilitation, public speaking, community mapping, community dynamics, youth-adult partnerships and youth-led evaluation and research.
  • Focus Beyond Youth Commission Members. Although a youth commission may be composed of a diverse group of young people who act as the community’s “youth voice,” the experiences and opinions of one group cannot speak for all its peers. In order to represent the needs and concerns of its peers, a youth commission can conduct community-wide surveys and evaluations to determine the initiatives it will undertake. Broad outreach is an important component of youth commission success. Holding open forums to invite additional youth participation and input is a great way to strengthen and increase the commission’s effectiveness.
  • Formality. As a youth council is established local decision-makers may seek to make it a formal commission of the agency. Formalizing the role of a youth council empowers the commissioners and provides formal leadership opportunities to the incoming policy-makers.
  • Learn more about youth commissions and councils.