Understanding youth civic engagement in your community, and the conditions that potentially hinder or support it, is the first step to increasing and improving participation for all young people. The second step is putting this knowledge into practice by leveraging our data, combining it with local knowledge, and forging strategies to strengthen civic education and engagement. That responsibility belongs to all of us: educators, journalists, organizers, and more.
Not sure where to start? Here's a few suggestions, organized by field/stakeholder, on how you can take action:
Explore, Support, and Implement the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap
In March 2021, we joined in the release of the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap, a groundbreaking effort to transform K-12 civic learning in the United States. The roadmap is not a mandate or a national curriculum, but a set of flexible guidelines that can be implemented and adapted differently across the country. CIRCLE Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg was a principal investigator of this 18-month effort that involved more than 300 educators, scholars, and practitioners. Explore the EAD Roadmap and learn more about how everyone can take action to support it.
Fuel Student Discussion with Data
A short data summary using data from our interactive tool and other CIRCLE resources can be a great discussion starter. What affects youth participation? What do young people think could change these levels of engagement? Who makes those decisions? Our data brings state and county data to your and your students’ fingertips for exploration, and our analyses and reports can be a part of student research on what might be at play in their own community. Explore our educator resource for potential classroom activities.
Teach Data Literacy By Discussing Youth Civic Engagement
Many subject areas and disciplines call on students to learn how to read, understand, and summarize research. This can be more engaging when the data is about young people themselves. You can print or show CIRCLE data graphics, share our data visualizations for students to explore, and ask students to create their own graphics or annotate ours. Explore our educator resource for potential classroom activities.
Integrate Promising Practices
Small innovations in the classroom can drastically improve civic education outcomes for many young people. There are nine research-informed “promising practices” for K-12 civic education that teachers can leverage in their classrooms. Share and discuss these practices in a faculty meeting, a department meeting, or with colleagues in planning sessions. Do you know leaders who could support these practices more widely or support professional development? Pass it on!
Teaching for Democracy Checklist
The Teaching for Democracy Alliance (TFDA), which CIRCLE coordinates, has a self-assessment matrix that can help schools get an idea of how they’re doing on promoting civic engagement and informed voting, and a checklist for school and district leaders to help ensure students become informed and active citizens. Encourage your school and other schools in your district to teach for democracy!
Support More and Better Civics
In 2013, CIRCLE conducted a unique survey of high school social studies teachers to understand their experiences with professional development and other support they need in order to provide high-quality civic learning. You can use our reflection guide to understand more about the experiences of teachers, compare your experiences to national trends, and identify 1-2 actions that your community and district can take to strengthen civics
Links and Additional Resources:
Partner with Your Local Election Administrator
The people who run elections are a vital resource for improving local access to voting-related information. They largely decide how elections are organized and they control many levers that can affect voter participation, such as community outreach and communication of crucial information. Being in dialogue with election administrators allows you to identify current strategies and efforts and any capacity related gaps where you can support strengthening voter education and outreach.
Identify and Reduce Barriers to Voting
Transforming the landscape of access to voting requires an understanding of the barriers and obstacles that community members may face. Our research with low-income youth has identified many barriers to voting, such as lack of information about polling location, lack of transportation to the polls, and uncertainty about voting eligibility. Hosting conversations with community members who are not already voters can help you identify local barriers and obstacles to voting in your community so you can work with others to address them.
Grow Voters in Your Community
Ensuring equitable access and participation among youth requires robust ecosystems for local electoral engagement. A critical part is reaching youth before they turn 18 in order to Grow Voters, building long-term engagement among youth. CIRCLE has identified key ways that many stakeholders in a community can do their part. Review these key factors, assess whether your community has these opportunities and assets, and pick one area for which you can devise a plan to improve.
Help Make Elections More Accessible to Young People
Are you working to increase and improve youth voting in your community? Our research can help you assess how accessible elections are in your state and county. You can learn more about Facilitative Election Laws, and about other statutes that facilitate voter education and registration, to assess where your state stands relative to creating conditions for more young people to vote and have a voice in democratic decision-making. Then, share this state information with partners and stakeholders who may not be aware of the impact of policy and election administration on youth access.
Links and Additional Resources:
Be in Dialogue with Youth
Young people are an invaluable resource when approaching, designing, and creating systematic improvements to local voter access and other initiatives your organization may work on. It is important to be grounded in the specific realities of a community and aware of the issues and systems that may have negatively impacted youth and other stakeholders. Young people’s lived experiences can help shape and inform your strategies and approach and increase the overall effectiveness of your activities. Use our local and comparative data to support or spur these dialogues.
Research is a powerful tool that can help to make a case for addressing a particular issue. Are you a young person who wants more teaching about elections, how government works, or skills to make change in your community? Or, a youth organizer interested in building local partnerships to build more diverse youth election engagement? Our research can be used strategically to improve civic education, voter access, and much more. Explore and leverage our data to help propel your project or campaign to success.
Make Your Case with Data
With some audiences, data can help tell the story that you think is important. Use CIRCLE’s data tools to create a summary or handout with specific information about youth engagement in your area or state. These can be used as as discussion starters or handouts in meetings with decision-makers. CIRCLE’s tools allow for highlighting where your area/state excels, where there are constraints, and assets to leverage. This data can also serve as an asset fir grant proposals, donor campaigns, and communications to build support for your work.
Links and Additional Resources:
Ask and Answer Questions about Youth Engagement
As core civic institutions in our communities, media outlets can illuminate what is or is not helping to facilitate democratic engagement among community members—including young people. Reporting on what helps or hinders youth civic engagement in your area can help to tell unique local stories and provide a broad picture to leaders of what issues and gaps may exist. This also provides the opportunity to bring diverse youth voices into local media, and show what young people are doing in your city or state. Our staff is happy to connect and help you think through questions to ask, data to explore, and stories to tell.
Amplify the Diverse, Unique Voices of New Voters
First-time voters, many of whom are young, bring new lenses and perspectives to elections. These diverse voices, when included in authentic ways, can highlight new ways of understanding local participation, the accessibility of elections, and possible challenges to registration and voting, as well as the issues that voters and potential voters care about. Write an article or kick off a small project with a local organization that works with youth. Accurate and authentic coverage of diverse young voices also has the potential to draw in new audiences and to diversify election coverage.
Increase Information Access
One challenge to increasing youth voter turnout, and especially to close long-standing disparities in participation between youth of different backgrounds and identities, is a lack of access and exposure to concrete information about voting. That includes basic facts that may be far from obvious to many new voters: who is eligible, and how, when, and where to register and vote. As a result, a critical civic role that media and journalists can play is broadcasting this essential information to community members well before an election.
Compare Participation Across Your City, State, or Region
Do you work at an outlet that covers several states or counties? While all communities have assets and challenges to building youth engagement, the conditions that supports youth engagement can differ dramatically from one jurisdiction to another. As part of your coverage of civic education, election engagement, or local politics, take a look at how these conditions compare between counties and states. The implications for political participation and other forms of civic engagement are interesting and important topics.
Links and additional resources:
Catalyze Your Team
Discussing relevant research, resources, or best practices with colleagues can be a great way to spur creativity, engage in deep reflection, and inform practice. Consider exploring a summary of this data or analysis at a staff meeting, strategic planning session, or even during your next water cooler conversation.
Recognizing and understanding where we are is sometimes just as important as showing growth. CIRCLE data can help you do both. Our state and county-level youth civic engagement data can act as a benchmark for your organization to mark a particular moment, look back on progress, or set a goal. And our wide range of analyses can help to contextualize your local and practical knowledge about the factors at play in shaping youth participation where you live.
Can Our Research Support Your Reflective Practice?
What implications might this data or research have for your work? Are there ways it helps to justify or make you think about your work slightly differently? (e.g. causes, what you’re addressing, levers, strategies) Sign up for our monthly email update for the most recent research to your inbox or follow us on social media. If there a resource, tool, or research finding that has helped guide your understanding or practice, we’d love to hear about it! Email us or tell us on social media (Twitter, Facebook).
Ask Questions, Seek Answers
Data can help us identify and understand the scope of an issue, reflect on it, and start conversations. When combined with stories from young people and communities, research is a tool for policy development, narrative change, advocacy and more. Are there questions raised here or by these findings that might help your team reflect on your strategies, messages and tactics? Write down some questions this research raised for you and share them with a co-worker or at your next team meeting.