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All youth deserve to have a voice on issues that matter to them. Unfortunately, research continues to show that this ideal is not achieved for millions of young people. And, inn a democracy, any amount of systemic inequity is too much.

CIRCLE is committed to helping organizations and governments use research to improve civic life and close gaps in opportunities for civic engagement. This is why we developed the RAYSE Index (Reaching All Youth Strengthens Engagement).

The RAYSE Index provides county-level data on factors and conditions that we know correlate with civic engagement. It brings data to bear on efforts to broaden access to youth engagement opportunities: it can provide research-based support for making the case that engagement has a high potential for growth, and for making decisions about where to invest resources (e.g. time, resources, funding).

RAYSE was launched in April 2017 and updated in October of that year.

How It Works

RAYSE is an "index of indices" organized into five areas that encompass different factors related to youth civic engagement: education, close elections, potential youth influence on elections, quality of life, and community/civic culture.

County conditions in each of the five areas are labeled as having high, moderate, or low potential to support an increase in youth civic engagement. The star rating illustrates how we estimate the degree to which these conditions together can raise youth civic engagement. Instead of providing a single ranking, users can tailor the county list by filtering for desired priorities (e.g. location, youth subgroup, political history).

To build the RAYSE Index, CIRCLE staff created a framework based on what research  has been shown to support or correlate with youth civic engagement. These influencing factors were then organized into categories that informed our search for corresponding, available, and reliable datasets. County-level data exists for many of the factors but not all. In the end, the RAYSE Index was built using several large datasets (see list here), many of them using federal data (e.g. IRS, Census). Each column is a statistical summary of factors.

A screenshot of the RAYSE Index tool

How To Use It

The RAYSE Index can help inform and advance myriad efforts to improve youth civic engagement, depending on each individual or organization's particular goals and context. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Identifying Growth Areas: National civic organizations, political campaigns, and grantmaking organizations may be looking to strategically invest in new areas or emerging efforts in order to maximize resources in a location where youth engagement can grow.
  • Distributing Scarce Resources: At the national or state level, those interested in youth engagement often do not have the funding to match their ambitions. As a result, difficult choices about how and where to distribute funding to support efforts are required. The RAYSE Index can provide data to inform those decisions.
  • Building on Community Strengths and Challenges: Whether or not resources—networks, capacity, funding—are scarce, the RAYSE Index can also be used to look at where counties in a state, region, or nationwide have high and low existing conditions. For example, a county with strong civic culture may leverage that to increase youth engagement, while a county with low youth influence on elections could leverage voter registration to improve in that area.
  • Justification/Building your Case: Finally, research and data are often used for advocacy and resource development. For organizations that work in one or a small number of counties, the RAYSE Index can serve as a data source for storytelling about why that area specifically may need investment.

What To Do Next

The RAYSE Index provides a valuable framework for thinking about civic health, and a way to start conversations about how to best utilize a community’s assets for increasing and expanding civic engagement for all youth. The Index should always be complemented by other forms of knowledge about existing youth leadership, civic capacities, and infrastructureby which we mean the existing local processes, resources, spaces, and networks in some way contributing to community members’ ability to discuss and act on issues they care about.

For example:

  • We suggest understanding what existing practitioner groups may be working on in the area related to your goals or issue.
  • One component of understanding existing civic efforts may also be understanding salient local issues, any recent ballot initiatives, and whether local elections are competitive.   
  • Additionally, while part of our original theoretical model, we were not able to find updated, comprehensive county-level data on social connections between people, school discipline, social media usage, presence and importance of religious congregations, and media outlets.
  • While engagement is affected by national social media conversations and national outlets/sites, localities can differ greatly in terms of how much people use social media for local civic conversations, how much information is around about civic issues (and where it comes from), etc.
  • Local knowledge about the towns and cities within a county can also contribute to understanding how civic engagement opportunities are impacted by the school curriculum, availability of funding for things like youth internships and summer jobs, and municipal rules and ordinances related to citizen participation (e.g., participatory budgeting). These opportunities can vary greatly from community to community within a county.
  • Finally, to gain a full picture of assets and challenges, it is valuable to understand state policy as it relates to your issue area, voting and voter registration, and civic education. The latter two can affect communities differently, and investigating the policy and local implementation can provide insights about whether the policies inhibit or can help engagement.