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Engaging Partners

Resources for Engaging Policy Makers

Building Effective Youth Councils

A general framework for thinking about youth councils, as well as examples from around the country. Forum for Youth Investment.


The Ready by 21 Policy Alignment Guide

Helps policy makers ensure that new and existing youth policies are aligned. Forum for Youth Investment.


Engaging Policy Makers

Community coalitions tend to limit their outreach and partners to agencies they are comfortable or familiar with. However, to achieve positive outcomes, it's important for youth development initiatives to engage community partners from as many sectors as possible in community collaboration.

Why Connect with Policy Makers?

Policy makers want solutions. Mayors, county/city/town/village boards and their committees and staffs, state legislators and their aides are all interested in being involved in winning solutions.

Policy makers are critical to creating sustainable change. If youth development in your community is to achieve its promise of lasting services, opportunities, and supports for youth, structural change at the community level is required.

Interests in common. Positive youth development initiatives have certain interests in common with policy makers:

  • Vision. Positive youth development initiatives and policy makers want to create vibrant communities in which youth thrive.
  • Community connections. Coalitions need to develop connections throughout the community. Policy makers are working the same terrain -- and are often very good networkers.

Talking Points for Engaging Policy Makers

Describe Who You Are Succinctly

"Our initiative brings local organizations together to make our community a great place to grow up. We're not a youth program. Through our initiative, adults and youth take action together to create a community that values young people and builds the skills they need for healthy and fulfilling lives."

What's in it for Policy Makers?

Solutions. "Our initiative offers a long-term strategy for positive community change that supports healthy adolescent development. We don't expect to see changes overnight. But we do expect that by developing our community in a way that supports youth, we will see significant improvements in outcomes for youth by many different measures. The positive youth development approach is supported at many levels of government, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and it is based on research."

Connections. "Our initiative is reaching out to involve leaders from all sectors of our community, and we sponsor highly visible events with great community appeal."

Public support. "Our initiative has been received enthusiastically." Discuss any events or other clear instances of public support.

How Can Policy Makers Get Involved?

  • Speak at initiative events.
  • Help link youth and your youth development initiative to relevant boards and policy bodies.
  • Write an opinion piece for a local paper in support of the initiative and youth development.
  • Accompany initiative members to an editorial board meeting.
  • Examine how the policy bodies on which they serve can support youth development through policy change, and facilitate that change.
  • Establish a youth-adult advisory board.
  • Take on a high visibility leadership role in the initiative.

Tips for Engaging Policy Makers

Plan your contact with upper level policy makers strategically.

Work the "grass tops." If a coalition member has a strong relationship with a key public official, ask that member to help make the appeal. Using these "grass tops" relationships can advance the initiative quickly.

Choose your ambassadors carefully. Bring a small group with you to any advocacy meeting, including the person who knows most about the initiative, well-prepared young people, and people who have relationships with the policy maker.

Show your connections. If you have a well-connected community coalition, be sure to highlight the variety of sectors and important agencies represented -- but don't overstate your situation, or you'll risk losing credibility.

Make your pitch brief and to the point. You may not have a lot of time in your advocacy visit. Give each person a role in making the case, and practice together. Bring handouts showing the reach of your coalition, your achievements, your goals, and the importance of the policy maker's collaboration -- but be sure your handouts and presentations are concise.

Inspire! Combine your vision of what positive youth development can achieve with concrete examples of what it looks like, or will look like, on the ground in your community. Make it memorable. Do you have a story that creates a memorable image of what you are striving for, and what you believe is possible? Combine this with specific requests.

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