The ACT for Youth Project (2009 - 2014) brings together a multi-sectoral alliance of community stakeholders and an interdisciplinary network of researchers in a programme of applied research, capacity building, knowledge transfer and evaluation that is focused on youth in urban communities using as a case study the Jane-Finch community. Youth in the Jane-Finch community, like youth in other urban cities, have been the focus of extensive negative public discourse that brands them as 'problems'.Our Goal | Conceptual Frameworks | Research Approach | Research Questions | Expected Outcomes | Funding Acknowledgement
ACT for Youth seeks to develop a comprehensive youth strategy that articulates how urban communities like the Jane-Finch community, can energize community assets that support positive youth development. Community consultations in Jane-Finch have consistently identified the need for a comprehensive youth development strategy that will include creative programs to engage youth and promote community development. Similarly, a United Way report released in January 2008 documented the absence of a coherent youth strategy and called for a comprehensive strategy for youth in Ontario.
ACT for Youth draws from the positive youth development (PYD) perspective that promotes youth assets rather than focusing on youth problems. PYD is substantiated by extensive research demonstrating that certain identifiable assets within communities positively correlate with success in both youth and adulthood. PYD challenges the 'youth as problems' model and encourages research, programs and policies that create pathways to these assets within communities.
ACT for Youth is guided by Search Institute's Five Action Strategies for Transforming Communities and Society (2004) framework. The five strategies are: i) Engage Adults; ii) Mobilize Young People; iii) Activate Sectors; iv) Invigorate Programs; and v) Influence Civic Decisions. Search rightly places the mobilization of young people to use their power as asset builders and change agents in the centre of this framework.
ACT for Youth integrates the PYD perspective with a social justice approach that recognizes that youth in 'marginalized' urban communities experience social, political and economical forces such as racism, sexism, poverty, zero-tolerance and unemployment that are 'toxic' to their well-being.
The research methodology of ACT for Youth is framed by the Community Dialogue Approach, a community-based research strategy that has been pioneered by The Applied Social Welfare Research and Evaluation Group (ASWREG). The Community Dialogue Approach conceptualizes community engagement as a methodological practice and research as a community dialogue that must fully engage community stakeholders. Community partners are extensively involved in defining the focus and implementation of research.
The Community Dialogue Approach emphasizes the use of multi-methods and encourages applied research that is meaningful to the community yet maintains scientific merit. The research methodology of ACT for Youth includes both quantitative methods (youth survey and analysis of secondary data on labour market participation of youth) and qualitative methods (in-depth interviews, ethnographic focus groups and arts-based research approaches). The findings from these multiple sources will be integrated to produce policy and practice relevant knowledge that will be used to energize change and action and build assets in the Jane-Finch community, organizations, programs and youth research participants.
ACT for Youth is committed to respecting youth perspectives, mobilizing youth assets, and ensuring that youth have decision-making roles. We are also committed to recruiting, hiring and training youth as peer interviewers and involving them in knowledge mobilization and communication activities. We will build the capacity of youth to take leadership roles in addressing important issues in their communities and lives.
We agree with Shah (2006) that involving youth in research brings both "new methodological challenges and opportunities for researchers" (p.213) but we are committed to thoughtfully reflecting on and working through these challenges and opportunities and sharing them in various publications and other fora.
- What is the assets-profile of youth in 'marginalized' urban communities?
- What are the perspectives of these youth on issues of concern to them such as youth-on-youth violence?
- What are the diverse pathways of urban youth from high school into regular participation in the labour market?
- How can we reframe the negative public discourse about these youth to a public discourse that is supportive of PYD policies and practices?
- How can we build a sustainable, equitable community-university partnership that can support PYD within 'marginalized' communities?
We anticipate that our programme of research, capacity-building, knowledge transfer and evaluation will produce the following outcomes:
- Generate local-level data that will inform the Jane-Finch community's selection of tested and effective initiatives for PYD
- Increase research skills of youth, community practitioners and students
- Train students who are knowledgeable on how research can be directly linked to policy and action
- Translate knowledge through youth-focused dissemination; forums and workshops; published materials such as manuals, guides, curricula, policy-relevant publications; as well as academic books and papers
- Provide technical assistance on evaluation and monitoring of implemented PYD initiatives
- Enrich curriculum in professional and interdisciplinary programmes in universities.
- Increase public awareness of how communities can create pathways to assets for youth.
Although our project is situated within the specific context of the Jane-Finch community, our findings will address theoretical debates and policy issues that are applicable to youth in other 'marginalized' urban communities.
The project is funded through a $1 Million research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Canada through the Community University Research Alliance program as well as extensive in-kind and cash contributions from the project partners.