Methods: The study aims were to gather and synthesize data related to 1) the presence of youth councils internationally, 2) the key characteristics of youth councils internationally, and 3) the gaps in the empirical literature. Three authors, with expertise in youth civic engagement and municipal youth councils, developed the scoping review protocol and carried out each phase of the study.
Phase one included a systematic search of electronic databases (Web of Science, Social Services Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, and Google Scholar) using the following search terms: “youth council” OR “youth commission” OR “youth advisory” OR “youth board” AND “municipal” OR “government.” Data from the search were placed in an excel spread sheet including the articles: author(s), title, year, journal, database, search terms, and abstract. Articles were included if they were published between 2000-2022, located in a peer-reviewed journal, reported on an empirical research study, and included information on municipal/governmental youth councils. Articles were excluded if they were not in the English language, it was not possible to distinguish whether the council included youth members, and they were not empirical.
The second phase included a review of each abstract to determine eligibility for full manuscript review. Then, a review of the full text to determine eligibility for the final sample. Then, the articles were entered into NVivo qualitative software to facilitate the analysis process. In the final phase, the authors conducted a thematic analysis inclusive of the type of governmental youth council; structure of the council; activities of the council; and impacts (individual, community, policy). A series of matrices were developed to organize and analyze the data.
Results: Robust examples of municipal youth councils in many settings across the globe were identified; however, the structure, activities, and impacts varied considerably. The structure often related to political ideology, available resources, programming capabilities, and degree of youth agency in decision-making. The activities ranged from recreational to programmatic to policy advocacy. The impacts were largely focused on the individual (youth) but there were select examples of community and policy impacts. These council activities in many countries were tied to country obligation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Conclusions and Implications: Social workers are essential in supporting youth voice and youth engagement in policy decision making. Study findings provide guidance to social workers across the globe regarding current practice in youth civic engagement. The findings demonstrate the promise of youth engagement but also the need for more robust research focused on the impact of youth engagement in policy and community decision making.