Vulnerable and marginalized Youth (VMY) contribution to development programming is critical as it attempts to ensure that programs designed for VMY respond to and align with VMYs specific needs (Adhipramana et al., 2020). For this paper, youth contribution is defined through the PYD framework, which states that “youth are engaged as a source of change for their own and their communities’ positive development (YouthPower, n.d.).” Because VMY define their needs different from program planners, engaging VMY to contribute to the definition of what contributes to their wellbeing is essential. Therefore, the accurate definition and measurement of VMY youth contribution are essential to ensure that interventions consider accurate inputs for responding to vulnerabilities identified by VMY youth themselves.
This paper 1) examines VMY contribution and its dimensions as defined by the Positive Youth Development (PYD) framework and Lerner’s Six C’s model, 2) critically examines the Positive Youth Development Measurement Toolkit (PYDMT) currently used to measure youth contribution in PYD approaches, particularly in LMICs, and 3) proposes alternative methods for measuring contribution that are youth-informed, culturally responsive, context-specific, developmentally appropriate, and identity considerate.
The five indicators of PYDMT assess the number or proportion of youth participating in or providing leadership in one or more of the following: advocacy, mentorship, volunteering, youth-focused clubs, or other activity (Hinson et al., 2016, p.71). Another indicator surveys the numbers or proportions of youth invited to contribute to advisory boards, panels, teams, or program planning. The final indicators look at the number of youths participating in decision-making processes, program design, and the number of youths participating in the youth council or local government. The findings show limitations of the PYDMT. The PYMDT uses indicators that measure the number of youths in particular aspects of programming and does not measure the contribution of youth. Contribution entails youth engaging in power-sharing responsibilities, interrogating power structures within the organization, and building leadership capacities to provide leadership and having a voice in programming. Alternative indicators across the PYMDT included activities that youth engage in rather than the number of youth in those activities.
Measuring contribution via checklists without the insight from youth or local community members suggests interpretations of contribution and engagement that may miss the context-specific and culture-conformed forms of VMY contribution. Therefore, measuring contribution, particularly for VMYs, should consider approaches that use formative research methods and indicators that get to what the contribution is and how the contribution is happening. Including youth to discuss how they understand the contribution and what is meaningful to them is critical to capturing different vulnerability categories on the VMY spectrum.