Youth Asset Mapping: Showcasing Youth Empowerment and Positive Youth-Adult Partnerships

Article excerpt

Youth and adult partners participated in youth asset mapping, a form of action research, to assess community assets and youth involvement opportunities. Qualitative data were analyzed to examine youths' feelings of empowerment and experiences with adult partners. Asset mapping contributed to youth empowerment, especially when adults were engaging and encouraging. Differences between youth and adult cultures presented some barriers to empowerment. Findings suggest that youth-adult partnerships are most beneficial when adults are knowledgeable about youth culture and factors that contribute to positive youth development, have skills for facilitating youth engagement, understand the benefits of youth-adult partnerships, and recognize youth efforts.

What conditions promote the development of empowerment? What kinds of experiences do youth need to increase their sense of empowerment? In this study, we explore these questions with data collected as part of a community empowerment project evaluation. The project engaged high school and adult partners in youth asset mapping. In partnership with adults, high school students collected data to assess community strengths (assets) and identify areas of need to promote positive youth development. Using qualitative data collected from interviews with youth and adult participants, we examined whether empowerment was attained by youth who participated in asset mapping and determined characteristics of adult leaders in this process.

SITES, PARTICIPANTS, AND PROJECTS

Fifty-two students from three high schools participated in mapping assets for youth within their community. Each school differed slightly in the implementation of asset mapping, but the overall tasks and aims included collecting data from within the school or local community to determine available resources that promote positive youth development. For example, youth surveyed peers and adults about perceptions of their community and of youth as contributors or detractors to the community. They assessed job opportunities and places for youth to engage in positive activities within their community. These data were then used to develop strategies to increase awareness about youth needs and implement plans to increase opportunities for youth engagement.

Two schools were recruited by a project coordinator; another site participated at the request of a student who had heard about the asset mapping. The number of students who participated from each school varied from 8 to 35. Because resources and timeframes differed by site, each site implemented youth asset mapping in a slightly different manner; however, each provided youth an opportunity to take leadership roles and learn about their community.

METHOD

The data were collected by researchers through student focus groups, individual interviews, and by reviewing descriptive documents about the project. Focus groups were conducted within two project sites. Individual interviews were conducted by telephone during the second and third years of project implementation. A snowball sampling method was utilized to identify adults who were connected with or exposed to the asset mapping project. Interviewees included former high school students, adult partners, principals, a superintendent, grant writers, community members, and project administrators (e.g., project coordinators, collaborators, and Americorp volunteers who served as links between youth and adults in the community). Students who participated in the interviews and focus groups were primarily female, European American, and in grades 9-12.

The processes of open and axial coding, as outlined by Strauss and Corbin (1991), were used to analyze the data. These processes allowed us to complete thematic content analysis using a constant comparison method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). A number of themes emerged from the data supporting the development of empowerment and reinforcing the literature on youth-adult partnerships. …