Theory of Change Research Summary

It is clear from the current political and social landscape that youth today crave recognition as equal contributors in shaping a just society. – Helgeson & Schneider, 2015

NGN Theory of Change

NGN aims to empower the next generation to solve problems affecting the progress of societies around the world. Early engagement of youth is the best way to create just and sustainable solutions to global problems. We believe that by increasing high school students’ awareness, knowledge, and engagement with global area of interest, they are more likely to see themselves as capable of impacting them in a positive way. If they understand themselves as having an impact om global issues, as adults these students are more likely to choose work, careers, college programs, and leadership posts that address global concerns.  Following social science research on the role of self-efficacy in behavior change, the best way to engage students for this effort is through guided facilitation. Students choose an area of interest, design a program to address the issue, and implement a plan over the course of an academic year.

Support for Our Theory of Change

Research on youth engagement has also been based in attachment theory (Brennan, Barnett, & McGrath, 2009). Attachment theory attempts to explain the function and need of long-term meaningful relationships. Historically, attachment theory has been used in the field of psychology to explain the relationship needs of an infant and a parent or other caregiver. This relationship is important because it ensures the proper social and emotional development of the child.

Youth attachment to the community can be viewed in almost the same light. As youth get older, they look for other attachments with people other than their parents. Youth who have developed meaningful positive relationships with other adults in the community have demonstrated better emotional development, increased social awareness, and more interest in community action (Brennan, Barnett, & McGrath 2009). By developing positive relationships with adults in the community, youth will value the community and the relationships they have developed. Meaningful positive relationships help to transform the community from a shared physical space to a set of psychological bonds between its members.  Empowering youth and allowing them the opportunity to participate in the community has shown to benefit their development greatly (Brennan, Barnett, & Lesmeister, 2007; Crooks et al., 2009; Ludden, 2011; Pearrow, 2008; Wilson, Minkler, Dasho, Wallerstein, & Martin, 2008).

When youth become engaged in community action, they also develop the skills needed to be effective leaders. The development of such vital skills as problem solving and decision-making at a young age serve the youth well in a variety of life endeavors. Empowering youth and engaging them in community activities allows them to interact with adults and have guidance as they develop the skills needed to make decisions and solve complex issues.

Empowerment youth community engaged in the community can has short-term effects as well. Consistently, research has shown that youth who are engaged in their communities are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, less likely to drop out of high school, and less likely to be involved in criminal behavior (Crooks et al., 2010).  Youth community engagement is connected to a wide range of positive outcomes such as higher academic performance and decreased antisocial behavior.

NGN is among a handful of emerging programs that have begun to incorporate authentic youth engagement principles into its work.  These principles are based on making youth feel their status and well-being matter to the community. Noting the benefits of engaging youth, communities should look for meaningful ways to include youth in programs/activities. Ultimately, the involvement of youth will facilitate stronger communities and future leaders.



  • Brennan, M. A., Barnett, R. V., & McGrath, B. (2009). The intersection of youth and community development in Ireland and Florida: Building stronger communities through youth civic engagement. Community Development40(4), 331-345.
  • Brennan, M. A., Barnett, R. V., & Lesmeister, M. K. (2007). Enhancing local capacity and youth involvement in the community development process. Community Development38(4), 13-27.
  • Crooks, C. V., Chiodo, D., Thomas, D., Burns, S., & Camillo, C. (2009). Engaging and empowering Aboriginal youth: A toolkit for service providers. Victoria, BC: Trafford.
  • Crooks, C. V., Chiodo, D., Thomas, D., & Hughes, R. (2010). Strengths-based programming for First Nations youth in schools: Building engagement through healthy relationships and leadership skills. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction8(2), 160-173.
  • Helgeson, S., & Schneider, D. (2015). Authentic Community‐Based Youth Engagement: Lessons From Across the Nation and Through the Lens of Violence Prevention. National Civic Review104(3), 16-23.
  • Ludden, A. B. (2011). Engagement in school and community civic activities among rural adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence40(9), 1254-1270.
  • Pearrow, M. M. (2008). A critical examination of an urban-based youth empowerment strategy: The teen empowerment program. Journal of Community Practice16(4), 509-525.
  • Wilson, N., Minkler, M., Dasho, S., Wallerstein, N., & Martin, A. C. (2008). Getting to social action: The youth empowerment strategies (YES!) project. Health Promotion Practice9(4), 395-403.