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What would you ask young people?

By Rebecca Saito

If we created a regular poll of young people in Minnesota, what would we ask? What would they want to be asked?

During the late 1970's and early 80's, Diane Hedin and I and a few others did something called the Minnesota Youth Polls out of the Center for Youth Development and Research which existed at the time at the University of Minnesota. The (sometimes) annual polls collected data from young people around the state about various topics that were relevant to them, such things as:
  • their views on school and school discipline
  • the threat of nuclear war
  • their future aspirations
  • politics and public issues
We would analyze the data, choose the best quotes, and write up and print these youth polls and then disseminate them for free.

With today's technology, it would be much easier to do this now. I remember doing by hand, a "content theme analysis" on every open-ended question on every survey from the youth polls, and we had to talk about the number and percentage of responses, versus the respondents when we described the qualitative data from the youth polls. I guess we still might want to do that, especially for the focus group data.

The polls always combined qualitative and quantitative data, which gave them the ability to explain not only the breadth of data from closed-ended questions, but also the depth of understanding that open-ended survey questions and/or focus groups gave us. The reports were always full of quotes and photos and you really came away understanding what young people believed on various topics, and how much they agreed and how they differed. It was a lot of work!

So, if we were to re-instate the youth polls, what should we ask? Where should we begin? If you have access to a group of young people, especially teenagers, would you please ask them what they'd like to be asked and share that with us? Or tell us what you'd be curious to learn about them. We may get the chance to do it, and want to be ready for that opportunity. Thanks man!

-- Rebecca Saito, former senior research associate

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  1. Beki, I will take you up on it and ask a group of young people when I see them next week. A couple questions I have that I would like to ask them are: What matters to you in life? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What people play an active role in your life and why? Just a few questions to get started...I could think of a lot more that I would like to ask but I see the point in asking them first.

  2. Thank you for reminding us about the Minnesota Youth polls Beki! It would be great to do it again. I wonder if Youthprise would be open to an idea like this one?
    As for questions, I will ask some of the youth and youth workers at my organization, but it seems that Peter Benson's Sparks book suggests that we need to ask young people what gives them passion and what is it that gives them purpose and helps them to understand their role in the world. A poll would also help contribute to a "state of young people in Minnesota". A place where we could capture their passions, views on community and world issues, and some guidance for the adults in their lives!
    Chris Ganzlin

  3. I'm sure Chris must be remembering the polls as student participant :), but I remember reading those as a young professional. They were great.
    It would be really interesting to explore some of the same questions to see how things have changed and how they have stayed the same with the passage of time.

  4. Hi Beki,
    My statement probably goes without saying for you, since most of your work of late as been centered around this topic, but I believe we should ask questions about young people's access to opportunities--in formal and nonformal settings alike. Personally, I would love to learn more about young people's perspectives on the social structure in their communities (e.g. school, neighborhoods, transportation, churches) and how they believe certain structures either constrain or enable their access to resources that can help them to thrive and achieve their aspirations (aspirations that they will have already articulated!). I am struggling with the phrasing of precise questions right now, but would love to give this more thought and continue this conversation.

  5. I happened to see these reports recently and found them extremely interesting. I really liked the questions Josey raised, especially the question on relationships. I would also be interested in asking questions about how youth decide where to spend their time. What sparks their interest and why? What causes matter most to them?