Youth Involvement in Programming

Youth are often a key target group for P/CVE projects. When this is the case, involving youth in the implementation of activities is very important.

Before you consider involving youth in the implementation of your project, refer to the Cross-Cutting Section on Youth Involvement. This section helps you to define “youth” for your project, introduces the Positive Youth Development (PYD) approach for effectively involving young people, and outlines why youth involvement and PYD are especially important for P/CVE programming.

How should you engage youth in project implementation?

During the Design phase, you defined your target group and identified which groups of youth, if any, to engage in your activities. During the Implement phase, consider the following questions to ensure you are involving young people effectively and meaningfully, and that you do not cause any unintentional harm: 

What are different ways to involve young people in project implementation?

Research and programming experience have shown that it is not only valuable to engage youth as beneficiaries of your project, but to involve them in the implementation of the project itself. As you think about how best to partner with youth, consider the following steps: 

  • Consult with young people on the objectives, content, and structure of activities during implementation, or on assessments that inform your planning and implementation (risk or security assessments, GESI assessments, etc.)
  • Capitalize on young people’s skills and assets by bringing them into the team implementing activities–as full-time staff, short-term support, or volunteers.
  • Partner with youth-led organizations, including on outreach and selection of youth participants, to co-facilitate activities or events, or to lead specific components of your project.

As you consider how to involve youth in project implementation, take a look at this guidance note on the different levels of youth participation.

Important lesson

For your project to truly benefit from the participation of young people, and to avoid causing harm, your project must ensure that youth participation is meaningful.

Consultations with youth and youth-led organizations have shown that: “Participation needs to be connected to a sense of efficacy and the ability to influence outcomes, rather than a tick-the-box exercise. […] The motivation and enthusiasm that many young people can bring to development programming and PVE can only be harnessed and sustained if there is a high degree of trust and confidence that their participation will have an influence. This sense of ownership has been shown to be critical for the success of violence reduction programmes more generally. […] Mistrust between young people and other actors represented one of the most significant challenges to meaningful youth participation in the prevention of violent extremism. Individuals and communities must believe that their participation is being treated seriously and may have a meaningful influence.” 


Which young people will your project involve?

After you identify the target groups in the Design phase, you can delve deeper into the characteristics of the youth you want to involve in your project. Consider the following points as you develop your selection criteria:

  • How are you defining the youth age group for your context? If you’re engaging a relatively broad age range of youth (14–30 years old for example), think about how your interaction should be tailored for age groups within this range. It is not appropriate for you to engage a 14–year old in the same activities as you would engage a 30–year old. For more information on the developmental stages for youth and tailoring programming for each, refer to the Cross-Cutting Section on Youth Involvement.
  • Will you engage youth of different genders? How can you best advance gender equality and consider gender dynamics in your project?
  • Will you engage young people with disabilities? If yes, what do you need to do to ensure their access and to ensure their effective participation in your project?

How should you develop your plan to reach and select youth?

As you plan and carry out your youth selection process for your project, make sure you understand the implications of selecting some youth and not selecting others. Carefully consider the issues below as you develop your Outreach and Selection Plan and your Risk Management Plan:

Potential issues for youth who are NOT selected

Your process could alienate youth who are not selected

Possible issue

In general, when recruiting youth for a specific project, you would share its benefits and make every effort to get young people interested in participating. In most cases, however, not all interested youth can be selected. In these situations, unselected youth could experience frustration and disillusionment when they cannot access the opportunity or service the project is providing. These feelings can be particularly problematic if unselected youth perceive the selection process to be unfair and not transparent or believe that favoritism played a role.

Possible responses

  • Make sure your selection process is fair and transparent and that you communicate clearly and openly about selection criteria, process, and results.
  • Plan ahead for ways to engage youth who are not selected in other activities you’re organizing, and make sure you communicate those opportunities to those youth. Also, look to include unselected youth in other programs or opportunities that partner organizations offer.
  • Share how the project can benefit youth even if they are not selected for that specific role. For example, can the project generate any information or create spaces that will be accessible to young people in the community?
Your process could further marginalize youth who are not approached or selected

Possible issue

If your selection criteria identify a specific group of youth (based on gender, location, level of education, ethnic or religious affiliation, etc.) as a target group, your project will exclude other groups not matching the criteria. In many cases, this scenario is unavoidable due to the project’s goal or limited resources, but it may also be possible to balance participation among the most vulnerable and less vulnerable to VE. Either way, your organization should understand the risks and develop mitigation strategies to avoid causing unintentional harm if some youth feel excluded, and ensure that your selection process does not unintentionally reinforce existing patterns of privilege, division, and exclusion within the community.

Possible responses

  • Draw on conflict-sensitive approaches and tools to map the dynamics of conflict and patterns of marginalization in your community and ensure your outreach and selection process minimize harm.
  • Consider opportunities for the selected youth to work with those youth who were not selected through a peer education approach. For example, selected youth can reach a broader segment of youth by sharing the results of their work with other youth.
  • Consider if there are benefits to engaging diverse youth groups in certain aspects of your project. For example, could engaging youth from different areas or different ethnic groups help create positive bonds that could benefit the project and the community?

Potential issues for youth who ARE selected

Your process could stigmatize youth who are selected

Possible issues

Your project can be designed to focus on specific communities or young people, typically those communities, groups, or individuals you’ve identified to be vulnerable to VE. In cases where your project is engaging specific young people, you can risk associating these individuals or groups with VE, thus promoting negative stereotypes and compounding their marginalization. Even using the label of “at-risk” youth can be stigmatizing, particularly as these same “at-risk” youth are likely to be viewed negatively by members of their community, other communities, and/or by the security apparatus, which might be targeting them for counter-terrorist operations. The “at-risk” label can also negatively impact young people who see themselves as vulnerable or helpless, rather than empowered.


  • Think carefully about how to communicate with young people. Can you avoid using labels such as “at-risk” or “vulnerable”?
  • If it isn’t already part of your project design, consider incorporating asset-based, empowering approaches in your project (look at the "Cross-cutting Section on Youth Involvement" for more information on asset-based approaches).
  • Consider an approach that promotes trust and agency among young people.
Your process could expose youth who are selected to risks, including to their safety

Possible issues

Young people who participate in P/CVE projects could be exposed to safety and security risks:

  • Youth involvement in P/CVE projects could draw the attention of violent and extremist groups who view the project as a threat.
  • As noted, when a P/CVE project targets individuals or groups identified as “at-risk,” these individuals or groups can become possible counter-terror targets for state and security actors. Risks can be acute in countries where the state has used P/CVE or CT as a way of cracking down on political opposition, civil liberties, and human rights.


  • Again, think carefully about how to communicate with young people and how to frame your project. Can you avoid using labels such as “at-risk” or “vulnerable”? Would calling the project “P/CVE” put the participants at risk? If yes, frame your project differently.
  • Incorporate the possible risks to safety and security of youth participants into your Risk Mitigation and Security plans. Do you need to take specific measures to ensure information on youth participants is kept confidential? Communicate to youth participants the risks and corresponding security policies and procedures put in place.


The table above draws on several reports, including “Frontlines: Young People at the Forefront of Preventing and Responding to Violent Extremism” and “Youth and the Field of Countering Violent Extremism,” as well as FHI 360’s own experience working with local CSOs who are engaging young people in P/CVE projects.

Implementation tip

How can you prepare your organization to effectively involve youth in P/CVE programming?

Summarized from: Young People and Extremism: A Resource Pack for Youth Workers and Youth and the Field of Countering Violent Extremism


Create safe and appropriate spaces to engage young people.

It is essential that organizations have the appropriate facilities and space to meet young people – whether this means physical or virtual space, and whether the activities with young people take place in designated premises or on the street, through “detached” street work. In contrast to center-based youth work, detached youth work takes place where young people meet – for example, in parks, public spaces, or residential areas. The advantage of this approach, which focuses on meeting young people on their own terms, is that it can create opportunities to engage with young people who do not usually access youth services. However, detached youth work is a specialist area; it requires detailed policies and procedures in place to ensure the engagement and activities with young people are appropriate and safe.


Establish a support system for staff who work directly with youth dealing with sensitive topics such as extremism.

Support for staff and volunteers, particularly those in direct contact with young people, is essential to ensure consistency in the services provided. This support can take the form of one-on-one supervision or a group of youth workers can come together to discuss current issues and challenges and identify and share their learning. Setting aside time for supervision in this way brings benefits for youth workers, for their organizations, and ultimately the young people they work with. It can provide a kind of ‘breathing space’ – an opportunity for reflection and distance from the constant cycle of planning, organizing, coordinating, and delivering activities and programs. Supervision can also help staff to develop their critical and analytical thinking skills, as they reflect on conversations with young people and evaluate projects. Given the complexity, sensitivity, and seriousness of extremism (particularly violent extremism), it is all the more important that youth workers have the support they need to sustain them in this work.


Set up internal policies and practices to address issues that may arise.

Organizations that engage with young people directly need to ensure that they have appropriate internal structures and detailed policies and procedures to address issues that may arise in the area of youth and extremism. All staff and volunteers connected with the organization must be familiar with these policies and procedures. While it is impossible to predict every situation that might possibly occur, it is important to ensure clear lines of reporting and communication.


Make sure you are aware of policies and practices that affect young people in your community.

Organizations should have an awareness of their local, regional, and national policy environment, particularly in relation to policies that affect young people directly – in education, enterprise, employment, health, justice, and social development. While not every youth worker will have a specific role in advocacy, most will have opportunities to articulate the needs of young people and to highlight ways in which the policies of central and local government could be better aligned with young people’s interests and needs.


Keep in mind the importance of networking and exchange of information and learning.

Meeting other youth workers from different organizations not only provides mutual support but also leads to sharing of learning and ideas for practice. Meeting practitioners in other areas of relevance to young people can bring further benefits – for example, to working with healthcare workers, teachers and educators, religious leaders, social workers, politicians, community leaders, and police. Building up relationships and connections in these different professional contexts enables you to call upon support or advice when you need it – and to be more effective in working towards the best possible outcomes for young people. Such connections can also give rise to new partnerships – for example, in support of a joint initiative or project.


Pay attention to the profiles of team members you select to engage youth.

Hiring elite insiders to work with alienated outsiders makes for an uneasy fit and should be avoided. It may be difficult for those from a privileged background to become aware of and unlearn the social and cultural cues they have absorbed over time. Skill in reaching non-elites and knowledge of the power of alienation and gender norms are crucial assets for staff on projects working with youth.

How can you integrate Positive Youth Development into P/CVE implementation?

At this point, you have ideally engaged youth and/or integrated PYD principles into the Assess and Design phases of your project. Even if you didn’t, it’s not too late to involve youth in the implementation of your project by incorporating PYD. Try this exercise below:

PYD Youth Intervention Matrix Guide

This PYD Youth Intervention Matrix that we introduced in the Design phase can be used during the Implementation phase to link ongoing/existing activities to PYD features and develop revised or new activities that promote PYD.