CIRCLE is committed to funding research that is relevant to practice. We work with teachers, administrators, youth workers, young people, and others to set a research agenda and disseminate findings. We welcome questions and advice from practitioners.
Measuring Civic Engagement
The Education Commission of the States’ National Center for Learning and Citizenship has started a database of civics assessments. The database contains questions categorized by national civics standards that have been juried by civic learning experts for their clarity and meaningfulness in relation to the competencies of civic knowledge, skills and dispositions. These items can be used in program evaluation, as indicators in strategic plans, to spur improvement or to address policy-makers’ requests for accountability. An additional resource is CIRCLE’s Indicators of Civic Engagement The indicators were developed by a team of leading researchers to help identify different aspects of civic behavior. The indicators were developed as a part of a national study, The Civic and Political Health of the Nation: A Generational Portrait conducted by researchers at George Mason University, Rutgers University, and DePaul University. Their work was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and presented in collaboration with CIRCLE. Resources affiliated with the study include:
CIRCLE is happy to support the research of ten youth-led teams investigating different community issues around the country. To find out more about involving youth in research, CIRCLE’s current youth-led research grantees, and other grant opportunities to support youth community research, visit our Youth-Led Research Resource Page.
Youth Civic Engagement Resources
Locate youth civic engagement organizations in your state and around the country using CIRCLE’s Youth Civic Database.Explore other organizations committed to youth and youth civic engagement. Find civic resources that include curriculum materials and how-to guides.
The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools features practice examples for high-quality, civic learning. Examples are categorized for students’ grade level and by approach.Read CIRCLE and Carnegie Corporation of New York’s report available on the Campaign for The Civic Mission of School’s Web site. Written and endorsed by a distinguished group of more than 50 scholars and practitioners, The Civic Mission of Schools summarizes the evidence in favor of k-12 civic education; analyzes trends in political & civic engagement; identifies promising approaches to civic education; and offers recommendations to educators, policymakers, funders, researchers, and others.
Since the release of the report All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement, CIRCLE has been in conversation with a wide range of stakeholders interested in and committed to improving the civic and political engagement opportunities and outcomes for ALL youth in the United States. This FREE and open online seminar is an effort to reach out and engage individuals and groups interested in extending the conversation about that state of youth engagement and future strategies to improve it. The seminar welcomes young people, parents, educators, policymakers, youth advocates, researchers and others to join this five-week learning community. The seminar is also designed to allow for multiple levels of participant and will have synchronous and asynchronous elements to accommodate those who need flexibility.
Introduce participants to the key findings and recommendations of the report as a means to ground our conversations in the research and provide an opportunity for participants to exchange additional information about what they have seen on the ground.
Engage a diverse set of participants in thinking and dialogue around the report that would not be possible in more geographically- or strategy-bound environments
Provide a platform for advocates, those working in the fields of civic learning and engagement, researchers, commissioners and CIRCLE staff to write, reflect and share their thinking and response to the report
Create an environment and structure that would prompt participants to adjust, design or propose strategies, actions, programming or activities that could extend the report into real world environments.
A better and deeper understanding of the research behind the report
How the research and recommendations of the report can be applied to participants’ practice
New ideas for actions and activities to support the recommendations in the report
Extended thinking about challenges, opportunities and recommendations in the report as well as provide additional information and ideas to supplement it
Information and experience exchange between groups committed to improved civic learning and engagement of youth
Researchers connect to work in the field and practitioners think about elements that they could use to evaluate the work
Creation of materials (in any format) that can be shared online (digital artifacts) for the benefit of a broader audience
In addition to providing technical assistance, CIRCLE has been proud to provide evaluation services to several groups and organizations. Examples of these organizations include:
Bloggingheads - CIRCLE evaluated the impact of Bloggingheads videos on the viewers’ tolerance and civility, using a randomized controlled experiment. The intervention and evaluation were funded by the Omidyar Network.
Bonner Foundation – The Bonner Foundation is a network of college campuses with programs providing scholarships for low-income youth for civic engagement work. CIRCLE, in partnership with the Bonner Foundation, studied the use of technology and social media to organize and promote civic engagement work on campuses.
Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP)/Tufts University (in progress) – CIRCLE, in collaboration with BTtoP and Tufts University, is studying whether there is an interconnection between Tufts students’ civic development and psychosocial well-being.
Building Impact - CIRCLE partnered with Building Impact on the Study “Work and Service: How Building Impact’s Model Fosters Civic Engagement in the Workplace,” which studies the effects of providing individuals and companies with opportunities to donate and volunteer on sustainable participation and connection to local communities.
Center for Public Integrity - CIRCLE interviewed reporters and editors to learn about the impact of the CPI’s investigative reporting on campaign coverage in 2012. The intervention and evaluation are funded by the Omidyar Network.
CloseUp Foundation (in progress) - CIRCLE is conducting a formative evaluation.
Columbia Journalism Review (in progress)- CIRCLE is evaluating efforts by the Columbia Journalism Review to influence campaign coverage in the 2012 elections. The intervention and evaluation were funded by the Omidyar Network.
Flackcheck – CIRCLE evaluated the impact of this project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, using a combination of surveys, online focus groups, and a randomized controlled experiment. The intervention and evaluation were funded by the Omidyar Network.
Healthy Democracy Fund (in progress) – CIRCLE is evaluating the impact of the Oregon Citizens Initiative Review process on media coverage and policymakers in other states. The intervention and evaluation are funded by the Omidyar Network.
iCivics – CIRCLE is evaluating the effects of a new iCivics computer-based civics curriculum using a randomized, controlled experiment in Florida high schools.
Illinois Civic Mission of Schools Coalition (in progress) – CIRCLE is helping to design school climate assessments.
Indiana Humanities Council (in progress) - CIRCLE is helping to design a statewide study of the impact of the public humanities.
Massachusetts Department of Education, Service-Learning Initiative (in progress) - In partnership with the MA Department of Education, CIRCLE is studying the effects of service-learning courses on academic achievement.
TakingITGlobal- CIRCLE, along with TakingITGlobal, studied the effects of TakingItGlobal programming on the civic engagement of its users. TakingITGlobal use the power of online community to facilitate global education, social entrepreneurship, and civic engagement for millions of youth worldwide.|
YouthBuild - CIRCLE and YouthBuild collaborated on the study entitled “Pathways into Leadership: A Study of YouthBuild Graduates.” Using participatory action research, we learned about the effects of the YouthBuild program on sustainable leadership. YouthBuild is a youth and community development program that simultaneously addresses core issues facing low-income communities: housing, education, employment, crime prevention, and leadership development.
CIRCLE is proud to work and partner with several organizations, mostly direct providers of services to youth. We are eager to understand how our research, data, and tools are used so that we can strengthen our products and their impact. Please let us know: How did YOU use CIRCLE research?
Circle and our colleagues and partners have developed and tested various measures of young adults’ “civic engagement” (including their political participation; their community service and local civic work; and their knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values). These measures are available for anyone to use without our permission. Different measures are appropriate for different ages and situation. CIRCLE staff can provide advice as needed.
Did you vote in the presidential election in 2008 (John McCain versus Barack Obama?)
Since the 2008 presidential campaign, have you done any of the following?: contacted, elected officials or the news media about any issue that was discussed during the campaign, tried to persuade freinds about an issue that was discussed during the campaign, tried to change local policies in a place like a school, workplace, college or neighborhood?
How often have you used the Internet to gather information about politics, a social issue, or a community problem?
Measures of volunteering
Since this time last year, have you done any volunteer activities through or for an organization?
Which organizations have you volunteered through or for in the last year?
Measures of community engagement
Are you a member of any nonprofit broad or committee that has a budget?
Have you allowed a relative to live in your home for a period of time because they needed a place to live?
Have you gave food or money to someone who isn’t a relative?
Have you submitted a letter or article for a magazine, newspaper or online publication?
Measures of civic knowledge
Some people seem to follow what’s going on in government and public affairs most of the time, whether there’s an election going on or not. Others aren’t that interested. How often do you follow what’s going on in government and public affairs?
Do you happen to know what job or political office is now held by Joe Biden?
Measures of social capital
Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services?
Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful or are they mostly looking out for themselves?
Adolescent Development of Trust, September 2008: This working paper (#60) discusses what role trust plays among adolescents. Authors Connie Flanagan and Leslie Gallay from Penn State University developed measures of trust which were administered in the beginning of the semester, and then again at the end of the semester. These repeated measures were used in judging the role of trust in the lives of adolescents.
Democracy for Some: The Civic Opportunity Gap in High School, February 2008: This working paper (#59), written by Joseph Kahne and Ellen Middaugh studies high school civic opportunities and how demographics such as a student’s race, academic track and socioeconomic status “determines the availability of the school-based civic learning opportunity.” Their study used a survey to measure students experiences and their ability to: discuss current events, study important issues, interact with civic role models, work on service learning projects and engage in simulations.
Best Practices in Civic Education: Changes in Students’ Civic Outcomes, August 2007: This working paper (#57), written by Amy K. Syversten, Constance A. Flanagan & Michael D. Stout highlights “six promising approaches to civic education.” The teachers involved with the study used a variety of practices in their classes over the course of the Fall 2004 semester. Ultimately, these practices were aggregated to form three broader categories: Civic Skills, Civic Engagement and Awareness of Civic Issues & Concepts.
In June 14-16, 2007, Brandeis University’s Center for Youth and Communities (CYC), CIRCLE, and the International Center for Research on Civic Engagement and Service-Learning (ICR-CESL) at the University of California, Berkeley convened the first ever Service Learning Works-in-Progress. The Seminar was funded through a Catalyst Collective Action grant from the Service-Learning Leaders Circle, using funds generously provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Leaders Circle is administered by the National Service-Learning Partnership at the Academy for Educational Development.
The goals of the Seminar were to provide support and encouragement for a new generation of diverse service-learning researchers, improve the quality of research, promote increased publication, dissemination, and utilization of research, and in doing so, to build links between service-learning and research in related-fields.
Seminar attendee Gary Homana recently wrote “Research in Service-Learning: Publishing Opportunities Resource List.” This resource list initially included suggestions from the 15 prominent researchers and 10 emerging scholars participating in the Seminar. Building on that list, he reviewed over 500 articles for service-learning content resulting in this current list of 93 potential research publishing opportunities. The Ulrich database and various web searches provided detailed information on each of the publications. In addition, the journals and periodicals listed on the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse Web site have been incorporated into this document.
The emerging scholars were selected in a national competition. You can click on their names to read more about them and their papers:
The emerging scholars were assigned mentors: scholars and practitioners who have deep experience in the field. Each mentor committed to reading and reflecting on draft papers and providing ongoing guidance and support. The mentors in attendance were: Chris Chapman (National Center for Educational Statistics), Constance Flanagan (Penn State University), Deborah Hecht (New York University), Mark Hugo Lopez (CIRCLE/University of Maryland), Julie C. Rodriguez (The César E. Chávez Foundation), Rob Shumer (University of Minnesota), Judith Torney-Purta (University of Maryland), and Wendy Wheeler (Innovation Center for Youth and Community). The organizers of the event also acted as mentors: Larry Bailis (Brandeis University), Andy Furco (University of California, Berkeley), Peter Levine (CIRCLE), and Alan Melchior (Brandeis University).
Also participating and providing advice and comments were: Nelda Brown (executive director, National Service-Larning Partnership) Amy Cohen (director, Learn & Serve America), and Scott Richardson (K-12 Program Coordinator, Learn & Serve America). CIRCLE’s Dionne Williams and Abby Kiesa played critical roles in organizing and planning the meeting.
“Helping Others and Helping Oneself: A Meta-Analysis of Service-Learning Programs”
Loyola University, Chicago
Bio: Christine I. Celio is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Loyola University, Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University and is interested in the evaluation, and reporting, of service-learning and civic engagement programs. Her interests also include after-school programming and philanthropy research.
Abstract: Service Learning (SL), the connection of community service with academic curriculum, has increased in popularity in recent years as exemplified by increased youth participation in service activities and increased funding for these programs. Previous research has found that SL programs have promoted several competencies, often focusing on civic, social, personal and academic engagement, but the results have been difficult to interpret because of inconsistent findings and the differing metholologies employed in studies. A meta-analytic review of 65 outcome studies designed to evaluate the benefits accruing to the students who participated in SL programs yielded significant positive effects suggesting that students profited personally, civically, socially, and academically (significant mean effects ranged from 0.26 to 0.32). Several recommended practices have been emphasized in the literature as important to the success of SL, such as following a logic model in the execution and evaluation of programs, community involvement, student planning and engagement, and reflection. However, analyses did not yield any significantly different effects for groups of programs that did or did not contain these elements. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.
“Spurs and Stunts: Insights from K-12 Art Teachers Regarding Service-Learning Inclusion”
Virginia Commonwealth University
Bio: Dr. Min Cho holds a bachelor’s degree in Art History from Tufts University, a master’s degree in Arts Administration and a doctorate in Art Education from The Florida State University. She currently is an Assistant Professor in the Art Education Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. While working on her graduate degrees, she was the Associate Director for Florida Learn & Serve, promoting service learning and in particular, arts-based service learning, through training and technical assistance for K-12 teachers, grant writing seminars, evaluation workshops, conference coordination, and project development. She has also directed community arts programs, curated exhibitions, and worked in museums and galleries. Dr. Cho’s current work entails visual art teacher evaluations with service learning, curriculum integration, and teacher professional development. She recently co-authored the premiere arts-based service-learning handbook for K-12 teachers.
“Service Learning and Critical Consciousness Development among Youth of Color in Poverty”
Matthew A. Diemer
Michigan State University
Bio: My interest in k-12 service-learning research is the role of service learning in facilitating a consciousness of social inequality and the motivation to reduce inequality among youth of color who reside in poverty. In an affiliated field, I have examined Paulo Freire’s notion of critical consciousness and models of sociopolitical development (Ginwright & James, 2003; Watts, Griffith & Abdul-Adil, 1999) to understand how poor youth of color develop a consciousness of and motivation to reduce social, political, and racial inequality.My Emerging Scholars project examines the “Katrina Effect,” or how youth of color in poverty who participate in more traditional service learning/civic participation may emerge with a greater consciousness of social, economic and political inequality and an orientation toward reducing social inequality. This work is rooted in Freire’s (1973, 1993) notion of critical consciousness, along with recent innovations in youth sociopolitical development (Morsillo & Prilelltensky, 2007; Watts & Flanagan, 2007) and the work of Westheimer and Kahne (2004). This (ongoing) project connects these disparate fields by examining “traditional” civic participation/service learning (such as helping poor/elderly people in one’s community) that meets a clear community need and “transformational” civic participation/service learning that aims to facilitate social justice and reduce inequality. This project would facilitate greater scholarly understanding of service learning and civic engagement among youth of color who reside in poverty. It would inform service learning policy and practice by suggesting how “traditional” service learning may create an opportunity for learning and reflection about sociopolitical inequality and may provide a source of motivation to produce social change.
“Theories of Social Action in Eighth and Ninth Grade Classrooms”
Shira Eve Epstein
Teachers College, Columbia University
Bio: Shira Eve Epstein recently graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University. She wrote her dissertation on citizenship education in eighth and ninth grade classrooms. She will be a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Education at Vassar College in the Fall.Abstract: In this paper, I analyze three cases of social action curriculum enactment, a form of citizenship education, as they occurred in New York City public schools. When engaging in social action, students both critically consider social problems and take action around these problems. I examine the orientation of the curricula, the intended purposes of the teachers, the knowledge utilized, the participation structures, and student and teacher authority to derive the theories of social action implied within the curricula. Scott, an eight grade teacher, oriented the curriculum within the literacy period with the goal of creating social change, utilized personal and researched knowledge, structured the unit towards independent participation, and shared teacher authority throughout the project. The Urban Youth facilitators, who enacted the curriculum in two ninth grade classrooms, oriented the curriculum as an add-on to the regular day with the goal of igniting student empowerment, utilized solely personal knowledge, structured the unit around collaborative participation, and primarily gave students authority at the initiation of the project. Each curriculum enactment reflects multiple approaches to justice and social change, revealing the complexity of this work as it occurs in classrooms.
“Connecting Service-Learning and School Climate: Implications for Citizenship Outcomes across Racial Groups in the United States”
University of Maryland
Bio: Gary Homana is a doctoral candidate in Education Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland–College Park where he focuses on issues concerning citizenship education. As part of his doctoral work, he serves as a graduate assistant for the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) and the National Alliance for Civic Education (NACE) at the School Public Affairs. Gary works closely with Judith Torney-Purta, Professor of Human Development, University of Maryland, on national and international citizenship issues. This collaboration has resulted in numerous publications, reviews, presentations, and workshops. He is also lead author on the School Climate Citizenship Education Climate Assessment (Homana, Barber, & Torney-Purta) developed for the National Center for Citizenship and Learning at the Education Commission of the States. He has served as research associate for the National Commission on Service-Learning, chaired by Senator John Glenn. The Commission was part of Learning In Deed a four-year national initiative, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to ensure that service-learning would become part of every student’s education throughout the country. Gary was also appointed special assistant to the Governor in the State of Maryland where he was involved in outlining strategies to address education and social policy concerns.Abstract: This study examines the relationship between school climate and two components of service-learning and citizenship outcomes among middle grades students in the United States using items from the 1999 International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement Civic Education Study. Based upon an assessment of school citizenship education climate (a collection of scales relating to school climate that revolves around a framework of seven key dimensions), this paper analyzes the relationship between service-learning and school climate predictors and students’ civic knowledge, expected community participation, norms of social movement, norms of conventional participation, and understanding of democratic concepts. Regression analysis is utilized to examine the effect of the predictors for citizenship outcomes and population groups, as well as potential interactions. By studying how school climate may differentially affect citizenship outcomes for students of different backgrounds more was learned about how to make schools a context for positive citizenship development among diverse groups of students in the United States.
“Service-Learning and the Obligations and Rights of Citizenship”
Shauna A. Morimoto
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Bio: Shauna A. Morimoto is a doctorial candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her dissertation is a comparative, ethnographic study examining the meanings that American high school students attribute to being citizens and how these meanings map on to their civic engagement and service-learning experiences. She is the author (with Lewis Friedland) of the CIRCLE Working Paper “The Changing Lifeworld of Young People: Risk, Resume Padding and Civic Engagement.”Abstract: This paper examines how service-learning generates the expansion of civic life. I argue that high school aged Americans, while heavily involved in volunteerism, still have many social and political concerns that go unaddressed. Through a qualitative, ethnographic analysis, I account for the space where young people participate – whether that participation is civically or politically minded – and examine how this participation generates democratic citizenship. Service-learning itself often leads to civic gains, and sometimes results in both civic and democratic outcomes. However, I find that under certain conditions, civic and democratic outcomes within service-learning programs may conflict. The impact that young people have through their volunteer work provides a crucial link between their volunteer service and their sense of citizenship. I conclude with some possibilities for reconceptualizing volunteerism as empowered work.
“Promoting Political Participation through Service-Learning”
Washington University in St. Louis
Bio: Suzanne Pritzker is currently completing a Ph.D. at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and is a research associate with the school’s Center for Social Development. She is engaged in research on civic engagement and political attitudes among low-income youth and families and on service-learning as a means to increase civic outcomes among K-12 students. She was a recipient of a grant to study service-learning from the National Youth Leadership Council, and her service-learning research has been published in the Advancing Knowledge in Service-Learning series and Growing to Greatness 2006: The State of Service-Learning Project. Suzanne’s research is informed by prior work experience for the Commonwealth of Virginia in the political and policy arena. She teaches master’s level courses on social welfare policy and program evaluation.Abstract: Today’s adolescents appear to be disengaged from policy and political processes. To increase adolescents’ connections with the polity, interventions intentionally designed to develop political knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors are needed. Service-learning suggests promise for increasing political engagement; however current models of service-learning may not be succeeding in this goal. A new socio-political model of service-learning is proposed, calling attention to complementary components that can be integrated with current service-learning models to increase political engagement. Practice, policy, and research implications of this model are discussed.
“Impact of Concurrent Service-Learning Training and Engagement on Pre-Service Teachers”
University of Central Florida
Bio: Trae Stewart is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Central Florida. Dr. Stewart earned a Ph.D. in Educational Policy, Planning, & Administration, along with two Masters degrees, from the University of Southern California. He earned his undergraduate degree in French and Spanish from the University of Mary Washington.Dr. Stewart’s research interests include service-learning, teacher education, and gay/lesbian issues in education. Over the past decade, Dr. Stewart has been actively involved in the field of service-learning. He has presented over a dozen papers on service-learning at academic conferences, published articles/chapters on his own service-learning research, and served as a peer-reviewer for national service-learning publications. Most recently, he received a Learn & Serve Special Initiatives grant, the primary aim of which is to increase novice K-12 teachers’ use of service-learning by simultaneously teaching pre-service teachers about service-learning as a pedagogy, having them engage in a service-learning project themselves, and seeing service-learning in action in a K-12 setting.In addition to his scholarship commitments, Dr. Stewart teaches a service-learning course to gifted and talented adolescents through the Civic Education Project (Northwestern University) and Center for Talented Youth (Johns Hopkins University) each summer in Baltimore, Maryland, has infused service-learning in to undergraduate teacher education courses, and serve as a service-learning consultant for Florida Campus Compact.
“Bowling Young II: How Youth Voluntary Associations Affect Voting in Early Adulthood”
Reuben J. Thomas
(and Daniel A. McFarland)
Bio: Reuben J. Thomas is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University. His research focuses on the structure and dynamics of interpersonal social networks and their implications for segregation, stratification, civic participation, family formation, and societal change.Abstract: The great majority of Americans who are eligible to vote eventually become habitual voters, if they live long enough. But making the transition into voting while young, in the first few elections of one’s eligibility, is more problematic. The speed of this transition is highly correlated with socioeconomic background, reproducing political inequalities across generations, but experiences outside of the family can affect it as well. Examining two nationally representative longitudinal datasets, we explore the effects of extracurricular participation in high school on voting in young adulthood by using a propensity score analysis to control for a host of other factors like family background and school achievement. Many high school activities are related to increased voting as young adults, though some show a negative effect. These relationships illustrate that the voluntary associations of high school play a roll in the political socialization of youth as they become adult citizens.
CIRCLE is happy to announce the winners of our youth-led community research grant competition sponsored by the Cricket Island Foundation. We received nearly 300 project proposals from teams doing amazing work around the country. While we wish we could fund many more projects, we are proud to support the youth-led teams below:
East Point Youth Action Team, Fulton County, GA What disparities and inequalities exist between schools in the Northern and Southern regions of Fulton County, GA?
Summer Enrichment Program, Greencastle, IN What is the extent of hunger among children in our community during summer? Teen Leadership Inst. at the Penn Center, St. Helena Island, SC How many African Americans on the island have lost land in recent years and what are the stories behind their landloss? TINCAN, Spokane, WA Why have some teens chosen to have babies and how did their lives change once they did?
Wisconsin Rural Challenge; Hollandale, WI
Youth research teams, in collaboration with 9 rural communities in Wisconsin, will investigate reasons young adults leave, and will research possible effects of place-based civic education.
Resources for Youth-Lead Research
Youth In FocusYIF specializes in youth-led action research, evaluation, and planning. Their Web site includes a project gallery of youth-led research, links to articles, and other resources including ordering information for Youth REP: Step by Step – a guide to beginning a youth-led research project.
Handbook for Supporting Community Youth Researchers Developed by the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University, this handbook includes lesson plans and sample program documents available for use. The Web site also includes links to youth-led research reports.
You don’t need to have a complete research team to begin brainstorming project ideas. But, you should have a core team with at least a few members – enough that you can discuss a variety of ideas and come to agreement on the main topic area that seems most important to you and your community. It will be harder to recruit members if all of the key decisions about the project have already been made. CIRCLE-funded research teams must include at least 5 young people under the age of 18. They may also include adult mentors.
Think about your community.
What concerns you about your community?
What would you like to change?
What have you noticed that you would like to learn more about?
What have you noticed that you think others should learn more about?
Together the core of your research team should think about these questions, and decide what your research project should be about. You may want to consult others in the community to receive feedback on your ideas.
Your topic should be important to you and to others in the community. As you consider different topics, think about who might be interested in your findings. Who could you share your findings with to help bring about change?
Formulate a key research question.
Once your core team agrees on a topic to research, think about some of the specifics. Which aspect of the topic are you most interested in? Is your topic focused enough or does it need to be narrowed down?
For example, a youth research team in Hyattsville, MD was interested in how geography related to health. They decided their question was too broad, and narrowed their focus to how moving, especially from one country to another, might affect what people eat.
Once you’ve determined your key research question, you may develop sub-questions. In the example above sub-questions were:
Did eating habits change after people moved from their home countries? Do young people who moved think their diets improved or became worse? Do their parents agree with them?
Whether or not your team develops sub-questions, your key research question should guide your project.
Choose a Research Methodology.
Now that you have a clear research question, how will you answer it?
There are many ways you can begin investigating a research question. It is up to your team to agree on the method that is the best match for your question. Do you want to know how many people in your neighborhood have lived in another country? Or, do you want to know how someone’s life changes when they move from one country to another? The methodology you choose should depend on the question you ask.
Methodologies can be quantitative, qualitative, or may use a combination of these approaches.
Quantitative methods deal with numbers; they are good for answering research questions that begin with how many or how much. If you did wonder how many people in your neighborhood lived in another country, you might want to do a survey. This would be a quantitative approach. Usually, if you use a quantitative approach, you will try to ask a few short questions to as many people as possible.
Example of quantitative methods: Surveys (can be done by phone, in-person, or as a written questionnaire)
Analyzing large data sets (for example Census Bureau data, or data collected by local government)
If your team develops survey questions or a questionnaire to distribute to a large number of people, you should frame your questions so that answers can be easily counted. In general, close-ended questions will be easier to tally up than open-ended questions. For instance, if you want to find out whether people think your neighborhood is safe you can ask this in an open ended way:
What are the things you think are safe and unsafe in your neighborhood? Describe both.
However, if you ask this question to 50 people, you might get 50 different answers. It would be easier to count up responses if you were to ask the question in a close-ended way. Here are two examples of the above question rewritten in a close-ended way:
Do you think your neighborhood is safe? ___ Yes ___ No
Do you think your neighborhood is: ___Safe at all times ___Generally safe during the day ___Safe during the day, but not safe at night ___Not safe at any time of the day or night
Qualitative methods can help you understand why or how something happens. If you were interested in how someone’s life changes while moving, you might want to interview someone who is in the process of moving or has just moved. If you had the opportunity, you might even want to observe someone as they move. Usually, if you use a qualitative method, you will focus on collecting as much information as possible from a small number of people.
Examples of qualitative methods: Interviews
Focus Groups (Focus groups are small group interviews; the researcher asks open questions and participants answer in a discussion format.)
Some methods can not be easily categorized as quantitative or qualitative. For example, a youth research team working with Youth Force in the Bronx did a study of The New York Times. They analyzed how young people were portrayed in news stories over a period of time. They counted the number of times that youth were mentioned in different kinds of stories and analyzed the language used to describe youth. In this example, their approach mixed aspects of quantitative and qualitative research.
You may decide that the best way to answer your research question is to combine more than one method. This is fine. Just make sure you have enough time and people to do all of the work.
Questions to consider when choosing a research methodology: What is my research question?
In order to answer my research question, what do I need to know?
How can I best collect this type of information?
Plan Project Details.
Project details will probably change as your project progresses. But, your team should be able to answer the following basic questions before you get started:
If you plan on collecting data from people: Who are your research participants? (ie Who are you going to survey, interview, observe etc.)
Do you need their permission in order to do the research?
Some topic areas are sensitive. Will you keep the respondents’ answers confidential?
Will you inform all respondents of how you plan on reporting your findings up front? Where will the research take place?
When will the research take place?
Which members of your research team will be involved and who will do what?
You may also have to create a data collection instrument. For example, if you are giving people a written survey, your team will have to write the questions, or find a survey that already exists. If you are planning on interviewing people, your team should come to agreement on what to ask.
Additional questions to consider when planning: How do you plan on analyzing the data once you collect it?
How will you share your findings once the research is done?
Note: If you do ask any sensitive questions make sure your team agrees on a plan for protecting the anonymity of respondents, and that respondents are comfortable with both the research project and the way you will report your findings. For more information on the ethics of research see the following Guide to Human Subjects Protection on the Web site of the National Center for Juvenile Justice. If you have any questions about making sure your research project is respectful to all involved, please email Carrie Donovan.
Outline your project budget.
Think carefully about your project. What aspects of your project require funding in order to succeed? What aspects of your project can you do without funding? There may be parts of your project that your team can accomplish without spending any money. Other aspects may require financial support, or will be strengthened if you have support. For example, you might be able to recruit youth researchers to volunteer their time for the project. But, if you suspect that homework, jobs, and other demands on their time will likely interfere, it might be worth paying researchers a stipend.
Who in the project will receive a stipend? Will youth researchers be paid a stipend?
Will adult mentors receive a stipend or will the project cover a percentage of their salaries and/or benefits?
Will any others involved in the project – including any people you may interview, observe, etc – receive a stipend or an incentive to participate?
Will your research team have to pay for meeting space? Will your research team have donated space and resources such as computers?
Does your team need to request money to cover overhead costs such as meeting space and use of computers?
(Keep in mind that a CIRCLE grant can cover some overhead costs. Overhead requests must be 10% or less of the salaries & benefits portion of your budget)
Will you need transportation at any point in your project?
Can all researchers make it to your meeting place?
Will you need transportation for any other participants in the project – including anyone you may interview, survey etc?
Will you need funding for any special events?
Will your project have any large meetings, focus groups, kick-off events, community meetings etc? If so, consider the items you will need for these events including: food, beverages, room rentals, presentation materials, photocopies etc.
Do you need funding for photocopies, materials, and supplies?
Will you need materials for research team meetings?
What materials will you need in the field when you are conducting your research? Will you need to photocopy surveys or guidelines for researchers?
Will you need tape recorders and cassettes?
Will you need materials for video recording at any point?
Will you need funding for any products/events to disseminate your findings?
How do you plan on packaging your findings? (Once you complete your project, does your team want to produce a c.d., a video, a report, a presentation, or something else?
Do you plan on having any events to share your findings?
Do you plan on producing and copying a final report?
Will you need postage for mailing out findings?
CIRCLE Launches Online Seminar to Discuss Youth Engagement Report
Building on the release of "All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement," the report of our Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge, CIRCLE has created a FREE and open online seminar in an effort to reach out and engage individuals and groups interested in extending the conversation about the state of youth engagement and future strategies to improve it.