How Youth Participatory Action Research is lifting up the story of youth and young adult well-being across identity groups



“In Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) and youth-centered work, it is imperative to continue to add the voices and expertise of younger people. It’s the lifeforce of the work and it allows for innovation and relevancy.”

— Niara Frankson 

We often hear adults talk about how youth are the future and the present center of movements. As young people, we know and live that truth on a daily basis. Oftentimes that means showing up as youth leaders in adult-oriented spaces, sharing our expertise and shifting the narrative.

The Youth and Young Adult Wellbeing Project is a group of young adult leaders and adult allies from all over the U.S. and

Canada. We show up to make sure young adults have our say in research, conversations, and policies about our well-being. Typically, research on youth and young adults is done ON us, not for us or led by us. From our point of view, research doesn’t just mean numbers – we’re diving deep into our real stories and ways our culture is connected to well-being. We’re turning the spotlight on our experiences, our culture, our values – the things that really matter. We want to empower other youth and young adults to take charge of defining, collecting, and interpreting the data that shapes our well-being. No more speaking about us without us! We’re flipping the script and putting the power of understanding our experiences right where it belongs – in our hands.

Wellbeing Project at the AEA Conference

Recently, as a part of our role with the project, we had an opportunity to highlight our role in defining well-being and advocate for our fellow young adults at the American Evaluation Association (AEA) Conference.

The American Evaluation Association is devoted to the application and exploration of program evaluation, personnel evaluation, technology, and many other forms of evaluation. AEA provides an environment where evaluators can learn and connect regardless of experience in the field. More than 5,000 members nationally and internationally prioritize the advancement of evaluation best practices across multiple types and topics – ranging from collaborative, participatory, and empowerment evaluation to quantitative methods to advancements in AI technology. However, with all of the people present at the conference, we were among the only young adult participants.

Desiree Armas: “[Imposter syndrome definitely kicks in and there were times where] I felt like we weren’t old enough to be competing with these other professionals. But by showing up as who we are, curse words, memes and all, we’re honoring the way young people today communicate and process their feelings and emotions. We also honor their voice by putting all of that unfiltered wisdom into the project as official themes (sad boi vibes and all about the pesos).”

This year the theme of the AEA conference was “The Power of Story.”

Storytelling is essential to evaluation and can serve many purposes: it can build relationships, ground evaluation work, describe the context, convey data, impose meaning, share lessons learned, and identify challenges left to address. This year participants of the conference reflected on how storytelling can contribute to and shape the narrative of evaluations, diving deeper into storytelling’s usage, benefits, and impacts.


Wellbeing Panel

Our team from the Youth and Young Adult Wellbeing Project presented a session entitled “Youth Participatory Action Research: Telling the story of well-being across identity groups.”

“YPAR is research that centers the healing power of story. Our Wellbeing Project was created and is sustained by a youth-centered, intergenerational collective. We talked about and showed the unique ways we collected data [and core themes] (i.e. art, music, food). [We emphasized] the power of adding new stories/new data whilst honoring, respecting, and learning from the old (understanding that it adds context and knowledge).”

— Niara Frankson

“Overall the panel was well received and it felt like the audience truly resonated with the need to involve or better yet employ youth in research about and for youth. Audience members welcomed the authenticity of the panel and at times admitted uncomfortability of the panel members.”

— Sierra Quintana

Let’s Carry it Forward

Looking forward, our mission with the project is to create measures that highlight how our culture, values, and life situations boost our well-being. We’re not just saying it matters; we’re building an entire framework to make sure our social, emotional, and physical well-being gets the attention it deserves.

We have completed Phase One of the project (determining key themes and measures of wellbeing) and are now in Phase Two, where we are developing toolkits that we hope other youth can use to measure and promote wellbeing for themselves and their communities.

Learn more HERE.