Including Youth in the Ladder of Citizen Participation: Adding Rungs of Consent, Advocacy, and Incorporation

Nisha D. Botchwey, Nick Johnson, L. Katie O’Connell, Anna J. Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Problem, research strategy, and findings: Youth are traditionally excluded from participation within planning venues, though planners increasingly recognize the value and knowledge that youth can bring to planning efforts. Yet planners struggle to find ways to incorporate youth ideas and decision making that are not exploitative, tokenizing, or coercive. Arnstein’s “A Ladder of Citizen Participation” provides useful insights into how youth can participate in decision making through partnerships with adults for whom the ladder was designed. In this article, we use case studies of youth-focused planning initiatives to examine the potential for including youth in Arnstein’s original ladder. These include Youth–Plan Learn Act Now (Y-PLAN), Youth Engagement and Action for Health (YEAH!), and Growing Up Boulder (GUB). Within each case study we analyze the goals, methodology, and projects of each program to determine how each expands or limits youth participation. The case studies vary based on the degree of participation, youth experience, and their geographical and institutional bounding. We then propose new rungs located between “placation” and “partnership” that offer youth an opportunity to partner with adults to engage in a planning project. Each new rung offers youth opportunities to participate in the planning process, though adults retain decision-making power. These rungs are divided by their directionality of power and whether youth are granted power to participate or seek it themselves. Further research could refine these rungs, especially within larger contexts of planning theory and the history of shared decision-making processes. Methodological challenges to this study could be addressed in some of these future research efforts. Takeaway for practice: Practicing planners are challenged with ways to authentically include youth voices in productive and nontokenistic decision-making frameworks. Planners can apply these lessons to engage youth in different contexts to support the elevation of their involvement, voice, and power in the planning process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-270
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 American Planning Association, Chicago, IL.


  • citizen participation
  • community participation
  • youth in planning
  • youth participation
  • youth programs


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