Youth Participation and Action Research (YPAR)

Led by Emily Ozer, phd and Marieka Schotland, phd

Our node focuses on advancing evidence and action towards meaningful youth participation and power in the promotion of young people’s health and wellbeing, with an emphasis on YPAR (Youth Participatory Action Research). YPAR is an innovative, equity-focused approach to positive youth and community development in which young people conduct systematic research to improve their lives, communities, and the institutions intended to serve them. As a participatory research approach, YPAR values youth voice and promotes healthier development for young people across the lifespan. YPAR researchers and youth engaged in YPAR utilize a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods in cycles of inquiry and action.

Our mission

The LCIRN YPAR Node aims to connect YPAR researchers, practitioners, and youth to build shared opportunities for learning, evidence generation, and collaboration across disciplines focused on youth wellbeing and development. The YPAR Node is a generative space for reflection, empirical inquiry, and action via the following priority activities:

  • Linkage of scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to advance the evidence base and impact of YPAR on the settings and institutions that shape youth development, and the benefits for young people who participate; 
  • Knowledge exchange and collaboration to produce innovative research studies, publications and products within and beyond the node;
  • Training and mentorship of the next generation of YPAR life course researchers; 
  • Identification of future directions for the field of life course research that centers youth expertise and power within systems that affect youth development;
  • Collaboration with other research networks in the MCAH (maternal/child/adolescent health), developmental, and other relevant fields to embed and evaluate adaptive and meaningful approaches to youth participation in empirical research, interventions, and policy development.
Mapping youth participation approaches
Mapping youth participation approaches. (Reprinted with permission from Ozer EJ, Abraczinskas M, Duarte C, et al. Youth participatory approaches and health equity: conceptualization and integrative review. Am J Community Psychol. 2020;66[3–4]:271).

ongoing projects/grants

YPAR Node Working Groups:

  • YPAR and Institutional Change
    • YPAR networks and platforms to impact policy in CA and nationally, focused on mental health, educational equity, and other core equity issues for life course development
  • Defining and Adapting YPAR
  • YPAR and Pandemic/Historical Moment
  • YPAR and Adolescent Development
  • Training in YPAR (Curriculum/Syllabi Sharing)

Ongoing Project:

LCIRN Pilot Funding: YPAR as an Intervention to Promote Emotional Well-being Post-Pandemic: A Pilot Study to Identify Relevant Domains

The purpose of this pilot study is to understand which emotional well-being domains are impacted by YPAR in the context of COVID-19 and racial injustice. Across three sites, we will explore virtually, using arts-based methods and multiple qualitative sources, the impact of COVID-19 and racism on youth of colors’ emotional well-being domains and perspectives on what is necessary for racial healing. Led by researchers Noé Rubén Chávez, PhD, Heather Kennedy, PhD and Michelle Abraczinskas, PhD.

Publications and Resources

Agents of Peace – Youth Participatory Action Research Frameworks in Promoting Social Justice (2021). Workshop, Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine Annual Meeting.

Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) (2021). Civic Spring Report: Youth Expertise and Leadership Crucial to Intergenerational Civic Spaces. Tufts University.

Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) (2021). Youth Expertise Series. Tufts University.

Levy, I., & Travis, R. (2020). The critical cycle of mixtape creation: Reducing stress via three different group counseling styles. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 45(4), 307-330.

Ozer, Shapiro, & Duarte (2021). RWJ brief on YPAR and SEL. 

Ozer, Sprague Martinez, Abraczinskas, Villa, & Prata (2022). Toward Integration of Life Course Intervention and Youth Participatory Action Research. Pediatrics, 149 (Supplement 5).

Ozer, Villa, Abraczinskas, & Kornbluh (2021). Partnership and Technical Assistance in Crisis: Capacity building for YPAR Implementation and Impact. 

San Francisco Unified School District & UC Berkeley RPP (2022). Awardee for Student Voice 4 RPPs: Advancing the Democratization of Evidence Through Student Voice in Research Practice Partnerships. National Network of Education Research Practice Partnerships (NNERPP).

Suleiman, A. (2021). Leveraging the Developmental Science of Adolescence to Promote Youth Engagement in Research and Evaluation – A Guide for Funders. UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent.

Travis, R., Levy, I., & Morphew, A. (2022). “Now we’re all family”: Exploring social and emotional development in a summer Hip Hop mixtape camp. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal.  

YPAR Hub. UC Berkeley. 

Collborative partners

Link to YPAR Node Bios

  • Michelle Abraczinskas, PhD (University of Florida)
  • Parissa J. Ballard, PhD (Wake Forest School of Medicine)
  • Elizabeth Benninger, PhD (Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine)
  • Noé Rubén Chávez, PhD (Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science)
  • Alison Cohen, PhD, MPH (University of California San Francisco)
  • Kimalee Dickerson, PhD (University of Virginia)
  • Nancy Erbstein, PhD (UC Davis)
  • Michelle Fine, PhD (City University of New York)
  • Nickholas J. Grant, MA (Yale University)
  • Lindsay Till Hoyt, PhD (Fordham University)
  • Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, PhD (CIRCLE, Tufts University)
  • Heather Kennedy, PhD, MPH (UpRISE, University of Colorado)
  • Abby Kiesa, MA (CIRCLE, Tufts University)
  • Ben Kirshner, PhD (Colorado University, Boulder)
  • Mariah Kornbluh, PhD (University of Oregon)
  • Elena Maker Castro, MA (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • Michelle Y. Martin Romero, PhD (UNC Greensboro)
  • Emily Ozer, PhD (UC Berkeley)
  • Mary Raygoza, PhD (Saint Mary’s College of California)
  • Marieka Schotland, PhD (i4Y – Innovations for Youth, UC Berkeley)
  • Linda Sprague Martinez, PhD (Boston University)
  • Ahna Suleiman, DrPH, MPH (Independent Consultant)
  • Nick Szoko, MD (UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh)
  • Raphael Travis Jr., PhD, LCSW (Texas State University)
  • Brian Villa, MPH, MSW (UC Berkeley)
  • Adam Voight, PhD (Cleveland State University)
  • Dana E. Wright, EdD, MA (Mills College)Oregon

By Emily J. Ozer, UC Berkeley School of Public Health

What is Youth-Led Participatory Action Research (YPAR)?

YPAR is a social justice-focused approach for promoting social change and positive youth development in which youth conduct systematic research and actions to improve their schools, communities, and other systems (e.g. health, juvenile justice). YPAR entails an iterative process of research and action led by youth and guided by adult allies.  YPAR is an approach that transforms the power and process of research; it is not a specific research method YPAR studies can use quantitative and/or qualitative methods.

YPAR differs from forms of adult-led research that gather diverse forms of data from youth (or by youth) because in YPAR it is the youth who formulate the research questions and lead the process. Topics taken up by young people in YPAR projects range widely and include reforming school cultures, promoting environmental justice regarding pollution and pesticides, access to healthy foods, reduction in liquor stores, city planning, policing, and cyber-bullying (see links below for case examples).

YPAR is a form of Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), as it called in public health, with “global North” roots in social psychology (Kurt Lewin’s action research for organizational improvement) and “global South” roots in political movements for liberation and empowerment (e.g. Paulo Freire’s popular education models). 

Why does YPAR matter for life course intervention research?

When conducted with integrity, YPAR can:

(a) promote positive development for youth who participate in multiple key domains,

(b) help address inequities in youth-serving systems and organizations,

(c) strengthen the relevance of developmental science questions and validity of methods, and

(d) inform intervention design and evaluation.

One way that YPAR can enhance the validity and impact of life course research is by bringing the insider expertise of young people on sensitive topics to shaping the questions we ask, our sampling approaches, our methods, and our sharing-out of findings for impact on policies and systems.  It can also help transform traditional and highly problematic deficit-focused lenses for understanding the development of non-white young people, including the role of racism and other structural inequalities and forms of marginalization (and resistance) for youth of color, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ youth. 

Practitioners and families can also be engaged in forms of partnered or participatory research to bring their expertise. Fundamentally, YPAR raises key questions about who can create developmental science evidence. What is the potential role of young people in creating the evidence base for further research on themselves? 

Learn more (including case examples and curricula for online implementation): 

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