Many authors and activists (among others) have long called for increasing and improved participation for children and youth (combined – young people). Through the 21st century we have seen an increase in ‘inclusion’ of young people, particularly in urban planning fora at the local level. Participation, inclusion and involvement, however, have vastly different meanings depending on where and when they are taking place - even between similar developed countries. This ranges from simply informing young people to placation, part way up the ladder of participation.

While young people are increasingly being mobilized to provide their input, there are a number of challenges or hinderances in this practice. Most often, young people are included, but treated as ‘mini adults’ with no specific support for their participation. At the other end of the spectrum, young people are provided with their own unique participatory process or opportunity, which separates them from the larger context of the project and the adults who will ultimately make the decisions. (That is if young people are not limited to participating in processes that are only youth or child oriented).

With this in mind, several authors have additionally called for increasing the capacity of young people to participate on more equal terms with adults, particularly in respect to issues that will have significant impacts on future generations (thinking in terms of the ‘standard’ definition of sustainable development). The West Valley area around Phoenix, Arizona is one that has embraced the notion of not only involving young people on more equal terms, but especially working to improve their capacity to participate in a meaningful way. The West Valley Youth Leadership Council (WVYLC) was set up to provide secondary school students with the skills and experience needed to encourage young people’s voices on issues that are of significance to them.

Initial indications from the WVYLC organisers are that it has shown to be a successful endeavour from their perspective and are hoping to continue the programme. Further details, including the perceptions of the young people involved are still being collected and analysed. The full perceptions of the organisers and their planning committee are also still being collected and analysed. From this analysis, using a framework developed out of Iris Marion Young’s work, we will determine whether the young people were supported in a meaningful way, were able to participate and influence the projects they provided input on, and what is still to be improved. The project also aims to develop recommendations on how to improve the participatory process in general, and whether some broader ideas can be applied outside of this American context.