Asset & Power Mapping as Tools for Youth-Led Research

By: Jessica Forrester

This post is the 7th publication in a YPAR series, which aims to explain participatory research, youth-led measurement and evaluation approaches, and strategies for youth-adult collaborations in YPAR.


  • In this series on Youth Participatory Action Research (or YPAR), we have started to share tips & strategies for facilitators.
  • Some YPAR facilitators use two types of modeling activities in their research projects, community asset & power mapping.       
  • This blog includes explanations of these mapping exercises, reflections on the iterative nature of creating maps, and downloadable examples to use in future work.
Source: North Minneapolis Asset Map made by Mychi Nguyen in YoUthROC Magazine 2022

Interactive activities are central to Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). These activities encourage youth to think critically about their communities and provide opportunities to strengthen problem-solving skills. Exercise examples include community asset mapping and power mapping. Below I’ll describe these two maps, when to include them in your YPAR process, and steps your team can follow for your research project. Additionally, there are templates and examples to support future YPAR projects.

Community Asset Mapping

Community asset mapping is an action-oriented process that documents often unexplored resources within a defined community. Assets are valuable resources for communities to maintain their well-being. These resources include individuals, land and physical environments, culture, stories, businesses, and citizens’ associations.

In other words, community asset mapping visualizes a community as inherently full of social and physical resources rather than defined by deficits that need remediation.

Asset mapping is a data collection step that can support a YPAR project after you’ve decided on your research goals or as a stand-alone project to document resources and build collaborative relationships. Regardless of your route, community asset maps are a powerful tool to understand the context of research projects and envision how resources already occurring in a community can be used to create change. Additionally, taking the time to find out what is already happening in a community will avoid duplicating services or solutions that others have done.

Here are some steps to create your own community asset map:

  1. Identify where and who makes up the community that you want to explore. Are you or your youth interested in your neighborhood, school, or entire city?
  2. Determine what kind of assets you want to know about and how you’ll find out about those assets. For example, youth can interview community members about their positive experiences in the community or read newspapers to find out about groups organizing local events.
  3. Logically organize the community asset map to share, use, and maintain.

Templates & Examples of Assets Maps

UC Berkeley’s YPAR Hub created an activity to guide YPAR teams in defining what community means and identifying the resources within a community.

YoUthROC (a community and University-connected youth research team that supports the growth of YPAR) created asset maps for their magazine to highlight their research finding surrounding nourishing youth assets and agency.

Power Mapping

Power mapping is a visual representation that organizes people and organizations based on how much a person/group supports your project and how much power a person/group has to help your project progress. Completing this visual exercise will help YPAR teams understand how power operates within your community.

In addition, power mapping can help YPAR teams strategize about stakeholders who strongly support their research goals, opposers who might hinder their project, and people/groups in the middle who could be influenced to assist.

You can incorporate power maps into various steps of your research process. For example, a) during the early brainstorming stage as youth think about the proposed audience of the project, b) when they finish the project and are preparing to present the findings, or c) when they create an action plan and are contemplating who can help them make positive change. Regardless of which step, power maps can help youth and your team create a framework for success to meet the research, action, and relationship-building goals.

Here are some steps to create a power map:

  1. Brainstorm a list of people/groups in your community who make decisions on the YPAR topic. This list can include those responsible for creating the problem you want to change, those who may want to fix the problem, those already working to fix the problem, and your YPAR team.
  2. Place each person/group on the power map template based on their level of support and power (see the Power Mapping Activity below for the template). Questions you can ask yourself are: Do they agree or disagree with the goals of our YPAR project? How much power do they have over decision-making? You can do this virtually (via Jamboard or Google Slides) or in person with a whiteboard and sticky notes.
  3. Reflect on how people/groups are organized on the map and determine the next steps. Future actions can include engaging with your influential supporters or limiting the impact of powerful non-supporters.

Templates & Examples of Power Maps

A guide created by Community Futures, Community Lore (UC Davis) to assist YPAR teams in thinking strategically about supporters and detractors while you focus on your action efforts.

On the second slide of the Instagram post, YoUthROC completed a power map with local partners during their Research to Social Action workshop series.

Reflections on Mapping

Asset maps are just the beginning. Typically in community mapping exercises, assets are listed with short descriptions for brevity. In actuality, each asset could be further broken down and described. Youth and research teams can work towards transcending from maps to more detailed inventories that document individuals’ self-identified skills, partnerships between institutions and community groups, and strategies to identify additional resources. These steps would give a more well-rounded view of community assets and allow researchers to be more knowledgeable on community values, issues, and organizing efforts before proposing community-engaged projects.

Maps should be re-visited. An essential step in creating asset or power maps is to re-visit and update them. These tools are not final, and the continuation of participatory research depends on continually revising community resources. For example, organization leaders change regularly. It may be worthwhile to update the asset map depending on the new leader’s values or update your power map to reflect their level of support and possible allyship.

Missed a post in the YPAR series? Check out all the tips and resources:

  1. The Benefits of Engaging in Participatory Approaches to Research
  2. Why Young Investigators Are Important
  3. Youth Voices in YPAR (includes youth)
  4. Strategies for the YPAR Collaboration Process (includes downloadable resources)
  5. How Can Youth Voice Amplify Research? Listening & Leadership Are Key
  6. 4 Universal Facilitation Tips for YPAR Collaboration
  7. Asset & Power Mapping as Tools for Youth-Led Research (includes downloadable resources)
  8. Why YPAR Matters: Youth Are “Looking at the World Differently” (includes youth)

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Jessica Forrester is a postdoctoral researcher working directly with Youth-Nex and the Youth Action Lab. Before joining the University of Virginia, Jessica earned a Ph.D. in STEM Education from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biomedical engineering. Her dissertation combined her interest in STEM engagement with justice-oriented practices in education to create mathematics activities for an after-school tutoring program in North Minneapolis. Specifically, qualitative and community-based approaches were utilized to acknowledge community assets and, in turn, value those assets during mathematical learning to influence students’ identity development, skills development, criticality, and joy. Additionally, Jessica explores equity and justice through youth participatory action research and mentoring networks.

4 Universal Facilitation Tips for YPAR Collaboration

By: Olivia Burke

This post is the 6th publication in a YPAR series, which aims to explain participatory research, youth-led measurement and evaluation approaches, and strategies for youth-adult collaborations in YPAR.


  • Detailed in earlier in this series, engaging youth in participatory action research promotes autonomy, self-efficacy, critical thinking skills, empowerment and civic engagement.
  • Effective facilitation is the key to successful YPAR partnerships.
  • In this blog, I share tips for facilitators based on years working in YPAR at multiple sites across a diverse range of students.
Source: Canva

This summer marks my third anniversary with the Youth Action Lab. The intersection of my two academic passions, education research methodology and adolescent development, this lab caught my attention as an undergraduate in UVA’s School of Education and Human Development. While working on my master’s, my interest in utilizing Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) as both a research method and youth-empowerment tool continued to blossom.

The bulk of my research with Youth Action Lab focuses on successful participatory action research facilitation. My experience facilitating YPAR with six different youth groups/schools ranges from: in-person to remote settings, ages 3rd to 12th grades, and highly selective leadership groups to alternative school models. In reflecting on the years, I identified four universal facilitation tips that help me establish successful YPAR collaborations.

Intentionally Break Down the Adult-Youth Power Structure

After the initial introduction to YPAR, spend time breaking down the traditional youth-adult power structure. YPAR is often facilitated in a school or school-like setting where the youth are traditionally ‘knowledge consumers.’ While the youth will learn throughout the YPAR process, they are also considered a primary source of knowledge. Unlike a traditional student-teacher relationship, the youth-researchers and YPAR facilitators have equal decision-making power. Being explicit about the shared ‘power’ throughout the YPAR process allows youth the space to share their truth and confidently make research decisions. As a facilitator, make sure you:

  • Intentionally share the idea that the youths’ knowledge and points of view are as important as the facilitators’.
  • Treat the youth with the same level of respect as you would any other co-researcher or adult colleague.
  • Spend time encouraging students to use their voice in the facilitation time; they will likely begin to speak up, unprompted, throughout the year.
  • Position yourself, physically, in a space that does not imply a power dynamic. For example, in a circle of desk rather than in front of the class like a teacher might.

Build Foundational Connections with Youth Researchers

Establishing a genuine relationship with the youth-researchers is crucial for a successful partnership. Once the youth-researchers feel comfortable around you, they will be more likely to explore authentic research topics. Though researchers strive to remove bias from the process, overarching research topics are inherently personally and often are sparked from emotions or reactions to everyday experiences. Building an authentic connection allows space for the youth-researchers to be vulnerable and explore their true interests. As you hone your YPAR facilitation skills, remember to:

  • While respecting your own boundaries, be vulnerable and authentic yourself. I often share a bit about my personal experiences and what makes me ‘me.’
  • Allow the youth to get to know you as a ‘normal’ person first—this also helps break down power structures between facilitator and youth-researcher. Having casual conversations about the latest trends or music tastes will remind the youth-researchers that we are just like them and normal people.
  • Share some of your own interests, research interests and how you personally connect to them.

Follow an Adaptable Curriculum & Timeline

The Youth Action Lab follows a general curriculum adapted from the University of California Berkeley’s YPAR HUB. I found that this YPAR curriculum is best utilized as a starting point to spark engagement and teach youth-researchers the social science research process. Since YPAR is rooted in empowering youth to make their own research decisions, it is important to be flexible to the youths’ interests and not get caught up in following the curriculum verbatim (like a teacher needs to in the classroom). The youth may feel more drawn to different aspects of the process than others, and it is not only OK but encouraged to follow their lead. As you consider YPAR curriculum, remember your goal as the facilitator is to:

  • Give youth the space and time to explore each step of the process. For example, a youth-researcher may enjoy spending the bulk of their time on background research or exploring data collection methods.
  • Spend more time on aspects of the social science process that excites and energizes the students.
  • Create a broad timeline from the start but be flexible at each stage. For example, allowing students more time to research their topic of interest or presenting their findings to different groups.

Meet the Youth Where They Are At

As mentioned in previous series posts, reflecting and checking personally bias is crucial for successful YPAR facilitation. In YPAR, the youth possess the content knowledge and it is their worldview that drives the research project. I, like most of us, have preconceived notions of how the world works and what is ‘right and wrong.’ My worldview may vary drastically from the youth though. Checking my bias throughout the research process promotes a research product authentic to the youth.

I also strive to meet the youth where they are at that day, and in some YPAR meetings you may need to pivot in the moment if that is best for them. While it is a collaborative process, not everyone involved has a fully developed prefrontal cortex. Provide the youth-researchers with more support on the days you notice they may be struggling. Giving them space to have ‘bad days’ promotes trust, mutual respect, and ultimately a more successful partnership. As a YPAR facilitator, it is essential that you:

  • Allow youth to explain their thinking and share what experiences are driving their opinions (often you will learn something new from them).
  • Share your own worldview and prompt a conversation to highlight where we, as co-researchers, may differ.
  • Check-in with the youth, as people, at the beginning of each session. Not every YPAR session needs to be 100% focused on the research project.

Missed a post in the YPAR series? Check out all the tips and resources:

  1. The Benefits of Engaging in Participatory Approaches to Research
  2. Why Young Investigators Are Important
  3. Youth Voices in YPAR (includes youth)
  4. Strategies for the YPAR Collaboration Process (includes downloadable resources)
  5. How Can Youth Voice Amplify Research? Listening & Leadership Are Key
  6. 4 Universal Facilitation Tips for YPAR Collaboration
  7. Asset & Power Mapping as Tools for Youth-Led Research (includes downloadable resources)
  8. Why YPAR Matters: Youth Are “Looking at the World Differently” (includes youth)

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Olivia Burke is an incoming PhD student studying Research, Statistics, and Evaluation at the School of Education under the guidance of Dr. Nancy Deutsch. She completed her B.S.Ed. as a Youth and Social Innovation major in 2021 and her M.Ed. in Quantitative Analytics for Education in 2022. She spent the last year as a data analyst at the National Student Clearinghouse on their Custom Research team. Since her initial involvement with in 2020, she has continued her work with Youth Action Lab as a YPAR facilitator and researcher. During her PhD, she plans to utilize and promote PAR-methods in education research.

Pass the Mic Series: Programs that Elevate Youth Voice & Agency

By: Liz, a 16-year old


  • Youth-Nex recently hosted their 8th conference entitled Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency, co-chaired by Drs. Wintre Foxworth Johnson and Nancy Deutsch.
  • In this Pass the Mic blog series, we are highlighting each of the sessions from the conference, sharing videos, and uplifting youth voices to summarize and reflect on what was discussed.
  • Liz, a 16 year old, shares more about her experiences attending the conference, discussing youth programs as a panelist, and participating in a youth program that elevates her voice and agency.
Source: Youth-Nex

I attended the entire Youth-Nex conference and loved being a panelist for the session on “Programs that Elevate Youth Voice & Agency.” This experience was very new and important to me. It was like an I made it moment.

Being at the conference as a youth was very eye-opening for me. I have never been in a room with that many adults that actually want to listen to what I have to say and take away from it.

Panel on Programs that Elevate Youth

I feel like youth need programs to stay involved in the world and not stray away from society.

What is most important to me from this panel is that youth get to feel comfortable in a space that they have created and is meant for them. We get the most joy and connections from leading our community.

Young people should be uplifted by those around them, especially our mentors because they are considered the “knowers.” Mentors and other adults should affirm youth and help us to feel like we are actually heard.

Some advice for adults who want more youth in their programs is to bring the community into the program. It may help youth to feel more comfortable since they might be surrounded by those with the same values and experiences as them.

My Experiences in a Youth Program

I loved being on this panel with everyone but I especially loved sharing this moment with my mentor, James. He’s been there since my first day at Mikva Challenge and has helped me through so much. Even on the worst days, he always made sure to include me in all discussions and have my voice heard.

James is such a fun person to be around and so caring. If something was going on with my school he would reach out and ask if I was doing alright, or he would randomly just text me to check in and see how I’m doing.

He is my #1 mentor and someone that I look up to alot. Even though he might not know or feel like it, he has made such a huge impact on everyone in Mikva. I thank him for everything he has done for me and my family.

Did you miss one of our six sessions from the Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency conference? Go back and watch these panels with youth voices, and read the summaries, primarily written by the youth participants, on the following topics:

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: My name is Lizette, or Liz for short. I’m 16, from Chicago, Illinois and going into my junior year at Chicago Bulls College Prep. I’ve been a part of Mikva Challenge for three years and have participated in meetings with the Aldermen and Mayors about what youth today need and how we can take that action. I love taking action, especially with Mikva Challenge because we get to meet so many people we wouldn’t have met if not in the program. I traveled to Washington DC for Mikva’s National Youth Summit and got to meet and speak with representative Chuy Garcia and his team about various issues my peers and I care about. I’ve also participated in candidate roundtable events and campaigned with Alderman Sofia King for the mayoral election. The issues I mainly focus on are the education system and abortion rights. I’ve attended multiple events in my community because of Mikva Challenge and hope to be in the program for many more years. I am planning on going to UVA for college as being there for the conference made me love the campus and overall environment. People who really inspire me are my parents because they both work hard to get me and my sisters on the right path and make sure that we always know they are there for us whenever we need it and they won’t judge and just want what’s best for us. Another person who really inspires me is my program director in Mikva, James. He’s my role model and who I want to grow to be like him in the future.