Evidence | Jul 11 2018

Does Youth Social Action improve the skills that young people are seeking?

The research presented below from the Behaviour Insights Team demonstrates the outcomes for young people who participated in three specific programmes, as part of a randomised control trial that was funded from 2013-2015. The outcomes of young people have been are directly contrasted those of young people who did not participate, providing a strong scientific basis for understanding causation. The outcomes are an extremely encouraging find for the youth social action sector.

This study used the Randomised Control Method (RCT), a method that provides a very strong level of confidence that the results are not a result of chance or correlation. Using a large participant group of pupils in schools,  the study randomised which children received the ‘treatment’ (participating in social action), and which did not. Random allocation to each group ensured that participants were, on average, the same across all dimensions in which individuals could differ. Therefore, any differences between the two groups can be attributed solely to the social action, rather then any other external factors.

Programmes evaluated

Four programmes were evaluated using these research methods. Three of them were able to provide sufficient quantitative data for this report.

Citizenship foundation:
CF – which has since re-branded as Young Citizens – provides teachers with training and resources in order to deliver activities inside and outside of the classroom.     The Make a Difference Challenge is aimed at KS2 children, and supports them to identify, research and address causes they care about. In 2015, 10,000 children participated in the Challenge.

Envision provides schools with coordinators who are trained to deliver classroom sessions that help young people to design, deliver and potch a social action project – alongside developing a set of relevant skills. In 2016 Envision worked with 130 schools, with 2,000 young people participating.

Voluntary Action Within Kent VAKW/IMAGO):
VAWK/IMAGO supports many people within Kent in a range of populations, including those with disabilities, older people with specific needs and young people. In 2016, VAWK’s Youth Social Action programme engaged over 5,000 young people, operating across 25 schools in Kent. Participants lead and develop the projects themselves, with help from VAWK’s mentors and their schools.

Measured used

Six key outcome constructs were identified to measure the results. These were also selected as they resonated with the overall aims of each programme:

Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Problem Solving: The ability to reason, use available information and think laterally in order to to reach a goal or end point.
Cooperation: Working together with others to the same goal or end.
Grit and resilience: The tendency to sustain interest in and effort towards very long-term goals. Resilience is the ability to bounce back.
Sense of community: Identification as part of a community, perception of agency within it and propensity to take prosocial action.
Educational Attitudes: Understanding of the value of education and taking an interest in building knowledge and skills

Key Results

Citizenship Foundation:
In comparison to young people who were part of the control group, young people who participated in the Citizenship Foundation programme showed:

  • 6% more empathy then those in the control group
  • Great problem solving skills
  • Higher levels of grit then those who did not participate

The Envision programme:
In comparison to young people who were part of the control group, young people who participated in the Envision programme demonstrated:

  • A sense of community 16% higher then those who did not participate
  • An increase of cooperation and empathy levels by 11%
  • Higher levels of wellbeing
  • More positive attitudes towards education
  • A far higher willingness to volunteer with those inside and outside their community


Voluntary Action within Kent (VAKW/IMAGO)
In comparison to young people who were part of the control group, young people who participated in VAKW/IMAGO’s programmes displayed:

  • A 9% increase in cooperation level
  • An 8% increase in empathy levels
  • A 15% increase in levels of community
  • Lower levels of anxiety and higher levels of happiness
  • A significant increase in social trust, identified by the research as key to succeeding in adult life
  • A higher interest in volunteering with those inside and outside their community



This report provides robust, quantifiable evidence that social action has a significant positive effect on its participants’ key skills.

Although each of the programmes approached the outcomes measures in different ways, the reults tended to how an increase in young people’s levels of community involvement and empathy for all three programmes. They tended to improve pupils’ grit and cooperation, and their willingness to donate their time (though this was not the case with money).

The three programmes had different levels of impact, with Envision having a higher statistical difference in the outcomes it reported of young people that took part. This indicates that the type of activity and programme design has an impact on the level of impact for those who take part.

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