Measuring Adolescent Participation: Results from a Qualitative Pretest in Cote D’Ivoire and Indonesia


  • Carlye Gates RTI International
  • Patricia LeBaron RTI International
  • Timothy Flanigan RTI International
  • Colleen Murray UNICEF
  • Claudia Cappa UNICEF
  • Ticiana Garcia-Tapia UNICEF
  • Soukeynatou Fall UNICEF
  • Isabel Jijon UNICEF



international youth development, adolescent participation, cognitive interviewing


Adolescence, or the period of transition between childhood and adulthood, is a significant stage in human development. Not only is it a time of physical growth and neurological development, but it is also a time when many young people begin to expand their networks beyond their family, form close ties with their peers, develop and express their views, and have a greater desire to be involved in decisions that affect them. This act of forming and expressing their views and influencing matters that concern them is sometimes referred to as adolescent participation. When viewed through an international human rights lens, adolescent participation is considered a fundamental right, and consequently, there is a need for reliable and valid measures that accurately assess adolescent participation and allow for internationally comparable data. The purpose of this study was to qualitatively test a draft questionnaire designed to measure adolescent participation. The goal was to gain insight into both how the items would perform cross-culturally and how adolescents’ comprehension and interpretation of different constructs related to adolescent participation. Cognitive interviews were conducted with 123 adolescents aged 10 to 19 in Côte d’Ivoire and Indonesia. This paper describes the development of the draft questionnaire, presents the methods used to pretest the questionnaire, and summarizes the findings. This study reveals important considerations for researchers and practitioners interested in qualitatively pretesting questionnaires with adolescents and in measuring and understanding adolescent participation across a range of international contexts.


Beatty, P. C., & Willis, G. B. (2007). Research synthesis: The practice of cognitive interviewing. Public Opinion Quarterly, 71(2), 287–311.

Checkoway, B., & Gutierrez, L. (2006). Youth participation and community change. Journal of Community Practice, 14, 1-9.

DuBois, D. L., Felner, R. D., Brand, S., Phillips, R. S. C., & Lease, A. M. (1996). Early adolescent self-esteem: A developmental-ecological framework and assessment strategy. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 6, 543-579.

Hart, R. (1992). Children’s participation: From tokenism to citizenship. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. V., Almerigi, J. B., Theokas, C., Phelps, E., Gestsdottir, S., Naudeau, S., Jelicic, H., Alberts, A., Ma, L., Smith, L. M., Bobek, D. L., Richman-Raphael, D., Simpson, I., Didenti Christiansen, E., & von Eye, A. (2005). Positive youth development, participation in community youth development programs, and community contributions of fifth grade adolescents: Findings from the first wave of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25, 17-71.

Omrani, A., Wakefield-Scurr, J., Smith, J., & Brown, N. (2019). Survey development for adolescents aged 11–16 years: A developmental science based guide. Adolescent Research Review, 4, 329-340.

Peterson, C. H., Agre, L., Christens, B., & Morton, C. (2011). Measuring youth empowerment: Validation of a sociopolitical control scale for youth in an urban community context. Journal of Community Psychology, 39(5) 592–605.

Schmidt, C. J. (2018). Examining the role of interpersonal and societal mattering in the health and wellbeing of rural adolescents (Doctoral dissertation). University of Michigan.

Shek, D., Siu, A., Lee, T. (2007). The Chinese positive youth development scale: A validation study. Research on Social Work Practice, 17, 380-391.

Shier, H. (2001). Pathways to participation: Openings, opportunities and obligations. Children and Society, 15, 107-117.

Soto, C. J., John, O. P., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2008). The developmental psychometrics of big five self-reports: Acquiescence, factor structure, coherence, and differentiation from ages 10 to 20. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 718-737.

Treseder, P. (1997). Empowering children and young people. Save the Children Fund.

United Nations Children’s Fund. (2018). Conceptual framework for measuring outcomes of adolescent participation. UNICEF.

United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2009, July 20). The right of the child to be heard. Retrieved from

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (2014). Youth engagement in development: Effective approaches and action-oriented recommendations for the field. U.S. Agency for International Development.

Wong, N. T., Zimmerman, M. A., & Parker, E. P. (2010). A typology of youth participation and empowerment for child and adolescent health participation. American Journal of Community Psychology, 46, 100-114.