Digital civic engagement by young people

Year of production: 2020

This analysis presents an overview of relevant research literature across the topic of digital civic engagement by young people. The core questions it endeavours to answer are:

1. What do we mean by digital civic engagement by young people?
2. What are the dominant platforms used by young people for digital civic engagement around the world?
3. What do we know about the nature and consequences of digital civic engagement by young people?
4. What are key enablers or constraints to digital civic engagement by young people?
5. What compelling examples are there of digital civic engagement by young people?
6. What are key considerations for organizations seeking to partner in digital civic engagement with young people?

The paper purposefully focuses on instances of spontaneous civic engagement in which adolescents and young people themselves seek to participate and look for the tools and means to do so. This paper does not focus on adolescent and youth engagement cultivated by UNICEF or similar organizations, in which young people are scaffolded into the activities by adults. The authors note that this is a somewhat false dichotomy as different types of involvement already co-exist in this sphere. Our focus on ‘organic’ digital mobilization of young people presents an opportunity for UNICEF to simultaneously learn of emerging trends in digital engagement for social change, and the issues children and young people care about, and to understand what we as an organization can learn from contemporary civic engagement and social movements as we develop our own priorities for youth participation. Maintaining a distinction between ‘spontaneous’ and ‘cultivated’ engagement is not sustainable beyond the limits of a rapid scoping exercise such as this.



The United Nations Children's Fund is a United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide.

Alexander Cho

Ph.D., University of California

Jasmina Byrne

Zoë Pelter