:: The basic flow of young people through the model works as follows:

  1. Young people educate their peers and raise awareness about a given issue or problem.
  2. They take action to solve problems in their communities.
  3. They become aware of other efforts and plug into greater networks that extend beyond their communities. Information flows. New relationships form.
  4. New groups learn from each other and build trust. Collaboration begins as groups form partnerships to increase their impact at a larger scale.
  5. Democratically organized decision-making structures (representative or participatory systems), bring youth priorities to the political and social agenda.


Development and progress are limited by social divides. In order to combat fragmentation and maximize impact, youth movements need integration. Tens of thousands of youth organizations exist, but they are disconnected. A comprehensive strategy is needed to fully mobilize young people towards critical mass in order to leverage their collective potential and ensure their continued engagement as active citizens. In response to this need, GYAN developed a 5-level Model of Effective Youth Organizing, following 9 years of experience in the youth development field and inspiration from Integral Theory. (The theory is a concept developed by philosopher Ken Wilber that encourages planners to examine the internal and external dimensions of both individuals and their communities.)

Most youth organizations act on just one of these levels. GYAN aims to help organizations understand their "place in the model" and to plug youth into other "levels" and organizations, enabling a more integrated culture and system of civic participation.


Awareness of social and environmental problems inspires critical thinknig and a sense of responsibility in young people. As youth develop an identity within their community, they feel more ownership, and the problems of the community become their problems as well.


Organizations operating on this level support young people in developing and managing projects. Young people form sports clubs, music groups, volunteer teams, or even new organizations. They get organized and act to solve local social problems. These efforts, when recognized, inspire further action from others creating a cycle that can lift communities.


After becoming aware and taking action, one learns of other actors dedicated to the same cause. There are many diverse movements and each of them is challenged by fragmentation. To learn from each other, groups convene, organize conferences, group protests, create independent media channels, and much more. The simplest of these networks are dedicated simply to sharing information and building relationships. Organizations that focus on this level develop databases and websites.


Diverse social groups come together in dialogue and build trust, leading to collaboration. "What is possible together that none of our groups can do alone?" People explore collaboration and how to get things done in a way that avoids redundancy and unnecessary competition. Groups that work on this level focus on organizing events, strategic partnerships and collaborative projects that pool efforts to leverage everyone's resources and experiences.


Youth engagement in formal structures for decision-making is the highest form of participation. These often have democratic systems for representing student or youth populations. Many organizations on this level are led by adults. Usually they developed within non-profit boards or government bodies and at times are controlled by political agendas. National Youth Councils are chief examples of youth participation in policy processes.

:: Summary

All of these levels have their own identity. It is easy to take any group or organization and see how it fits into the model. As concepts, they are recognizably separate from one another but, if isolated, they are limited in impact. This is the greatest shortcoming of the youth movement today. Many organizations serve young people at one level but fail to successfully inform their members or link them to organizations operating at the other levels. "The circuit is not closed." Level five organizations, for example, are meaningless if they do not have a constituency of "aware" and "active" young people to represent. Level three organizations will have little meaningful impact on national agendas if the do not have relationships with institutions responsible for carrying the representative power of youth to the political arena. GYAN proposes "closing the circuit" by helping organizations understand their place in this model and linking all the levels.

To better understand how this model has been inspired by Integral Theory please examine the diagram below and see this explanation of the theory by the Integral Institute.

Diagram of the GYAN 5-Level Model of Youth Effective Youth Organizing