Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Donna Haig Friedman

Second Advisor

Heather MacIndoe

Third Advisor

Erin O'Brien


Tens of thousands of youth in communities across the United States are engaged every day in out-of-school time (OST) programs. These young people seek opportunities to recreate and socially engage, enhance academic and leadership skills, express themselves creatively, explore important issues in their communities, and work toward affecting change. These programs provide important institutional learning environments in which young people begin to assimilate their roles as political actors and citizens. As the delivery of social services and public programs has increasingly devolved from the government to the nonprofit sector, these programs also shape how young people come to understand their role and function in the public policy arena. Yet it is unclear what configuration of program designs and organizational environments might make for effective development of political engagement attitudes among youth participating in these out-of-school time programs.

Working with community-based organizations in Boston, this exploratory research looked at how out-of-school time (OST) program designs and implementations were related to the development of political engagement attitudes among youth age 14 to18. Using multiple case sites with multiple embedded units of analysis, the research examined the relationship between program features and elements, organizational environments, and youth served with an eye toward understanding more fully the interplay between these elements and the development of political engagement attitudes. The research looked at how organizational leadership, resource development strategies, organizational values, program design, pedagogical approaches, organizational structures, and youth development perspectives work to create environments that communicate to young people what role or roles they might play in the political life of their community.

This study contrasted two out-of-school time (OST) programs with clearly articulated youth engagement development orientations (e.g., social justice youth development and community youth development) with two OST programs with no clearly articulated youth development model. The research found that none of the programs was an exemplar. Programs that aimed to build strength in the individual, group, and community domains and those that used a variety of development models (not just youth engagement) were most likely to result in positive political engagement attitudes. Certain program and organizational features examined here also yielded positive results. This research is intended to assist nonprofit agencies, private foundations, and government agencies in evaluating programs that seek to strengthen and improve the lives of young people through political engagement. It is also intended to illuminate how important policy domains that affect youth (e.g., criminal justice, education, workforce development, public health) might work to engage youth constituencies through out-of-school time programming delivered by the nonprofit sector.