10 Questions Primer

10 Qs Poster


What are the 10 Questions?

From 2009 to 2017, scholars from the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics studied how digital technology has reshaped the ways in which young people participate in politics. From this study emerged the 10 Questions, which are designed to help young people develop successful––equitable, self-protective, and effective––civic agency in a digital age. 

What is equitable, effective, and self-protective participatory politics?

Equitable participatory politics. Young people engage in important civic work both on and offline. Authentic and successful civic agency always starts from understanding one’s own commitments  but also entails connecting one’s one passions and commitments to those of a larger community. Equity involves a pivot from I to we, openness to diversity, and the capacity to bridge difference. The Ten Questions framework looks to connect students with norms of accuracy, authenticity, equity, and openness to diversity essential to democratic action.

Self-protective participatory politics.  Security online goes beyond privacy settings. The publicity and permanence of digital communication requires civic actors to think about the consequences for exposure of personal information and about the digital afterlife of their choices. It requires them to think about interactions with strangers and about demands placed on their time, attention, and energy by strangers. By helping students analyze the risks and rewards of political participation, the Ten Questions offers them opportunities to learn how to engage civically while also caring for themselves and their own well-being.

Effective participatory politics.  Participation is effective, and participants experience efficacy, when participants can point to something that has changed on account of their efforts—a representative’s vote, a new policy, media attention, the perspective of a friend, or the levels of trust in a civic community. Individual activities can help shape the decisions and values of entire communities.

How do the 10 Questions help young people become changemakers? 

The 10 Questions Framework is designed to consider its key objectives of equity, self-protection, and efficacy in a developmental sequence. The sequence begins with a focus on one’s personal narrative and stake in an issue and then pivots from “I” to “we” and to coordination of divergent interests. It concludes by asking students to connect voice and expression to influence through institutional and policymaking processes. 

The Ten Questions map onto the core concepts as follows:  



Value Orientation


Why does it matter to me?



How much should I share?   



How do I make it about more than myself?



Where do we start?  



How can we make it easy and engaging for others to join in?



How do we get wisdom from crowds?

Equity, Self-Protection 


How do we handle the downside of crowds?

Equity, Self-Protection


Are we pursuing voice or influence or both?



How do we get from voice to change?



How can we find allies?

Equity, Efficacy

How might the 10 Questions guide civic action projects? 

Successful civic action projects incorporate six basic elements: (1) developing student self-awareness and awareness about the students’ community or communities; (2) issue identification; (3) research and investigation; (4) choice of action strategy; (5) implementation; and (6) reflection and documentation.


In order to capture some of the key concepts in the Ten Questions Framework, we recommend labelling the Six Steps as follows:


Step 1: The Power of Narratives  

Step 2: From I to We––Equitable Issue Identification 

Step 3: Investigation  

Step 4: Voice or Influence: Making a Plan 

Step 5: Voice and Influence: Implementing a Plan 

Step 6: Reflection and Documentation


The Ten Questions can be allocated to the steps as follows:

Step 1: The Power of Narratives : Questions #1 & #2

Step 2: From I to We––Equitable Issue Identification: Questions #3, #4, & #5

Step 3: Investigation: Questions #6 & #7

Step 4: Voice or Influence: Making a Plan: Questions #8

Step 5: Voice and Influence: Implementing a Plan: Questions #9 & #10

Step 6: Reflection and Documentation: Review of Answers for All Questions


Step 1: The Power of Narratives. Civic action begins with an inquiry about self––“Why does it matter to me?” (Question 1). At the outset, students need to reflect on who they are, what they really care about, and why. Such self-reflection prepares a strong foundation for authentic action and for the resilience students will need to endure setbacks and tackle roadblocks inevitably encountered in the real world of civic action. Also, students need to contemplate what risks they are willing to take to pursue a goal––weighing how much cost, or sacrifice, they can willingly and equitably bear for their participation. Digital technology offers many promises and opportunities for democratic participation, but it often entails many risks regarding the healthy separation of the public vs. public realm (Question #2, “How much should I share?”)  


Step 2: Equitable Issue Identification (I to We). The subject changes from “I” in Question #3 (“How can I make it more than about myself?”) to “we” in Question #4 (“Where do we start?”). The pivot from “I” to “we” asks young people to connect an issue of personal interest to the public realm and to test their ideas in relation to a greater conception of the public good. With regard to connecting to broader communities, students do not always need to start from formal politics; instead they succeed when they start by connecting with others where their peers already hang out (Question 5 “How can we make it easy and engaging for others to join in?”)  


Step 3: Investigation. Students will deepen their understanding of the systems-level context of their issue through investigation. They explore how to get the wisdom from crowds and also how to protect themselves from the downsides of crowds. Here Questions #6 and 7 are relevant: “How do you get wisdom from crowds?”; “How do you handle the downside of crowds?” New media literacy skills are important in coping with digital crowds that have both positive and negative characteristics. Students need to learn how to vet information for credibility, engage in civil discourse, listen to different perspectives, and deliberate to bridge differences. 


Step 4: Voice or Influence––Making a Plan. Voice is about standing up to be counted by making one’s voice heard and about shaping public opinion. It is important in its own right. Influence involves connecting the use of voice to specific levers of decision-making and change, whether by contacting office-holders, communicating with officials in agencies and businesses, submitting petitions, organizing protests, or otherwise finding and activating allies within the traditional realm of politics. In civic life, voice projects and influence projects must typically work together to drive large-scale change. Voice projects and influence projects employ different tactics and strategies. Voice projects focus on target audiences and the desired change in public opinion. Influence projects analyze the pathways to be followed to achieve policy changes. A key developmental milestone for students in the development of civic agency is the development of self-awareness about whether they wish to take up their civic role with voice projects or influence projects or both. If policy change is the goal, students ought to know what tools should be utilized for someone to bring about influence. Questions #8, #9, and #10 ask young people to be clear about the goal of their action, whether voice, influence, or both. 


Step 5: Voice and Influence––Implementing a Plan. Students execute their plans with real action. Real world situations often involve unexpected setbacks and challenges. Students need to embrace such uncertainties as part of their action projects and learn to improvise and come up with back-up options in a timely manner.


Step 6: Reflection and Documentation. Students debrief their projects and provide feedback to each other. They reflect on what they achieved or did not achieve and learn from both success and failure. In the context of civic action units, failures aren’t  failure; instead they give students crucial lessons about the real world challenges of civic action and about the constant re-thinking necessary for real civic action. Students learn that changemaking takes time and effort but brings great rewards in the benefits that flow from experiences of agency. These rewards should inspire them to remain actively engaged and civically faithful beyond their civic action project.  

Additional resources


A History Lesson Example* with the 10 Questions

* The example is derieved from 10 Questions Teacher Guide