What is the evidence?

What is the Evidence?

The YPAT is primarily informed by USAID’s YouthPower Positive Youth Development (PYD) framework and approach to youth programming.

Since the 1990s, Positive Youth Development has evolved in response to both the failure of approaches that focused primarily on reducing negative behaviors as well as research that recognized the importance of building youth assets to promote positive youth outcomes. PYD emphasizes not only cultivating individual strengths, but also the critical importance of youth being supported by family, educational, and community institutions to facilitate a successful transition to adulthood.

PYD is an evidence-based approach that can be implemented across different types of programs and in different settings and that has been shown to improve multiple youth outcomes in the U.S. and other high-income countries (Catalano, 2002; Gavin et al., 2010; Roth 2003). While the evidence base on PYD-based programs in low- and middle-income countries may still be thin, the approach is quickly gaining traction.2

YouthPower Learning has developed a comprehensive definition of PYD:

Healthy, productive and engaged youth

Positive youth development engages youth along with their families, communities, and/or governments so that youth are empowered to reach their full potential. PYD approaches build skills, assets, and competencies; foster healthy relationships; strengthen the environment; and transform systems.

Based on the above definition of PYD, YouthPower Learning distilled the concept of PYD into four main domains.3 These domains and their associated features (below) are grounded in the PYD literature, especially the work of the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (Hinson et al., 2016). The four domains of the PYD Framework are linked to seven features or characteristics of effective PYD programs, as described in Table 1.4  This resource also maps the PYD features to the socio-ecological model to inspire ideas on how to engage key people and structures in a young person's life.

In addition to the PYD framework, the YPAT design was also informed by YouthPower Action’s research on Guiding Principles for Building Soft Skills among Adolescents and Young Adults. This analysis of literature reviews, meta-analyses, general guides on skill development, and technical documents revealed six guiding principles for effective soft and life skills development that are consistent with the PYD approach:

  • Principle 1: Promote experiential learning (through challenge, experience, practice, and reflection)
  • Principle 2: Address skills in combination rather than in isolation, recognizing how they interconnect
  • Principle 3: Promote strong relationships between adults and youth and among youth themselves
  • Principle 4: Promote positive staff practices
  • Principle 5: Create a safe, caring, supportive, and enriching program environment
  • Principle 6: Promote integration of learning contexts


PYD DomainsPYD FeaturesHow to Implement Program FeaturesHow this can help your program or organization
Assets & AgencySkill buildingBuild youth’s soft and life skills through experiential learning activities that allow youth to practice using skills, receive feedback, and reflect.Youth need technical and academic skills for economic opportunities, but they also need life skills and soft skills that help them navigate challenges and new situations. The tool reflects ongoing evidence-based research on program design and staff practices that are most effective in helping youth develop critical soft or life skills.

To learn more about the growing research on soft skills, read: Guiding Principles on Building Soft Skills Among Adolescents and Young Adults and Key Soft Skills for Cross-Sectoral Youth Outcomes.
ContributionYouth engagement and contributionPromote youth engagement through youth expression, youth involvement in community service, and/or by creating opportunities for youth decision-making and leadership at the program, community, or national level. Meaningful youth engagement is an intentional partnership between youth and adults, where youth are recognized as leaders, equal partners in decision-making and capable of recognizing and vocalizing their needs and priorities. The tool identifies ways in which an organization can incorporate meaningful youth engagement and opportunities for youth contribution within the organization’s governance structures, everyday decision making and program offerings.

To learn more read: Hart’s Ladder; Core Principles for Engaging Youth, Six Tips for Meaningful Youth Engagement and “Eight Successful Youth Engagement Approaches.” For specifics on youth engagement in the activity cycle, visit here.
Enabling EnvironmentHealthy relationships and bondingExpand youth access to healthy adult relationships and positive role models. Ideally, youth have at least one caring and consistent adult in their lives. Within the program setting, emphasize healthy peer relationships.Healthy relationships provide youth with positive role models and provide emotional safety and trust. A student’s relationship with a teacher or coach can greatly impact youth success. The tool promotes reflection on the quality of relationships among staff and suggests programmatic activities to enhance relationships among youth, with youth workers and family members.

To learn more, visit Search Institute, Developmental Relationships
Belonging and membershipProvide activities and space for youth to feel included regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability status, and support activities that provide positive sense of belonging (e.g., sports, community service, or faith-based youth groups). Promote youth behaviors that are respectful of diversity and equity. Having a sense of belonging is extremely important for youth, particularly in early and mid-adolescence. The tool promotes reflection on recruitment practices, programmatic activities and staff training to ensure YSOs provide an inclusive environment and a sense of belonging for all youth.

Click the following links to learn more about gender practices, LGBT inclusion, and working with Persons with Disability.
Positive norms, expectations, and perceptionsEnsure youth and program staff have a clear shared understanding of norms and expectations about their behavior. Consistently uphold and model norms. Positive social norms influence the behaviors and roles that are acceptable for and expected from youth. Expectation and boundaries help youth know what is expected of them both in terms of contribution and responsibility. The tool provides indicators that help YSOs reflect on how well they create and disseminate ground rules and positive norms for the program.

To learn more, read this fact sheet.
Safe spaceProvide youth with safe (physical and emotional) spaces to practice, engage, and learn. Promote practices that increase safe peer group interactions and decrease unsafe peer confrontation.The combination of safe physical and emotional spaces is essential for youth to feel comfortable and ready to absorb the other features, such as skills youth engagement and a sense of belonging. The tool assesses policies and practices relating to child protection, supporting youth with special needs and having physical and emotional safe spaces.

To learn how safe space overlaps with other features, read this article, and here to read youth perspectives on safe spaces.
Access to age appropriate and youth friendly services; integration among servicesConnect and integrate youth and families to health and social services so there is a continuum of care and support at the community level.The PYD approach recognizes that youth outcomes are impacted by the broader community and need beyond what any one organization can provide. The tool assesses how well an organization connects with other important actors, such as families, schools, and social and health services.