Developmental Communities: The Missing Link

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"Collective impact initiatives are often missing one important link -- authentic community engagement. Search Institute invites potential collaborators to join us in designing and conducting a major, mixed-methods study to answer critical questions about community engagement that can inform and strengthen the 'cradle to career' education reform efforts that are being implemented across the United States today." --Kent Pekel, President and CEO, Search Institute

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Communities Committed to Young People’s Success

Preparing all young people to become thriving and contributing adults will require more than strengthening developmental relationships within schools and programs. Preparing young people to thrive will also require strengthening relationships across entire communities, reaching beyond the boundaries of families or formal organizational ties.

The Collective Impact Strategy

In communities across the country, leaders of educational systems, government agencies, businesses, nonprofits, and other important organizations are working to address this challenge with a focus on young people’s educational success. Many of those strategies are "cradle to career" efforts that begin with early childhood education and extend through the completion of post-secondary certificates and degrees. Some of these initiatives are federally funded, while others are local efforts that utilize independent paths toward one shared goal. This approach, known as "collective impact," aims to prepare young people for life in a competitive global economy and knowledge-driven society. As such, educators and youth-serving professionals are working to improve the educational performance of low-income students and students of color, groups that historically have not been served well by or succeeded in K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions.

The Missing Link

These community-wide collaboratives are doing vitally important work to align services and improve systems. Yet, many of those partnerships are struggling to affect change in the everyday interactions that make up young people’s experiences in their schools, programs, families, and neighborhoods. As a result, most of the changes are happening at the grasstops of those communities rather than at the grassroots, closest to the young people whose well-being is the purpose of the partnerships.

To understand and help address this issue, Search Institute is beginning a multi-year, multi-city study of the degree to which and the ways in which community-wide cradle- to-career education reform initiatives authentically engage adults and young people
at the grassroots level. The study will examine how communities can increase the number and intensity of developmental relationships in young people’s lives within and beyond the boundaries of schools and programs and across differences in race, culture, language, faith, ideology, and income.

From Strategy to Movement

As communities work together to link the grasstops and the grassroots for collective impact, they have the opportunity to connect the critical strategies of shared goals, indicators, and strategies with a shared vision taps the passion and capacity of people, networks, and institutions throughout the community to contribute to young people being and becoming productive and hopeful contributors to their communities and society.

Drawing on its 20 years of research and experience in working with communities, Search Institute seeks to partner with others to understand the dynamics of developmental communities, what it takes to link grassroots and grasstops, and how to align strategy, commitment, and passion to create a social movement committed to young people’s success.

Get Involved

Are you interested in learning more about our initiatives aimed at understanding, aligning, and strengthening efforts to create developmental communities? Do you see opportunities to collaborate in this shared agenda? Do you have suggestions or ideas you'd like to share with us? We value you input! Contact us to share your question, comment, or to request more information.

Learn More

  • Search Institute’s research publications and current projects on developmental communities. Learn more >>
  • Workshops from Search Institute that can enhance your collective impact and community-building efforts. Learn more >>
  • A new online survey service based on Search Institute’s widely used Developmental Assets Profile that can monitor and track change in key non-cognitive factors that are integral to many collective impact initiatives. Learn more >>