Our Research

Today’s young people are strong, diverse, and resilient. They face major personal and social challenges as well as unparalleled opportunities and potential. Regardless of who they are, where they live, or the challenges they face, young people deserve to be heard, understood, and supported in becoming their best selves.

Youth Development Research: Learning for Understanding and Impact

Search Institute conducts youth development research to understand young people’s lives, challenges, and aspirations. We seek to discover what they need to succeed—and how they contribute to their communities and the world. We also seek to understand the people and places that shape who they are and the opportunities they have to learn, grow, and thrive.

Search Institute’s most powerful learning occurs at the nexus of theory, research, and practice.


We anchor our research in positive youth development approaches, drawing from several disciplines, including child development, family systems, prevention science, social learning, social capital, and community development. Having a strong theoretical backbone in our work helps us articulate our hypotheses about what happens with what effect. It also helps us concentrate our attention and resources on key aspects of youth development.

Our work is also intentionally strengths based. We see strengths in young people, their families, and their communities as critical resources for overcoming the inequities, traumas, injustices, and other challenges they face and for creating a more just world.



Search Institute’s research is guided by the big questions about what young people need to succeed. How we approach a specific study depends on its purpose and intended use. Sometimes the best research tool is a simple one; sometimes more complexity is needed. Our strength lies in our strong team with diverse skills and our deep well of qualitative and quantitative research tools we tap to achieve our research objectives.



Our learning occurs iteratively through integrated research, design, and improvement initiatives with our partners in schools, organizations, and communities across the United States and around the world. In addition to deep partnerships across time, we seek to share what we learn and the tools we create with the broader fields of education and youth development.

Bringing It All Together

Since our founding, this nexus of theory, research, and practice in positive youth development has led to breakthrough ideas, tools, and strategies aimed at creating places where young people thrive and become their best selves. Our most recent work focuses on developmental relationships as catalysts for learning, growth, resilience, and thriving. We also have been innovators through the Developmental Assets Framework, and research on thriving and sparks.