Insights from the Relationships for Outcomes Initiative, 2017 – 2020

Can youth organizations become more intentional and inclusive in nurturing developmental relationships, particularly with and among young people in marginalized communities?

What might that look like? What tools would they need? Those and other questions guided the Relationships for Outcomes Initiatives (ROI) from 2017 to 2020.

The Five Action-Learning Partners

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Key Insights from ROI

Relationships to outcome initiative

ROI has been a unique opportunity to learn whether and how the Developmental Relationships Framework would be valued as a resource to enrich practice in youth-serving organizations. In reflecting on this major initiative, six themes were among the insights from the project. These themes echo the videos that were produced featuring the initiative partners.

1. Cultivating intentional developmental relationships is essential to youth organizations’ mission and impact.


ROI partners embraced the Developmental Relationships Framework as “singularly important” in how they work effectively with young people. They see the challenge and opportunity to more effectively nurture the kinds of relationships that not only help individual youth be successful but that are critical for a healthy, functioning democracy.

2. The Developmental Relationships Framework makes implicit priorities explicit and shared across the organization.


Virtually every youth organization knows relationships are important. The ROI partners found that the Developmental Relationships Framework helped to make that implicit understanding explicit, shared, and actionable throughout their organization. It motivates them and keeps them focused on what really matters.

3. The Developmental Relationships Framework enhances practice by focusing on specific, well-rounded actions.


The Developmental Relationships Framework has “given staff a tool kit,” the ROI partners said. It identifies specific actions that can be practiced, discussed, problem-solved, and reinforced both within and across teams in their organizations. That helps everyone become more intentional and effective in how they cultivated relationships.

4. The Developmental Relationships Framework is a resource to advance equity priorities.


Issues of equity remain major challenges for the nation and each ROI partner, including Search Institute. That said, partners found the Developmental Relationships Framework and its underlying principles to be invaluable resources for advancing equity. They noted that equity work is, at its heart, relational. And once an organization begins to know each young person, it can be more intentional in creating a culture of belonging for each and every youth.

5. Using the Developmental Relationships Framework consistently across the organization can build a sense of team among staff members.


Although the Developmental Relationships Framework was created and has only been empirically tested with youth, partners quickly perceived its value for strengthening relationships among staff members and creating a consistent relational culture throughout the organization. This insight became transformative for some partners’ work.

6. Too many people have an incomplete understanding of what young people need in their relationships with adults. Reframing messages is critical for the future.


ROI Frameworks

FrameWorks’ Communications ToolKit, Reframing Developmental Relationships
Search Institute commissioned Frameworks Institute to investigate the gap between what research tells us young people need in relationships beyond their families and how the public thinks about those relationships. The gaps are striking. They call for “a profoundly different orientation toward relationships and—specifically—how our society should approach them collectively.” Their communications toolkit helps to launch that transformation.

ROI Related Articles and Blogs

Articles and Reports

Pekel, K. (2019). Moving Beyond Relationships Matter: An Overview of One Organization’s Work in Progress. Journal of Youth Development 14(4) doi:10.5195/jyd.2019.909 [Download]

Pekel, K., Roehlkepartain, E. C., Syvertsen, A. K., Scales, P. C., Sullivan, T. K., & Sethi, J. (2018). Finding the fluoride: Examining how and why developmental relationships are the active ingredient in interventions that work. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88(5), 493-502. doi:10.1037/ort0000333 [Download pre-publication version.]

Pekel, K. (2017, May) The Recipe of Youth Success [Stanford Social Innovation Review] Stanford University, and Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

Pekel, K. (2017). Getting relationships right: 55 leaders discuss what it will take to create schools and youth programs where developmental relationships thrive. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.

Roehlkepartain, E. C., Pekel, K., Syvertsen, A. K., Sethi, J., Sullivan, T. K., & Scales, P. C. (2017). Relationships first: Creating connections that help young people thrive. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute. doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.34486.09282

Roehlkepartain, E. C. (2018, Sept. 18). Digging into family relationships: What really matters? [Blog for the National Center for Families Learning.]

Search Institute (2020). The Intersection of Developmental Relationships, Equitable Environments, and SEL [Insights & Evidence Series]. Minneapolis, MN: Author.

Search Institute Blogs