Developmental Relationships

The Gateway to Building Assets

Because the Developmental Assets Framework identifies strengths and resources across many areas of young people’s lives, it presents a challenge to individuals, organizations, and communities that are building assets.

Where do you start?

Search Institute has created a wide range of tools and services to support asset-building efforts. Across all of these strategies is a singular focus: Strengthening relationships in young people’s lives. As the late Peter Benson, who created the asset framework, said: “Nothing—nothing—has more impact in the life of a child than positive relationships.”

Since 2013, Search Institute has focused its research agenda on understanding the kinds of relationships that propel young people to learn, grow, and thrive. The Developmental Relationships Framework identifies key actions that move relationships from being “nice” to “necessary” for positive development.

The Developmental Relationships Framework is a valuable tool for individuals and organizations committed to building developmental assets. It focuses on specific ways each relationship in young people’s lives can be deepened and strengthened.

Gateway to building Assets: Relationships

How do the two frameworks fit together?

Here are three ways to think about the connections:


The five elements of developmental relationships correlate well with the four categories of external assets. Both external assets and developmental relationships build internal assets, other social-emotional strengths, and other youth outcomes. See chart below-click to enlarge.


The Developmental Assets articulate the broad ecology of youth development, highlighting the need for all aspects of communities to support positive development while also recognizing the strengths young people have that shape their own development. The developmental relationships focus on the potential of each relationship within and across those contexts to contribute to youth development and thriving.


A study that included measures of both developmental relationships and Developmental Assets shows a relationship between the number of developmental relationships youth experience and their external assets. In addition, youth who experience more developmental relationships also experience an increase in external assets. In turn, these youth also experience an increase in internal assets and greater thriving.

If building assets is your goal, strengthening relationships should be a primary strategy. The Developmental Relationships Framework provides a guide, data, and tools to be more intentional and inclusive in strengthening the individual relationships and enhancing the web of relationships in the lives of each and every young person in a family, school, organization, or community.