Aligning Youth Development Theory, Measurement, and Practice Across Cultures and Contexts: Lessons from Use of the Developmental Assets Profile

Abstract

The development of youth has implications across all sectors of societies, and thus, holistic approaches to promoting positive youth development that take an across-sectors perspective may be more effective and cost-efficient ways of investing in youth. The current interest in collective impact to improve outcomes for young people intersects with growing interest in a diverse array of social-emotional, non-cognitive, or “soft” attitudes and skills that are increasingly recognized as being foundational for multiple educational, workforce, and livelihoods outcomes. But these “intangible” factors are difficult to measure well, particularly when compared to observable behaviors or testable knowledge and skills. This challenge is exacerbated in lower and middle-income countries where there is limited research, and there are even fewer consistent, validated measures that examine personal strengths—particularly ones that are consistently contextualized and tested across cultural and language differences. For the past decade, Search Institute and several partners have utilized a broad measure of positive youth development, the Developmental Assets Profile (DAP), in a series of studies in a wide range of international agencies, countries, languages, and program contexts. This paper draws on 50 datasets from 31 countries, involving more than 25,000 young people, ages 9–31, to more comprehensively describe the strengths and issues involved in using the DAP for measurement of child well-being across cultures and language groups. In the process, it reports on the link between crosscutting elements of well-being and critical international development priorities across sectors. The longevity and breadth of this ongoing effort offers insights and lessons for more recent efforts to develop, operationalize, and validate practice-focused measures across multiple contexts and languages. It serves as a case study in the challenges and opportunities of developing and utilizing shared measures across multiple countries, cultures, and language groups.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The samples are not representative of any of the countries, so conclusions should not be drawn about a country’s youth based on the data from those samples. Typically, the samples were drawn from participants in World Vision International, Save the Children International, Save the Children Canada, or Education Development Center humanitarian relief or youth development programs, or from a variety of local youth programs.

  2. 2.

    The English DAP also has been used in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and translated into additional languages. However, some of the translations have either not had consistent Search Institute collaboration on the translation, which leaves uncertain the confidence we can have in that adaptation (e.g., Croation in Croatia, Portuguese in Mozambique, Malay in Malaysia, Arabic in Gaza), and/or there were not yet adequate data sets in that language at the time of writing (e.g., Spanish in Chile, French in Mauritania and Niger, Krio in Sierra Leone, Dutch in Belgium, Portuguese in Portugal, Spanish in Paraguay, Bengali in India) to understand whether these other DAPs function well, psychometrically.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for the data collections reported in this paper was provided by contracts to Search Institute from World Vision International, Save the Children International, Save the Children Canada, and the United States Agency for International Development, by a USAID contract to Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health, and by a Fulbright Award provided to Laura Renee Johnson, Ph.D., University of Mississippi, for work in Tanzania and Uganda. We are indebted to Dr. Johnson and her colleagues, colleagues Ashley Inselman, Teresa Wallace, and Paul Stephenson from World Vision International, Larry Dershem and Yosef Gebrehiwot of Save the Children International, Nikhit D’Sa from Save the Children International and Harvard University, Sita Conklin and Angela Wilton from Save the Children Canada, Kim Ashburn, Ph.D., and her colleagues from Georgetown University, USAID staff and staff from Education Development Center, and the in-country partners of all the funding organizations for their support in the cultural adaptation and translation of the Developmental Assets Profile and the collection of data from more than 25,000 youth and young adults. We also thank Search Institute research associate Chen-Yu Wu for extensive data analysis. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors.

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Scales, P.C., Roehlkepartain, E.C. & Shramko, M. Aligning Youth Development Theory, Measurement, and Practice Across Cultures and Contexts: Lessons from Use of the Developmental Assets Profile . Child Ind Res 10, 1145–1178 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-016-9395-x

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Keywords

  • Developmental assets
  • Cross-cultural youth development
  • Developmental relationships
  • Cross-cultural measurement
  • Character strengths
  • Youth well-being