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Youth Sector Research

The Gardner Center’s interdisciplinary, multi-methods team collaborates with community partners and the wider academic community to conduct rigorous research about issues that matter to youth. Research findings translate into actionable opportunities that communities can put to work—in policy and in practice. We use a comprehensive tri-level framework, focusing on the interactions among the embedded individual (youth/student), setting (school, classroom, program) and system (district, public agency, community) levels, and the ways that changes at one level directly connect to the other levels. Our partners include K-12 and community schools, community colleges, community-based organizations, and health care providers, among others. Our work is shared extensively, informing leaders who make policy decisions in communities throughout the country, and supporting practitioners with tools to use in fostering youth participation. 

We are constantly reminded that trust-building is essential to effectively carrying out collaborative research. We believe there is no shortcut to building trust; bringing together research partners with diverse experiences and expertise is hard work—even when they share a common goal. And, importantly, building trusting relationships with our community partners enables us, as researchers, to hear the language of practice and reflect it back with a combination of respect and inquiry. This is a bedrock value of the Gardner Center.

What Is the Youth Sector?

If youth are to succeed in school and develop into successful adults, institutions and individuals throughout their communities must support them in coherent and connected ways. However, despite their common focus on youth, these entities are often disconnected from each other, resulting in unintended gaps or duplication of services and misaligned goals. The coordinated efforts of community-based organizations, health and human service agencies, parks and recreation, law enforcement, faith-based institutions, and schools are essential to better outcomes for youth. The Gardner Center calls this network of community resources the youth sector. The youth sector frames youth development in terms of the multiple groups, organizations, and institutions that together make up the contexts within and through which young people move from infancy to young adulthood.

Youth Data Archive

The YDA is a cross-agency, integrated longitudinal data system containing the contributed data that public institutions and nonprofit agencies collect on young people who participate in their programs, and represents the broad community contexts young people experience. Instead of viewing youth within individual sector-specific contexts such as school or out-of-school programs, the YDA offers the Gardner Center’s research practice partnerships a comprehensive view of the opportunities and resources available to the community’s youth, enabling them to see where youth-serving investments are mutually supportive, where they overlap, and where the gaps are.

Additional Resources