By Nancy Guerra, Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean for Research at the University of Delaware
Related posts available under YN Working Conference April 2012
The presentations at the Youth-Nex conference were truly amazing! There is so much exciting work being done in the field. I hope we can begin to build a science of positive youth development, and the Youth-Nex conference set a high bar for us.
One thing that really struck me, and which is important for my own work and I think for the field, is the need to build consensus around constructs (and measures) that help us conceptualize important outcomes. Many of us work with programs to design and conduct evaluation research, yet we all focus on a separate set of constructs and use different measures.
As I mentioned at the meeting, I currently am working with the Interamerican Development Bank to design an evaluation of the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. We have the opportunity to conduct a randomized trial of 4,000 youth participants in a year-long orchestra program. Of course, there are so many potential cognitive, social-emotional, and behavioral skills we could measure, the challenge is to come up with a defensible set of constructs and validated measures. We have identified a number of potential literacy and numeracy scales, and now are focusing on deciding on key social-emotional skills, behaviors, and indices of well-being. From a bank perspective, there also is an interest in potential linkages to labor market outcomes. However, much of the work on “non-cognitive” predictors by Heckman and colleagues relies heavily on the Big 5 Personality Traits, which typically are not targeted by interventions given their relative stability.
I am still thinking along the lines of social-emotional skills and beliefs, behaviors, and well-being. The model I’ve been working with includes SEL skills related to self-regulation, social problem-solving/decision making, sense of self (including future orientation and self-efficacy), and moral system of belief (including empathy, moral identity, moral beliefs). What am I missing? I do think the notion of “mastery” might fit in, perhaps under positive sense of self? The behaviors piece is easier to define in terms of prevention of typical risk behaviors as well as promotion of prosocial/helping behavior and civic engagement. For well-being we are thinking about prevention of mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety, as well as general life satisfaction, physical health, and happiness.
Please chime in with thoughts, what is missing, etc., as well as suggesting any measures we might include. Half of the children will be in a pre-test/post-test control condition (one year follow-up), so we are simultaneously collecting longitudinal data on an important set of indicators of PYD! Thanks for your help and suggestions, Nancy
Nancy Guerra is Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean for Research at the University of Delaware. Her research focuses on understanding and preventing children’s aggression and behavior problems of youth, particularly youth violence.