How do we know what young people need to succeed? How do we know how they experience life in their families, schools, and communities?
We ask them. And we listen to them.

Schools, youth-serving organizations, coalitions, and programs can tap into the value of proven measures to help them better understand young people’s lives through their strengths, supports, and resources.

Search Institute’s Rigorous Approach to Measurements

We seek to discover what young people need to succeed—and how they contribute to their communities and the world. We work to understand the people and places that shape who they are and the opportunities they have to learn, grow, and thrive. To do this, we often use a survey. There are a number of surveys available for practitioners and leaders to gain insights into young people’s lives and experiences.

All of Search Institute’s surveys are built on the idea that we can build strong, valid, and reliable, measures while ensuring that the information provided is valuable and actionable to the youth-serving organizations we partner with, and ultimately the young people who they work with. Our measures are grounded in the idea that the best reporters for how young people experience relationships, social and emotional capacity, and thriving is themselves using their own voices. While a survey will never supplant a good conversation, surveys are a way to have these structured conversations on a larger scale.

Search Institute measurements include the Developmental Relationships Survey, the Developmental Assets Profile, Youth and Program Strengths, and the Attitudes and Behaviors Survey

Whether you are implementing a Search Institute survey or one from another organization, we’ve got some tips on planning and carrying out a successful survey for the young people in your organization.

First Things First: Planning Your Survey Process 

Follow general survey administration procedures when conducting any survey with young people. Take the following steps before conducting a survey:

  1. Identify a survey coordinator and potential administrators who will administer the survey with youth. This person needs to be comfortable with leading a planning team, bringing people along in the process, and handling logistics.

  2. Establish a clear purpose and goals for your data collection. Convey these goals to all parties, including staff, parents, and young people.

  3. Follow professional standards for surveying youth. Protect the confidentiality and integrity of the survey process. By conducting a survey, you are asking youth to take time to share their perspectives on things that are important to them and important to us. Find engaging ways to make them feel safe to do so.

  4. Share the purpose and identify and fulfill any necessary consent or assent requirements. Informing parties of the survey, its purpose, and their rights will be critical for buy-in, and ultimately a successful data collection. Let young people know how the results will be used, and how they will be informed of what they and their peers had to say. Follow-through is critical for the success of future surveys.

  5. Ensure that young people are supported and able to fully participate in the survey. Give them enough time to ensure they are not rushed. And, consider the abilities of your young people. Are there accessibility features or methods that may be beneficial? You may consider languages beyond English or even reading the survey aloud to them.

Questions to Determine Your Survey Strategy

For best results, we recommend that your guiding team consider the following questions before undertaking a survey:

  • Why are you conducting the survey? What is the purpose?

  • What is the most important outcome you need from conducting the survey?

  • Who do you plan to survey? How many young people?

  • Who are key leaders who support this project?

  • Who will be on the team to successfully complete this survey?

  • What issues and challenges do you anticipate in conducting this survey? How will you prepare for and overcome them?

Tips for Getting the Best Results from Youth Surveys

  1. Become familiar with the measures that you are (or, planning on) using. How were they developed, and for what purpose? Reach out to the organization and researchers to discuss how they can help you meet your goals. More than likely, you will want to retain the integrity of the survey items by keeping the wording and ordering the same. If contextualization or translation is necessary, work with the organization to figure out how that can happen.

  2. Be clear about the purpose of the survey, and ensure that it is communicated to all parties (parents, young people, staff). In addition to the “why,” it will be important to let them know how data will be used, what protections are in place, and how they will be engaged in the process of planning, administering, using, and disseminating the data.

  3. Think of the survey as an opportunity to have a large-scale conversation with your young people. What do you want to ask them? How can you make sure this “conversation” is meaningful? This can be helpful as you select the measures you plan to use.

  4. Like any good conversation, there is likely going to be a desire for follow-up. What happens next? Think of ways to engage young people, staff, and parents in interpreting the results to help provide a rich context to the numbers. Young people will have a lot to say! What stories are they telling you? This context will enrich the stories that you are able to tell funders and others via your communication channels.

  5. When administering the survey, follow the instructions that were provided to you in the accompanying User Guide. These Guides include practices that are important to adhere to in order to produce valid results and ensure that young people are protected as participants.

  6. If questions come up about the survey content from young people when the survey is being administered, define the words that may be tripping them up, but do not reword survey items. A good response is: “What does this mean to you?” along with a reminder that there are no right or wrong answers. If it remains unclear, let young people know they can skip the question. Most surveys do not require that each item has a response.

The Value of Measuring What Matters

Surveys are an important way to listen to young people and help leaders, staff, and practitioners in schools and youth-serving organizations better understand young people’s perspectives and needs, all in an effort to support their developmental relationships and help them on a path to thriving.

By using validated and rigorous measures, tapping into expert support, gaining internal buy-in, and planning for success, surveys can provide reliable information to inform your work. With data that identifies the strengths, supports, and factors that are essential for young people’s success in life, your organization now has the tools to build a roadmap of actions you can take to support young people in achieving this success.

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