YDS Theory and Resources

The three pillars of YDSPillars

Historically, adults struggle to find effective strategies to support meaningful opportunities for youth to lead their own initiatives or learning.   We have drawn on our experience to develop a “youth-driven” philosophy that rests on three core practices:

1)  tapping teens’ intrinsic motivation

2)  supporting teens’ developmental needs; and

3)  fostering genuine partnerships between adults and youth.

YDS Resources

Check out the resources below for more information about youth-driven spaces, and tools to help along the way!


YDS Formative Index

The Formative Index is a compilation of program and organizational practices that helps guide and assess the structural changes sites can implement in adopting the YDS model.

YDS Formative Index

TAC GuidebookDSC_1530

Click here to see a sample of our TAC Guidebook.  This guidebook will help you to  learn about the key ingredients for creating dynamic youth-driven programs for teens.  Experiences show that one of the best ways to make a space youth-driven is to support a teen advisory council!  The Guidebook is available for purchase from the Center for Youth Program Quality.

Youth-Adult Partnership Rubric

Funded by the Edmund A. Stanley Jr. research grant from the Robert Brown Foundation, this Rubric is developed through a research study consisting of extensive literature view, a series of program observations, youth and adult interviews and focus groups to assess the practices of Youth-Adult Partnership (Y-AP) in various youth settings (i.e., school reforms, afterschool programs, camps, parks and recreation, youth participatory action research, etc.). Similar to the concepts of “youth-driven” and “youth civic engagement,” the Y-AP approach aims to increase youth voice and youth leadership in affairs that affect them and their communities.

The Rubric was conducted in partnership between The Neutral Zone and Michigan State University’s Community Evaluation Research Collaborative.  It follows the framework of the article “The Psychology and Practice of Youth-Adult Partnership” (Zeldin, Christens, & Powers, 2013) to capture specific behaviors and social climates supporting the four critical dimensions of Y-AP:

Youth-Adult Partnership RUBRIC assessment tool
  1. authentic decision-making
  2. natural mentors
  3. reciprocity
  4. community connectedness

Our goal is to provide a freely available assessment tool for professional development and program evaluation. You’re encouraged to download the fillable form[PDF: 4.8 MB] above and hit the “submit” button in the PDF file when you’re done. Contact Dr. Jamie Wu at or 517-884-1412 for more information.

Agency Self-Readiness and Capacity Assessment

The self-assessment survey is meant to help agencies explore their readiness and capacity for engaging in the adoption of YDS practices. A review of the readiness and assessment helps agencies recognize the strengths and challenges for adopting YDS practice. It also provides a tool for conversations both within the agency and with YDS training service providers.

Readiness Survey for New Agencies


The Psychology and Practice of Youth-Adult PartnershipDSC_1537

Click here for the Psychology and Practice of Youth-Adult Partnership (Y-AP): Bridging Generations for Youth Development and Community Change – Zeldin, Christians, and Powers (2012): This article provides data and insights from the historical foundations of Y-AP, community based research, and case studies. The authors propose Y-AP as a unifying concept, distinct from other forms of youth-adult relationships, with four core elements: authentic decision making, natural mentors, reciprocity, and community connectedness.

Core Principles for Engaging Youth in Community Change

Engaging young people as partners in community change is a compelling idea, but translating that idea into effective practice requires focused attention to a range of issues. The principles described in this paper emerged from the commingling of research and practice that occurred when the Forum for Youth Investment merged with Community IMPACT! USA.

Core Principles for Engaging Youth in Community Change

Youth Driven Space Pilot Final Evaluation 

The Youth-Driven Space (YDS) program, funded by Youth Driven Space Pilot Final Evaluation. The Youth-Driven Space (YDS) program, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was comprised of a coaching/training model implemented in eight youth-serving organizations in Michigan. The program was designed to increase the capacity of organizations serving high-school-age youth to develop youth 21st Century skills (or “soft skills”), including collaboration, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership, by providing opportunities for youth to function within the management system of the organization. This evaluation report addresses the period between January 25, 2010 and December 31, 2011and includes a series of evaluation activities, including surveys, focus groups, interviews, and observations with youth, staff, administrators, and coaches.

Youth Driven Space Pilot Final Evaluation

Articles and Webinars

Webinar IMG_0709

Click here to view an introductory YDS webinar presented by the David P. Weikert Center for Youth Program Quality.

What’s so Important about being Youth Driven?

Read more about the benefits of a youth-driven space, as featured in  spring 2016 issue of After School Today.

Involving Stakeholders that Matter Most: Students in School Reform

Over four years the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) led efforts across the state to implement the Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) initiative. This federally funded school reform effort targeted the 22 lowest performing high schools in Michigan. One of the primary objectives of the initiative was to implement interventions to increase levels of school safety and student support. It was theorized that such climate gains would lead to increased levels of student achievement. Additionally, the Michigan Department of Education committed in the S3 project to have “student voice” help lead school reform efforts.

This article provides an overview of Neutral Zone’s “youth driven spaces” (YDS) model and its implementation to help support student voice across 19 schools that were part of the S3 school reform effort. As a result, students made significant gains in 21st century skills; schools made improvements in climate and culture; and overall as a result of the comprehensive S3 school reform efforts 70% of the cohort moved off the Michigan failing schools list and graduation rates increased.

White Paper

Over the past decade, communities across the country have come to understand that out-of-school-time “spaces” can have significant impact on the positive development of youth across social, emotional, and cognitive realms. Participation in organized, non-school activities can enhance academic, social, emotional, civic, and health outcomes, and reduce risk behaviors.  Read more…..

White Paper on Youth Voice and Leadership