The Science of Readiness: Key Ideas
Take a tour of the science behind The Readiness Project, and what it will take to ensure that every young person, regardless of background or circumstance, has the right to be ready for life's opportunities and challenges.
You can also browse the Key Ideas document below.
Every young person deserves the right to be ready to take advantage of life’s opportunities and meet its challenges at every age and stage.
In the United States, too many young people move through adolescence and into adulthood without the abilities, skillsets and mindsets they need to manage life’s opportunities and challenges. The numbers are stark: more than 5.6 million young people are disconnected from school and the workforce. Many more have earned a high school diploma or postsecondary credential yet still lack the competence to get by. Only four in 10 young adults are “doing well”—in school or working, emotionally and physically healthy, and engaged in civic or community life.
The past decade has brought a growing sense of urgency and attention to the issues of readiness and equity. As a nation, we devote significant expertise and resources to addressing disparities in wealth, health and well-being and to closing gaps among groups of young people. We have made considerable progress. Yet even our best efforts remain deeply fragmented. Persistent inequities prove that we must do more.
The Forum for Youth Investment has renewed our commitment to making readiness a right for every young person, regardless of background, ability, circumstance or experiences. We believe we are at a critical time in history that both demands and enables those working with young people to more effectively promote readiness as a way to deepen and connect supports and measure progress across silos.
What will make this vision a reality? It is not a mystery. We have more than two decades’ worth of research to help us act with precision. There is a science to readiness.
The Forum created The Readiness Project to make this science clear, accessible and actionable. It began with comprehensive research to define readiness and the conditions and contexts that influence whether a young person is or will be ready. We reviewed over 300 reports, studies, journal articles and book, ranging from neuroscience to systems thinking to future economic forecasts and workforce trends. We analyzed and crosswalked more than 60 of the most credible standards and frameworks from each major youth-serving system. The result is a comprehensive and systems-neutral science of readiness and the case for why it matters.
Going forward, we will translate these findings into concrete tools and lessons that can be used by leaders, practitioners, policymakers, advocates and others working to improve the lives of young people.
The full paper, The Science (and Art) of Youth Readiness,presents the findings of our three-year research effort and offers a roadmap for how these findings can be integrated into and aligned with existing efforts to improve youth well-being. This key ideas document serves as a companion to the paper, introducing and summarizing our core concepts and research findings.
The Science of Readiness
Readiness is the dynamic combination of being prepared for and willing to take advantage of life’s opportunities while managing its challenges. This is not a new term, nor are we are the first to use it, but our research confirms that it is accessible, neutral and galvanizing. Perhaps most importantly, it makes sense to most young people and their families. Readiness is powerful and practical.
The science of readiness calls for a holistic approach to youth development and learning. It takes into account the full human ecosystem in which a young person grows and develops—the relationships, environments and internal (mindsets and skillsets) and external (social and economic trends) forces that influence our daily lives. Designing for readiness requires that system and community leaders see and address the whole ecosystem. As our current social conditions demonstrate to do otherwise will not bring about lasting change.
Our research identifies four interrelated components of readiness, which should be addressed together:
- Ten universal Readiness Abilities and their associated Skillsets and Mindsets. Every person needs these, regardless of age, background or circumstance. Every system and setting should support their development.
- Foundational Readiness Practice that ensures the environments, relationships and experiences essential for young people to develop, strengthen and demonstrate these abilities, skillsets and mindsets.
- Four common Readiness Traps,serious and often unintended conditions in youth systems and settings that affect some young people disproportionately, narrowing their paths forward.
- Four common Readiness Gaps fueled by these traps. These are deep and persistent disparities between populations of young people.
Readiness Abilities, Skillsets and Mindsets | What does it mean for young people to be ready?
The abilities are supported by the most commonly-used skillsets and mindsets—or, clusters of habits, attitudes and beliefs that we need most often. The skillsets prepare and equip us to do something, while the mindsets help us become willing to do something.
The Readiness Abilities, Skillsets and Mindsets:
- can be learned and strengthened with the right supports and opportunities;
- can be measured using empirical, practical and observational method; and
- are dynamic, changing depending on a young person’s needs, life circumstances, developmental stage and environments.
Nearly every youth system or setting operates with a version of “readiness” criteria and goals. Some include social, emotional and interpersonal skills in addition to topic-specific skills. The Readiness Project synthesizes all of these into a common central list of the universal abilities, skillsets and mindsets that every young person needs, regardless of ambition or circumstance. These and the sense of agency they provide young people are at the core of what it means to be ready.
Readiness Practice | What does it mean for systems, settings and adults to explicitly support youth readiness?
The Readiness Project considers four categories of Readiness Practice—developmental environments, relationships, experiences, and space and time—as essential for young people to develop, strengthen and demonstrate the Readiness Abilities. To define these areas of practice, we reviewed and compared more than a generation of discoveries on child and adolescent development, coaching and mentoring, developmental relationships, quality youth programs and effective teaching and learning.
Making the Invisible Visible
Readiness Practice supports a range of specific developmental practices adults can use to build a young person’s connections and competence. These developmental practices can be put in place in any setting where youth spend time, regardless of the focus of a specific service or support. For each area of Readiness Practice, we have developed criteria for effectiveness, all of which are observable and measurable.
Every system and setting has its official practices and policies—as well as cultural norms—that determine how people are hired and how they interact with youth. These official practices dictate the range of experiences and supports that are offered, and how young people are organized to experience them (individually or in groups, in structured or unstructured time blocks, etc.). Too often, the official practices fail to support the developmental practices; in many cases, they even run counter to what we know works.
It is our hope that system and setting leaders will use the four categories of Readiness Practice, as well as the specific developmental practices, to assess their official practice and align it with the developmental. Adults and young people can use the Readiness Practice to identify areas of need and implement or advocate for improvements.
The Readiness Traps and Gaps | What gets in the way of readiness?
There are many reasons that young people transition from one life stage to the next without the readiness abilities and developmental supports they need. The Readiness Project identifies four common Readiness Traps, serious and often unintended conditions in youth systems and settings that affect some young people disproportionately, narrowing their paths forward.
Readiness traps arise when official practice—whether defined by rules and regulations, or by expectations and norms—fails to reflect what we know about effective Readiness Practice. To fundamentally change practice and support readiness for every young person, we must understand and mitigate these traps.
Traps lead to four common Readiness Gaps, which are deep and persistent disparities between populations of young people, and between what a young person has and what he needs for life, work, personal well-being and civic and community engagement.
In the past decade, leaders in business, education, youth development and government have begun to pay significant attention to these traps and gaps. This has resulted in interventions that are thoughtful and worthwhile, and many are effective—yet they continue to be insufficient to make readiness a right. This is largely because these efforts tend to focus on a single system or youth population.
By working within the full complexity of a young person’s ecosystem, we can optimize his or her chance of readiness, now and in the future. We can enable young people to—at once—minimize gaps, avoid traps, maximize time at places and with people who are using developmental practices, and find spaces to practice and master the skillsets, mindsets and abilities that really matter. We can make readiness a right for all.
 Gambone, et. al. (2002). A Comparative Analysis of Community Youth Development Strategies.