Definitions: The Complete CART Framework

CART is organized into three main domains or categories of variables: Design and Implementation, Context, and Outcome. It is assumed that in order to conduct a high-quality study, one would need to understand some components of each of these main categories of variables to answer questions about efficacy and effectiveness of a youth development program. Within each of these sections, there are multiple attributes or properties that could be assessed.

The Design and Implementation and Context domains are the inputs, or those variables that comprise the activities and factors that would result in change occurring. The Outcome variables are outputs or results of the activities interacting with the other factors. These are the expected and unexpected changes, both short-term and long-term, that might occur as a result of the youth development program.

The Design and Implementation domain is organized into three categories to reflect the program elements and factors that directly affect how the program is implemented. These variable categories include:

  • Program design/ essential elements
  • Student-related factors
  • School/ faculty-related factors

The Context domain represents factors indirectly related to the implementation of the service-learning program or activity. This domain is categorized as:
  • School Context
  • Community Context
  • Family Context
  • Political Context

The Outcome domain is organized into seven different categories to reflect the foci where change would be expected to occur as a result of the youth development program or activity. The categories are defined by a continuum of:

  • Personal (representing student),
  • Personal/ Social (representing student in relationship with immediate others),
  • Social (small group interaction),
  • Social/ School (representing interactions between students, faculty, immediate others, and/or school policy/practice),
  • Personal/ Community (student in interaction with the broader community),
  • Community (the broader community), and
  • Personal/ Social/ Community (representing student in interaction with immediate others and the community).

It is important to think critically about the program components, the context in which it operates, and the anticipated and unanticipated effects of the program. This critical analysis will help to clarify what domains and variables should be studied. The following domain and variable definitions may assist in defining areas of interest.


The variables outlined in this section are related to the activity or program itself and its implementation and other factors that mediate or facilitate (or hinder) the program implementation.

    A. Program Design/ Essential Elements
    • Program Characteristics
      Coordination/supervision of program, including level of responsibility among adults and students, placement within the school or other organizational or community systems, coordination with other school, organizational or community functions.
      Duration of program, such that programs in existence for greater than one year show greater learning opportunities.
      Known efficacy of program, or a proven track-record for a specific service-learning program that could be implemented. This would include the effectiveness of programs that dealt with literacy, intergenerational relationships, environment, education, health, homelessness, diversity, arts, citizenship, construction or other programs.
      Length and intensity of program, such that program is long enough and provides enough interaction and stimulation to facilitate cognitive and behavioral development, including work on site, preparation, and reflection time.
      Type of program, including whether direct, indirect or advocacy service-learning, and the topic, focus or population being targeted.
      Voluntary or compulsory participation that would affect acceptance and effectiveness of service-learning strategies.
    • Program Quality
      Program quality is dependent upon factors deemed to be essential elements for service-learning programs. These include:

      Celebration and validation of students' service work.
      Clear educational goals that match student interest and program activity and allow for student knowledge construction.
      Cognitive and developmental tasks that challenge students.
      Communication and interaction with community through partnerships.
      Curriculum integration to maximize the learning experience associated with service-learning.
      Diversity demonstrated through participants, practice and outcomes.
      Formative and summative evaluation for program feedback and revision and assessment of effectiveness.
      Goal-oriented tasks with genuine community need and significance for student.
      Previous experience with service-learning , experiential education, project or problem-based learning, and community service that would affect acceptance of service-learning strategies.
      Reflection opportunities for students to strategically consider the service-learning experiences.
      Student choice and voice in planning, content and assessment.
      Student preparation for tasks, roles, skills, safety, sensitivity.
    • Teacher's role

      Teachers as active mediators of knowledge , facilitating learning through authentic learning and collegial relationships with students.
    B. Student-Related Factors
    • Student engagement, or current levels of participation in school or community activities outside of service-learning.

    • Parental/ guardian/ family support of students in their school activities through attendance and involvement, including volunteer involvement, and support for integration of service into academic content.

    C. Implementation Factors
    • Internal sources of support

      Appropriate and participatory assessments to guide formative and summative evaluation.
      Clearly articulated vision and mission to guide and support the objectives of the service-learning activities.
      Consistency of service-learning approach within school.
      Professional development that would promote effective teaching strategies and new roles.
      Program alignment with curriculum and standards in order to accomplish academic learning
      School and district policies that designate, promote and facilitate service-learning as a learning strategy (e.g., contracts, reinforcements, school schedules, networking).
      School coordinator for service-learning that would assist faculty in implementation and coordinate school-wide strategies.
      School culture supporting community of learners in order to promote reciprocal learning and program improvement among faculty and students (also see school climate).
      Support by critical mass within the school that would affect thorough integration or implementation.
      Teacher commitment to use of essential elements in service-learning to promote appropriate learning opportunities.
    • External sources of support Adequate resource allocation (e.g., time, money) to permit adequate faculty time and appropriate materials or other services needed for implementation.
      Public engagement in the school and in the service-learning philosophy.


Context includes those factors that would indirectly affect the adoption, implementation or effectiveness of a service-learning program. These would include historical, political, economic, cultural or other social factors that broadly create the milieu in which the school and school strategies are situated.

    A. School Context
    • School Profile
      Completion/ attrition rates: graduation and drop-out rates for students.
      Delinquency, crime, substance use indicators: Suspension, expulsion, violence, possession of weapons, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.
      Dollars per pupil : Resources allocated per school year to cover student costs of attendance/ enrollment.
      Economic indicators: Socioeconomic measures of student and family welfare.
      Population demographics : Gender, race/ethnicity and other indicators of the students and families within the school.
    • Organizational Structure
      Alternative/ extracurricular programs: Alternative activities that would promote positive student outcomes.
      Class schedules that facilitate service-learning activities.
      Other programs that would impact acceptance and success of service-learning (e.g., Safe & Drug Free Schools, Communities in Schools).
      School grades (K-12) and integration of multiple grades.
      Size of school and its impact on availability of resources, integration into school policies, feasibility of coordination with other organizations.
    • Quality of Work Life (Also see School Climate)
      Communication , including multiple channels, directionality and reciprocal nature.
      Co-worker relationships , including collegiality, teamwork, cooperation.
      Job satisfaction , including autonomy, variety, task identification, feedback, status, performance expectations, support Rewards/ incentives for faculty and staff, including pay, promotions, recognition, benefits that would affect outlook.
      Work conditions that affect morale and motivation, including facilities, hours of work, emotional and physical safety.
    B. Community Context
    • Community Characteristics
      Community Policies that promote positive perception of youth, youth involvement, youth activities or school sponsorship.
      Community type (town, city, region) and locale (frontier, rural, urban).
      Organizational involvement/ preparedness to participate in service-learning, such as mentorships, internships, organizational-school partnerships or collaborations, volunteer opportunities or support of youth activities.
      Social organization/ efficacy that promotes community resolution of difficult issues through local capacity and leadership.
    C. Family Context
    • Family involvement in school and other volunteer activities that would promote integration of learning opportunities into other life domains and increase motivation to learn.

    • Family characteristics

        Race/ Ethnicity
        Size of family
        Socioeconomic status
      that would affect availability of time and resources
        to support youth goals.

    D. Political Context
    • Attention to/ awareness of service-learning that would promote visibility of activities and possibly increase commitment to principles and implementation.
    • National, state, local policies that designate or promote service-learning as a learning strategy or promote youth as resources within the community.

      Local policies
      National policies
      State policies


Outcomes are those desired effects of the youth development activity or program. Outcomes (or impacts) can be short-term or long-term, and represent student, youth self-development, youth development in relationship with others, in relationship to career readiness, in relationship to citizenship, school, or community changes. The outcomes are categorized into these categories according to the locus of impact (i.e., where the outcome is most likely to occur).

    A. Student Academic Outcomes
    • Academic
      Academic attitudes , including motivation to learn, perceived importance, receptivity, persistence, student engagement and participation, and extrinsic/ intrinsic motivation for learning.
      Academic self-efficacy is both the belief about ability to accomplish academic goals or attain academic skills and knowledge and the ability to do so.
      Academic skills and achievement comprise both specific skills related to particular cognitive domains (e.g., application of mathematic theory) and to general skills useful in the application of knowledge (e.g., internet searching capacity)and the change in skill and knowledge attainment over time.
      Creativity is the proclivity to be inventive, resourceful, inspired and use imagination in making or producing something, and can be applied in many domains.
      Critical thinking skills are those internal capacities (e.g., analysis, evaluation, synthesis, problem-solving, decision-making) used for academic attainment.
      Learning styles is a differentiation in orientation to learning, including spatial, visual, auditory, tactile.
      School adjustment is the psychological, cognitive, emotional and physical readiness to participate in the learning process.
    B. Youth Development Outcomes (Self-Development)
    • Self-concept
      Confidence is a general belief or reassurance in oneself.
      Identity is an association with distinctive characteristics and attributes, including social identity.
      Locus of control is one's interpretation of their ability to effect change or life direction, the locus being centered within self (i.e., internal) or outside of self (i.e., external).
      Mastery/ ability is the capacity or talent for accomplishing a task or acquiring knowledge.
      Personal self-efficacy is both a belief in oneself for accomplishing a particular task and having the skills/ ability to do so.
      Self-image/ self-awareness is an image or picture of self, having insight.
      Self-worth/ self-esteem is having value as a person.
      Values are both modes of conduct (e.g., honesty, respect) and desired outcomes for the future (e.g., security, happiness).
    • Resilience
      Avoidance/ resistance/ refusal behaviors are those that prevent exposure to other harmful behaviors (e.g., using drugs) or provide skills to prevent indulgence or participation in those harmful behaviors (e.g., promiscuous or unprotected sex, risky physical activity).
      Socially/ developmentally appropriate behaviors that would promote participation, positive relationships and prevent delinquency, absenteeism, acting out, aggression and other negative behaviors.
    C. Youth Development Outcomes (Development in Relationship to Others)
    • Relationality/ connectedness
      Authority figure relationships include those interactions with adults who supervise or influence the experiences of students in certain settings.
      Intergenerational connectedness is the bonding or links created between children, youth and adults such that relational exchange occurs between people of different ages, experiences and mindsets Interpersonal/closeness is the ability to have close relationships with others, to take them into one's confidence, to understand and be familiar with them.
      Mutual friendships/ bonding/ affinity is the coming together of a social network created by like individuals (who have affinity for each other).
      Peer acceptance is the condition of being accepted or received into a group of peers, or like persons, in which relationships develop.
      Peer relations/ influence include the authority or sway that friends and peers hold over a social group, as well as the conventions created by that group.
      Sense of belonging/ social identity is the feeling of being a member of a social group or being connected to others who desire the relationship.
      Social isolation is the absence of social relationships, or being secluded or alienated from potential relationships.
      Social self-efficacy is both a belief in oneself to participate in social settings and relationships and having the skills/ ability to do so.
      Social skills are those skills and attributes that promote relationships, and include communication skills or patterns, respectfulness, and understanding and following social conventions.
      Social support includes those personal resource systems that provide logistical and relational support for the maintenance and thriving in daily life.
    • Social role/ status
      Role salience is the recognition and relative importance of each particular role in a person's life, defined by that person's values and beliefs about life purpose.
      Youth Leadership includes the presence of special attributes and skills that promote capacity to take on challenges, guide people or projects, develop innovations or new ideas, or contribute to a larger effort.
    • Social competence
      Altruism is the internal inclination and behavior to help others.
      Constructive conflict resolution is the ability to respond in constructive, nonviolent ways to conflict with others.
      Emotional intelligence is the emotional capacity to understand self and relate appropriately to others.
    • Group interaction/ Teamwork
      Cooperation is the mutual support provided by members of a group or team to accomplish a task, including negotiation of alternative solutions and compromise
      Interdependence/ group accomplishment is the necessity for collective contribution for a common purpose
    D. Workplace Related Outcomes
    • Career exploration/ readiness
      Career awareness includes an understanding of life choices for career and work, including range of available jobs.
      Career self-efficacy is both a belief in oneself to participate in a career field and having the skills/ ability to do so.
      Prerequisite skills and behaviors are those distinctions between jobs that require certain abilities and capacities.
      Work attitudes include attitudes about work ethic, responsibility, organizational function, and career orientation.
    E. Citizenship Related Outcomes
    • Citizenship
      Attitudes about citizenship include those about government, societal institutions and leaders.
      Awareness of school & community is the awareness of community and school issues, needs, problems and resources.
      Civic responsibility to school & community is an attitude and about one's role in contributing to school and community and actual contributions through volunteering, service, leadership, planning or other roles.
      Community efficacy is both a belief in oneself to participate in community issues and settings and having the skills/ ability to do so, acting as a resource for community change.
      Political efficacy is both a belief in oneself to participate in the political arena and having the skills/ ability to do so.
      Political knowledge/ attentiveness include the awareness and understanding of current and past political and social events.
      Social conscience/ justice deals with the sense of right and wrong relative to social inequities and the potential need to advocate for fairness.
    F. School Outcomes
    • School effectiveness
      High expectations for learning include beliefs by adults that all students can accomplish academic objectives and can be prepared for future challenges.
      School achievement includes the change in student academic outcomes (including test scores and other assessments) resulting from school strategies.
      School norms/ boundaries include the explicit creation and acknowledgement of rules, procedures, conventions and the ramifications associated with nonconformity.
      Student attendance includes the rates of student presence in classrooms and other school locations.
      Teacher/ administrator effectiveness is the interest in, related process, and result of appropriate professional development and opportunities for dialogue, reflection and analysis about learning.
    • School climate
      Attitudes/ perceptions of students and faculty for each other and their school, including perceived relationships (i.e., school as community), school facility, school pride.
      Faculty/ administrator collegiality includes the open and constructive dialogue, negotiation and affiliation that occurs in learning-centered schools.
      Mutual respect occurs among students and teachers when they value and show consideration for each other and their differences.
      Note: Also see Quality of work life and School culture supporting community of learners.
    • Community involvement
      Attentiveness to/ knowledge about community includes gathering and understanding information about the community for appropriate school participation in local issues.
      Community partnerships are created by the school and community sectors or organizations to address school issues.
      Parent/guardian/family involvement includes participation by family in school functions, volunteering, instruction, planning, decision-making and policy creation.
    G. Community Outcomes
    • Cultural pluralism is the presence of blended cultures where different cultures, races, traditions and celebrations are integrated
    • Student acceptance
      Leadership opportunities for students are available in the broader community, both in the private and public sector.
      Perceptions of students by community members include valuing their contributions, believing in their worth, providing resources for them, and promoting them as resources or leaders within the community.
      Volunteer opportunities for students are available in the broader community, both in the private and public sector.
    • School involvement
      Expectations about schools in the community describe the belief by community members that schools will partner and/or contribute to community issues.
      Perceptions of school role in the community, including whether or not the school contributes to resolution of community issues or works together with other community organizations.
      School partnerships are created by the school and community sectors or organizations to address community issues.
    • Service-learning Program Outcomes
      Basic human needs are provided to community members by the service-learning activity, such as housing, food, shelter.
      Cultural contributions are made through service-learning activity in the domains of art, politics, community ideologies.
      Personal awareness and understanding occurs at the community level through service-learning activities and include enhanced respect for diversity, intergenerational awareness, recognition of community issues.
      Supports for institutions and organizations is provided by the service-learning activity, including organizational development, volunteerism, capacity building.
    • Reciprocal learning relationships between students, faculty, community members, service-learning recipients or participants demonstrate a shared interest in co-learning and co-constructing through dialogue, negotiation and consensus.
    • Social empathy
      Respect for diversity involves understanding and appreciating differences among people related to culture, physical and mental disabilities, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, relational and demographic characteristics; would decrease broad generalizations and stereotyping.
      Value multiple cultural perspectives entails understanding and honoring cultural distinctions and manifestations.
Overview: Organization and Content of CART         Help

Feedback and Continuing Evolution of the Compendium
This compendium is designed for use by researchers, evaluators, and practitioners involved with youth development activities and programs. The goal is to promote more and better quality research. In that process, it is assumed that investigators will use instruments that are discussed in this compendium, develop new assessment instruments for their service-learning work, and/or discover other instruments appropriate for this work that are not included here. Because of this, it would be useful to continue to update this compendium periodically in order to further advance the field and provide new ideas for learning about effectiveness.

CART is continually being updated. If you have questions or comments about CART, please contact