Adolescent Well-Being Gap Maps: What We Know and Opportunities for Future Research

Prerna Banati, Cristina Bacalso


Designing and delivering effective programs for adolescents and youth requires high-quality evidence that is easily available to decision makers. Yet while adolescence as a unique development period has gained policy attention in recent years, and there has been a growth in research, priorities for research investment remain unclear. This paper provides a panoramic view of adolescent development research to review what evidence exists and how evidence is mapped. Our approach interrogated studies mapped by evidence maps (including the subset evidence gap maps or EGMs). Our findings have implications for future directions of research on positive youth development (PYD) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs): The analysis showed that while most evidence maps exist in the adolescent protection, safety, and security domain, most studies focus on outcomes related to well-being and social and emotional health. There are gaps in demographic groupings and contexts studied. For example, while gender and sex inequities were the most prevalent in the studies identified, though seen in less than 1/5 of the studies analyzed, disability appears in only 3%. Housing, participation, and information communication technologies are researched relatively rarely. Rigorous research in conflict or humanitarian settings is absent. Additionally, while most impact evaluations are conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Latin America, the Middle East and North America were poorly represented regions. This article reflects on the state of the evidence, argues for a more thoughtful approach to equity in adolescent research, and calls for a stronger link between research, policy, and practice in LMICs.


evidence map; adolescent; equity; systematic reviews; impact evaluations

Full Text:



Bakrania, S., Ghimire, A., & Balvin, N. (2018). Bridging the gap to understand effective interventions for adolescent well-being: An evidence gap map on protection, participation, and financial and material well-being in low- and middle-income countries. UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti, Florence.

Bornstein, M. H. (2017). The specificity principle in acculturation science. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(1), 2-45.

Commonwealth Secretariat. (2016). Global youth development index and report. The Commonwealth.

European Youth Forum, Deloitte, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, & Social Progress Imperative, and in collaboration with the International Organisation of Employers. (2017). Youth progress index.

International Initiative for Impact Evaluation. (2015). Youth & transferable skills evidence gap map. International Initiative for Impact Evaluation.

International Initiative for Impact Evaluation & The Centre of Excellence for Development, Impact and Learning. (2017). A map of evidence maps relating to lower-and middle income countries (Draft report). The Centre of Excellence for Development, Impact and Learning.

International Telecommunication Union. (2017). ICT facts and figures 2017. ICT Data and Statistics Division, International Telecommunication Union.

Lancet Commisson. (2016, May 11). Our future: A Lancet commission on adolescent health and wellbeing. The Lancet.

Lansford, J. E., & Banati, P. (Eds.). (2018). Handbook of adolescent development research and its impact on global policy. Oxford University Press.

Lerner, R. M., Tirrell, J. M., Dowling, E. M., Geldhof, G. J., Gestsdóttir, S., Lerner, J. V., Ebstyne King, P., Williams, K., Iraheta, G., & Sim, A. T. R. (2018). The end of the beginning: Evidence and absences studying PYD in a global context. Adolescent Research Review, 4, 1-14.

Marcus, R., & Cunningham, A. (2016). Young people as agents and advocates for development. Overseas Development Institute.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). The promise of adolescence: Realizing opportunity for all youth. (R. J. Bonnie, & E. P. Backes, Eds.). The National Academies Press.

O’Neill, J., Tabish, H., Welch, V., Petticrew, M., Pottie, K., Clarke, M., Evans, T., Pardo, J., Waters, E., White, H., & Tugwell, P. (2014). Applying an equity lens to interventions: using PROGRESS ensures consideration of socially stratifying factors to illuminate inequities in health. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 67(1), 56-64.

Oliver, S., Kavanagh, J., Caird, J., Lorenc, T., Oliver, K., Harden, A., Thomas, J., Greaves, A., & Oakley, A. (2008). Health promotion, inequalities and young people’s health: A systematic review of research. University of London, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education.

Patton, G. C., Ross, D. A., Santelli, J. S., Sawyer, S. M., Viner, R. M., & Kleinert, S. (2014). Next steps for adolescent health: A Lancet commission. The Lancet, 383(9915), 385-386.

Patton, G. C., Sawyer, S. M., Santelli, J. S., Ross, D. A., Afifi, R., Allen, N. B., Arora, M., Azzopardi, P., Baldwin, W., Bonell, C., Kakuma, R., Kennedy, E., Manon, J., McGovern, T., Mokdad, A. H., Patel, V., Petroni, S., Reavley, N., Taiwo, K., . . . Viner, R. M. (2016, June 11). Our future: A Lancet commission on adolescent health and wellbeing. The Lancet, 387(10036), 2423-2478.

Patton, G., & Temmerman, M. (2016, October). Interventions to address adolescent health and well-being: Current state of the evidence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59(4 Supplement), S1-S94.

Rankin, K., Cameron, D. B., Ingraham, K., Mishra, A., Burke, J., Picon, M., Miranda, J., & Brown, A. N. (2015). Youth and transferable skills: An evidence gap map (3ie Evidence Gap Map Report 2). International Initiative for Impact Evaluation.

Rankin, K., Jarvis-Thiébault, J., Pfeifer, N., Engelbert, M., Perng, J., Yoon, S., & Heard, A. (2016). Adolescent sexual and reproductive health: An evidence gap map (3ie Evidence Gap Map Report 5). International Initiative for Impact Evaluation.

Salam, R. A., Das, J. K., Lassi, Z. S., & Bhutta, Z. A. (2016a). Adolescent health and well-being: Background and methodology for review of potential interventions. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59(4 Supplement), S4-S10.

Salam, R. A., Das, J. K., Lassi, Z. S., & Bhutta, Z. A. (2016b). Adolescent health interventions: Conclusions, evidence gaps, and research priorities. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59(4 Supplement), S88-S92.

Saran, A., & White, H. (2018). Evidence and gap maps: A comparison of different approaches. Campbell Collaboration.

Snilstveit, B., Stevenson, J., Fenton Villar, P., Eyers, J., Harvey, C., Panfil, S., Puri, J., & McKinnon, M. C. (2016). Land-use change and forestry programmes: Evidence on the effects on greenhouse gas emissions and food security (3ie Evidence Gap Map Report 3). International Initiative for Impact Evaluation.

Snilstveit, B., Vojtkova, M., Bhavsar, A., & Gaarder, M. (2013). Evidence gap maps - A tool for promoting evidence-informed policy and prioritizing future research. Independent Evaluation Group, Public Sector Evaluation Department. The World Bank.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2012). International standard classification of education: ISCED 2011. UNESCO.

UN-HABITAT. (2013). UN-HABITAT and youth. Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth.

UNICEF. (2018). UNICEF Programme guidance for the second decade: Programming with and for adolescents. UNICEF.

United Nations Security Council. (2018). Resolution 2419 (2018). United Nations.

United Nations Security Council. (2020). Resolution 2535 (2020). United Nations.

Viner, R. M., Ozer, E. M., Denny, S., Marmot, M., Resnick, M., Fatusi, A., & Currie, C. (2012). Adolescence and the social determinants of health. The Lancet, 379(9826), 1641-1652.

Welch, V. A., Petkovic, J., Jull, J., Hartling, L., Klassen, T., Kristjansson, E., Pardo Pardo, J., Petticrew, M., Stott, D. J., Thomson, D., Ueffing, E., Williams, K., Young, C., & Tugwell, P. (2019). Chapter 16: Equity and specific populations. In J. P. T. Higgins, J. Thomas, J. Chandler, M. Cumpston, T. Li, M. J. Page, & V. A. Welch (Eds.), Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.0. Cochrane.

YouthPower Learning. (2017). A systematic review of positive youth development programs in low- and middle-income countries. Making Cents International.


Copyright (c) 2021 Prerna Banati, Cristina Bacalso

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.