Motivation (Constructs) Made Simpler: Adapting Self-Determination Theory for Community-Based Youth Development Programs

Denise Jones, Paul Feigenbaum, Dennis F. Jones


Motivation is a key factor for enhancing psychological engagement among underserved youth. However, the abundance of motivational constructs complicates the translation of theory into practice by community-based youth development programs. This paper simplifies the translation process, presenting an actionable motivation model derived from Ryan and Deci’s (2000) self-determination theory (SDT) and its sub-construct, organismic integration theory (OIT). This model was developed by Youth Enrichment Services (YES), a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that cultivates long-term relationships, academic and professional success, and community engagement among low-income, adolescent students of color. Although intrinsic motivation to learn is more positively associated with psychological engagement than extrinsic motivation, contemporary institutions are built around extrinsic incentives. Therefore, guided by OIT, this model cultivates the gradual internalization of motivational regulation by supporting youth’s psychological needs of relatedness, competences, and autonomy. As a practical application of self-determination theory, this model holds promise for adoption by other youth development programs.


self-determination theory; organismic integration theory; basic psychological needs; extrinsic motivation; intrinsic motivation; underserved youth

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