Why a Core Components Approach? 

Core components are the parts, features, attributes, or characteristics of a program that research shows are associated with its success.1 Because many aspects of a program can contribute to successful outcomes, core components can be the activities or content within a program (e.g., social problem-solving instruction or assertiveness training), how a program is delivered (e.g., in a group, individually), who delivers a program (e.g., social workers, teachers), the program’s length and frequency, and even implementation strategies such as whether and how providers are trained and supervised. A core components approach to evidence-based practice offers many advantages, including: 

  • A way to flexibly apply evidence-based principles within constraints of funders and service environments. 
  • A focus on improving existing programs, when adopting and replicating model programs may not be feasible or appropriate. 
  • The option to align interventions with several recommendations or just a few based on context and resources. 
  • Evidence-based information to help prioritize and direct resources to specific features of interventions that research shows are most important. 

1 Ferber, T., Wiggins, M. E., & Sileo, A. (2019). Advancing the use of core components of effective programs. Forum for Youth Investment. 

Evidence for Program Improvement, EPI

Evidence for Program Improvement is an effort to develop evidence-based practice recommendations for youth programs using a core components approach. This approach capitalizes on the large number of well-controlled research studies across the many program environments that offer youth programs (e.g., community, mental health, public health, child welfare settings, and schools). Our goal is to better understand the characteristics of effective programs and share strategies that can make programs more effective with those who design, support, and implement them. 

The graphic below shows how we translate research findings into practice guidelines. This project uses a comprehensive meta-analysis of hundreds of rigorous, controlled studies of youth programs to identify the program, participant, and implementation features (the core components) that are empirically related to positive outcomes across diverse program implementations represented in the research.  

  • First, we scan the information environment to examine the vast array of effectiveness studies of youth programs, identifying those rigorous studies that focus on specific youth outcomes. 
  • Next, we conduct a meta-analysis that analyzes the specific program, participant, and implementation features that comprise the reviewed programs.   
  • From this meta-analysis, we identify a set of core components that are associated with successful outcomes.  
  • We then bring the components together in a set of practice recommendations.  


Graphical user interface, application

Description automatically generated

The project is sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and led by Sandra Jo Wilson (Project Director) and Jen Norvell (Deputy Project Director) at Abt Associates. 

To explore our reports related to this work: 

To find recommendations for aligning your program with evidence on core components, click here