Our Work

Explore SEL is a product of the Taxonomy Project, which is an ongoing project designed to create a scientifically-grounded system for organizing, describing, and connecting frameworks and skills across the non-academic domain.

What is the Taxonomy Project?

The Taxonomy Project is a mechanism designed to address a current question in the field: What are the skills, terms, and definitions employed in various non-academic frameworks (i.e., organizational systems used to guide research, policy, and practice in this area), and how are they related to those of other frameworks?

In response to this question, we developed a coding system that enables us to map non-academic skills within commonly used frameworks onto one another in order to identify how similar they are – based on how they are defined rather than how they are labeled or categorized. In doing so, the project seeks to create greater precision and transparency in the field of SEL and facilitate more effective translation between research and practice.

How does the Taxonomy Project work?

The project uses a coding system grounded in a foundational body of knowledge from human development and psychology, cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, and the intervention and prevention sciences to map frameworks and terms onto one another to illustrate whether and how non-academic constructs and terms are related to one another across frameworks. The system is designed to preserve the integrity of each framework without obscuring nuances in meaning or links to evidence. The resulting database of coded frameworks and terms – or the taxonomy – serves as the foundation for this site.

View our methodology to learn more about how we collected information about each framework.

How is the Taxonomy Project related to the Explore SEL website?

Explore SEL is an online platform that houses the practical tools generated by the Taxonomy Project. The thesaurus and visual tools on this site are populated with information from the Taxonomy Project’s database of coded frameworks. The tools show whether and how terms and skills are related based on the Taxonomy Project codes they received.

Why do this type of research?

Our ongoing work with researchers, practitioners, and funders has made apparent not only the importance of greater precision in the field of SEL and other related non-academic areas, but also an urgent need for greater transparency in the information that is already being used. As SEL and other non-academic skills have increasingly become the focus of reform and intervention/prevention efforts, we have heard from those doing the work that it is difficult to figure out which skills to focus on, let alone how to build and measure them. This is further complicated by the sheer amount of information and options available.

Specifically, throughout its history, the field of social and emotional learning (SEL) has been defined or characterized in a variety of ways. In some respects, the term SEL serves as an umbrella for many subfields with which many educators, researchers, and policy-makers are familiar (e.g., bullying prevention, civic and character education and development, conflict resolution, social skills training, life skills, “soft” or “non-cognitive” skills, 21st century skills). However, discussion of this broad non-academic domain lacks clarity about what we mean and is beset by dilemmas about how best to measure and promote skills in this area. Underlying this challenge, and in some ways compounding it, is the fact that the field more generally is structured around a large number of organizational systems or frameworks that often use different or even conflicting terminology to talk about a similar set of skills.

The Taxonomy Project seeks to address these issues by creating a system that enables those doing the work to easily compare skills across different frameworks, connect them back to scientific evidence, and make informed decisions about standards and strategies for schools.