Want to help write this year’s Human Development Report?

January 13, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

2010 marks two decades years since the first Human Development Report was published by the UN Development Program in 1990. Besides subsequently spawning huge numbers of useful HDR1990national and thematic reports, the global HDRs have become some of the most influential of annual development analyses, for many years providing an invaluable intellectual counterweight to some of the excesses and errors of the Washington Consensus, which was at its zenith when that first HDR was published.

The 2010 Report, Rethinking Human Development, will contain a conceptual restatement of human development. One of the contributors, Sabina Alkire of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) has drafted a 1.5 page discussion and definition of Human Development and is calling for feedback and suggestions for improvement by the end of January. Please respond to Sabina.alkire@qeh.ox.ac.uk

‘Human Development is a process of expanding people’s real freedoms – their valuable capabilities – and empowering people as active agents of equitable development on a shared planet.

People are both the beneficiaries and the agents of long term, equitable human development, both as individuals and as groups. Hence Human Development is development by the people of the people and for the people.”

We might explain human development in terms of four parts: capabilities, process freedoms, principles, and constraints.

Capabilities: Human development focuses on expanding people’s real freedoms. When human development is successful, people are able to enjoy activities and states of being that they value and have reason to value. With human development, people live long and healthy lives, enjoy education and a decent quality of life. They are able to be productive and creative at home or at work, shape their own destiny, and together advance shared objectives. With human development, people are able to enjoy human relationships and feel relatively secure. In human development the ‘focal space’ is people lives. Resources, income, institutions, and political or social guarantees are all vitally important means and policy goals; yet ultimately success is evaluated in terms of the lives people are able to lead, the capabilities they enjoy.

Process Freedoms: Human beings are not only the beneficiaries of development; they are also agents, whose vision, ingenuity, and strength are vital to advancing their own and others’ well-being. Human development supports people as agents, both personally within families and communities, and collectively in public debate, collective action, and democratic practices. While the spaces for agency will vary, human development empowers people for good, enabling them to have voice and to participate in the processes that affect their lives. Hence Human Development is development by the people of the people and for the people.

Principles: Policies to advance human development also consider a few principles such as equity, efficiency, the sustainability of outcomes across time and on this planet. Some applications of human development apply additional principles such as a priority concern for the poorest of the poor, and whether the processes respect human rights obligations and other responsibilities. By applying these principles it is possible to identify certain policies that are more expensive, less equitable, and less sustainable than others and rule them out. The HDRs have regularly introduced principles by which to evaluate human development. By identifying the principles that are often used to guide human development, the reports invite a wider discussion of these values in civil society and also a more explicit application of these concerns in policy.

champagne glassShared Planet: A particularly important principle is environmental sustainability. Nearly seven billion people now share our small planet. Some live in extreme poverty; others in gracious luxury. The limits of our common planet will shape human development more sharply in the coming years than it did during the first twenty years. The onset of climate change requires a fundamental reshaping of the behaviours and aspirations of many persons and of the institutions that produce the goods and services we enjoy.

Clearly different nations and communities will emphasise different dimensions, principles, and forms of agency than others, such that their human development carries the melody of their culture, values, and current priorities. Indeed the concepts, poems, and speeches of different intellectuals and public figures may be drawn upon to articulate human development in different contexts. Human Development is not one size fits all; it is flexible and responsive. However we suggest that the development of effective policies and actions to support human development requires consideration of these four components.’

Interesting to compare this with the definition in the 1990 report:

‘Human development is a process of enlarging people’s choices…. The three essential ones are for people to lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living.

But human development does not end there. Additional choices, highly valued by many people, range from political, economic and social freedom to opportunities for being creative and productive, and enjoying personal self respect and guaranteed human rights.’

The obvious changes are the greater focus on equity and environmental constraints and group, as well as individual, freedoms. There is also more of an emphasis on agency – people ‘doing it for themelves’.

Over to you for comments to Sabina. See here for her longer background paper (under construction).

January 13, 2010
Duncan Green