Week 2 CAD; Defining and Measuring Development

As preparation for the first lecture; “Critical Approach to Development” by Tom Hewitt, there was a discussion exercise and everyone was to find a text, image or short piece of audio, video that symbolized development in their own perspective.  Below is mine

The picture attached to this post signifies the uniqueness of priorities upon which development theories SHOULD be based, it represents the unique path that should be followed in development.

The term development means different things to diverse persons, and also every society has its own unique problems thus a unique path to follow in achieving DEVELOPMENT of any kind.  To this effect, the term “less developed”, “underdevelopment” and developing countries is associated with third world countries, implying that some degree of “economic and social backwardness” existed in these countries. (Toye, 1995: 43).The root causes of this underdevelopment was focused on traditional modes of production, and the lack of skills, knowledge and poor tradition of research and exploitation of technology(Soeftestad and Sein, 2003: 64.)

To this effect, development for me will be when everyone in Nigeria can eat at least three balanced meals daily, have access to clean water, good roads, access to at least 40% electricity, when people no longer die just because they had headaches and could not afford  a medical checkup and most importantly, when the government create and implement laws that protect those who cannot protect themselves (children) because if ever, this country has a future, the hungry, abused, homeless, hopeless, uneducated soon to be hooligans(children) are the ONLY future Nigeria has. Poorer countries were characterized as being traditional, cultural and having primitive values, comprising of an outdated orientation, (Webster, 1900:49-50) thus needed be modernized.

Human and Economic Development

The World Bank stated that the challenge of development is to improve the quality of life. (World Bank, 1991:4) However enhancing the quality of life calls for higher income and much more, thus access to education, quality of education, access to healthcare, cleaner environment, equality, and freedom comes into play.

To this effect, access to quality education, freedom and capabilities improve economic performance, human development will have an important effect has growth.  Similarly, to the extent that increased incomes will increase the range of choices and capabilities enjoyed by households and governments, economic growth will enhance human development.

Human development finds its theoretical underpinnings in Sen’s human capabilities approach which is centered on presenting human being with equality opportunities to build capability to that enables them enjoy the corresponding well-being achievements” to be the best indicator of welfare (Sen, 1985).

while capabilities make an appealing goal for development, they are notoriously difficult to measure in that the full set of possible human functioning is almost by definition unobservable. The first major attempt to translate the capabilities approach into a tractable ranking of nations came in the 1990 UNDP Human Development Report.  The HDR’s objective was to “capture better the complexity of human life” by providing a quantitative approach to combining various socio-economic indicators into a measure of human development (UNDP 1990). This was in contrast to the perceived prevailing wisdom in development economics, as embodied in the World Development Reports, whose “excessive preoccupation with GNP growth and national income accounts has…supplanted a focus on ends by an obsession with merely the means” (UNDP 1990).

Yet the transformation from a normative theory of capabilities into a quantitative variable was by no means an obvious task.  The use of life expectancy, literacy, and GDP as 3components of a Human Development Index admittedly constitutes a rough proxy and simplification of the original capabilities theory.

Notably missing were measures of political freedom and income inequality.  Furthermore, any quantitative ranking raises difficult empirical questions, such as accounting for the decreasing marginal utility of income, and the necessarily arbitrary weighting of each component of HD.  Nevertheless, the HDRs have had a strong influence on development thinking, causing developing countries to publish their own national-level human development reports and indices and modifying their policies.

Income growth clearly strikes one as the main contributor to directly increasing the capabilities of individuals and consequently the human development of a nation since it encapsulates the economy’s command over resources (Sen, 2000).  Thus, in so far as higher incomes facilitate the achievement of other crucial human development objectives, it also has an indirect effect on human development. Unique Path to achieving developmentThe impact of economic growth on a nation’s human development level, of course, also depends on other conditions of the society.  One important component here is the role of the distribution of income.

Naturally, there is a link between the two–these opportunities are affected by certain attributes of the individual: a starving or uneducated person would have fewer choices than a healthy, educated person.  Yet the capabilities approach goes far beyond individual attributes to analyze the role of the social environment on human choice and agency: an individual in an open, free society would enjoy a larger set of potential functioning than one in a closed, oppressive society.  However the common denominator is finance (economic capability).

Unit One: Defining and Measuring Development

The fifteen minutes lecture by Tom Hewitt gave me a broader perspective on the subject matter exploring diverse definitions and theories of development. It completely broadened my perspective on the term “development”. Tom explored different definitions of development from different theories to his favorite definitions from last year’s international development students.

I learnt that development is a long process that requires strategic planning taking into account, short, medium and long term goals for the future. Amartya Sen, (argues that the major factor in defining development (good change) lays in the enabling all human beings the capability to function and that poverty cannot be properly measured by economic growth of a country.( Sen, 1999:75) ,  In agreement with Amartya Sen, development cannot be measured by the (green) economic wealth of a nation although this is vital; overall it is what the wealth reflects in the environments and lives of common men that should measure development

According to Hettne, (1995) there can be no fixed and final definition of development only suggestions of what development should mean in various contexts.  From the lecture slides and further readings (A. Thomas 2000, Amartya Sen’s, 1999, Sumner & Tribe, 2008 and Chambers, 1997) the term development is based on the notion of improving situations, enhancing human potentials and improving the quality of lives.

Development theorists such as Simons (1999), Thomas (2000) and Sumner & Tribe (2008) have all argued that the definition of development should emphasize on a decent well-being for all. The appropriate questions to ask in establishing a country’s development status is; the history of poverty, the status of unemployment, and the state of inequality. Chambers, (1999) describes development as good change. Alan Thomas (2000) gave a more contemporary definition to the term development, his approach focused on the historical process of social change in which significant changes happen on a long term basis.

Sen whose work has such an immense impact on the study of development summons his definition of development simply as expanding real freedom (right to education, health, food, freedom of speech and choice) that people(should) enjoy (A. Sen, 2001). In the book “freedom as development”, Sen, (1999) argues that open dialogue, civil freedoms and political liberties are prerequisites for sustainable development. He analyzed his theory by exploring situations in the former Soviet bloc to Africa, laying great emphasis on China and India.

Sumner and Tribe, (2008), raised key questions relating to foundations and the future of development; what is ‘development’? What is the purpose of Development Studies? What can we ‘know’ in Development Studies? “What is the ‘big picture’ in Development Studies”? How are research and practice linked in Development Studies? And what is the future for Development Studies?

I feel, in defining development, definitions that quite resonated with me were the “journey of different directions and has a price” by last year’s student and Sumner and Tribes, (2008). In it the student defined development comparing it with a London train ticket “I see development as a journey, a journey that may go in numerous different directions nonetheless has an aim of getting somewhere.  This place may be better for many reasons or worse, but the overriding theme is that of change. However, the train ticket has a prize, what I mean by this is that traditionally development projects benefitted individuals who have been in position where they had capacity to act on new initiatives, far too often the people right at the bottom are left behind as they do not have the choice to take part in activities that could improve the quality of their lives, this is something that I am interested in which is why it was important for me to find something that included a cost” (IDD student, 2010)

According to Dudley Sears, the question to ask about a country’s development are therefore; what has been happening to poverty? What has been happening to unemployment? What has been happening to inequality?  Dudley further stated that a development plan without plans on how to reduce the poverty, unemployment and inequality can hardly be considered a “development plan”. (Dudley Sears,

Furthermore,  I particular liked, Sumner and Tribes (2008),  perspective on development as it endeavored to present and weigh opposing opinions evenly and clearly focused, accessible exploration of the foundations and future of development. However, Thomas (2000) gives a more practical approach to what development is and how to achieve such.

According to Chambers definition of “good change”; the term good change negates the fact that real visible change is a process and that change itself may not necessarily be good, as it could entail negative response, resistance from those who oppose this “good change”. For example, in Nigeria my home country availability of electricity will mean that oil companies and individuals who benefit from the state of no electricity will oppose such change and looking at the situation, these groups of people are friends with the government and somewhat influence government policies and decision so I doubt that change in this case for Nigeria will necessarily be good, or a positive process.

Going by Sen’s perspective, how can the recent gulf in economic progress between authoritarian yet fast-growing China and economically laggard India be explained? For Sen, the answer is simply clear; India’s neglect of public education, basic health care and literacy, was poorly prepared for a widely shared economic expansion; China, on the other hand, having made significant advancement in those areas, was able to capitalize on its market reforms.

Sen stated that China’s coercive system has contributed to massive famine and that Beijing’s compulsory birth control policy of only one child per family, has led to fatal neglect of female children indicating under-development of female children in that society.

Decision Level: different countries have different priorities which will shape their development methodologies and policies. Recently, development debates on priority  seems to be centered around  human development, described as the ultimate goal of the development process, with economic growth taking a back seat in the proxy for more general welfare, or as a means toward enhanced human development.

This debate has broadened the definitions and goals of development; however it still needs to define the important interrelations between human development (HD) and economic growth (EG).  To the extent that greater freedom and capabilities improve economic performance, human development will have an important effect on growth.  Similarly, to the extent that increased incomes will increase the range of choices and capabilities enjoyed by households and governments, economic growth will enhance human development

To further explore the subject matter, decision onWebCT;http://bham.blackboard.com/webct/urw/lc5283705939071.tp5283705959071/newMessageThread.dowebct?discussionaction=viewMessage&messageid=5299332044051&topicid=5283719770071&refreshPage=false&sourcePage=represents how development concepts vary from one country to another.  Furthermore, comparing development across countries to differentiate between developed and developing nations will mean that priorities or pressing needs are established and in most countries with severe poverty determining these factors would prove challenging.

What I mean by this is for a country likes Nigeria, how can one determine what progress in development process should be? It depends on whom you ask, but due to the high level of youth unemployment young people will definitely say significant rise in employment rate, business owners will say creating enabling environment and infrastructure is an indicator of progression towards development. But with N17, 000 (approximately 65 GBP) yet to be fully established minimum wages, will that solve anything? Promoting small and medium size businesses (SME) as alternative job creation, without changing the policies to suit these or availability of electricity will such alternatives survive? One is lead, the question is the goal merely to increase national wealth, or is it something else more subtle? Is improving the well-being of the majority of the population over quality education? I believe these questions are significant in context of defining and measuring development framework.

In opposing Amartya Sen’s, theory of “development as freedom”, ensuring people’s freedom and freedom to do what exactly, when you can’t afford a square meal will not change anything because freedom of speech does not necessarily mean the government is listening or is interested in changing the situation.

A Recent United Nations document laid strong emphasis on “human development,” measured by life expectancy, adult literacy, access to all three levels of education, as well as people’s average income, as a necessary condition of their freedom of choice. In a broader perspective the notion of development should incorporate all aspects of individuals’ well-being such as healthcare, welfare, education, freedom, rights; however, all of this requires funds thus making economic development vital in the development process of poor countries.

I believe that by virtue of being first of all a human being then a citizen of any country, everyone should be entitled to freedom and rights, certain opportunities and basic resources for sustainability and continuity of life.

 The challenges facing “poor” countries required solid strategic plans based on long-term goals and this cannot be done without exploring the root history of such issues. For example, the “one laptop per child” (OLPC) is a fantastic initiative but not applicable in all circumstances,  thus will not make any significant change in countries like Nigeria and the  educational system,  until significant  factors which could hinder the progress of such programs are put in place.

In measuring, the problem with measuring development lays in the fact that different theorists have different perspectives on what should be measured. It is  much easier to classify countries into richer,  poorer, developing and developed countries based on economic status, however, indicators of wealth, which reflect the quantity of resources available to a society, provide no information about the allocation of those resources, about more or less equitable distribution of income among social and ethnic groups, about the shares of resources used to provide free health and education services, and about the effects of production and consumption on people’s environment.

Thus it is no wonder that countries with similar average incomes can differ substantially when it comes to people’s quality of life: access to education and health care, employment opportunities, availability of clean air and safe drinking water, the threat of crime, and so on.

With that in mind, how do we determine which countries are more developed and which is less developed? What should be indicators? And what should these indicators consider?  Or are these factors interwoven in questions theorists and development professionals strive to ignore?

Although some theorists argue that clearly identifying developmental indicators is a mirage, most agree that some sort of approximation is required for policy makers and government to measure progress in development. Identifying effectiveness in development will be extremely difficult to measure.  By the nature of this, significant change won’t happen overnight, the appropriate question in measuring change indicators; what are the specific indicators of development and to what percentage of improvement is significant enough to be classified progress (development)?

In addition, measuring development should focus on the following points stated below;

  • Be clear on what the plan of development “aims” to achieve
  • Are the indicators measuring the “right things”
  • Ensure the model matches the vision on a long term basis

In addition, since development is centered on discourse, theories and activities that embrace interrelated conceptualizations and several understanding of “good change”, this indicated that development is change and significant change is a process.  In conclusion, developing countries must learn from the experiences of others, but must respond to their own “specific needs”. Considering their most pressing needs and structuring them to achieving long term-goals, and not just trying to replicate trends of the modern society, or so called “developed countries”


  1. Dudley Sears, (1969) the Meaning of development, IDS communication series No. 44, Institute of Development Studies.
  2. Anand, Sudhir and Amartya Sen (2000).  The Income Component of the Human Development Index, Journal of Human Development, Vol. 1, No. 1.
  3. Aturupane, Harsha, Glewwe, Paul, and Paul Isenman (1994).  Poverty Human Development and Growth: An Emerging Consensus? The American Economic Review, Vol 84, No. 2.
  4. Sen, Amartya (2000).   A Decade of Human Development, Journal of Human Development Vol. 1, No. 1

About rebeccaidd

Fun, passionate, inquisitive exploring development
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