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1.1 Goals and processes

Let us now turn to the question of 'development' and what it actually means. As with many 'good things' it is hard to define. It will always be difficult for large numbers of people to reach an agreement on the definitions of abstract concepts such as equity, justice, human rights, and development. However, most people recognise the existence of these concepts and would probably agree that they are desirable things that societies should strive towards. Given that this is the case, it is inevitable that people will try to devise mutually recognised frameworks for understanding such concepts.

Conceptual frameworks of this sort often consist of a set of principles or guidelines that establish minimum requirements for achieving desired goals. Whilst the individual is often the focus of such frameworks, there is usually also an implicit assumption that the interests of people as a whole take precedence over those of specific individuals. So, for instance, there should be justice for all rather than just a few, and human rights are for everyone and not just for those with the power to exercise them. One example of this sort of conceptual framework is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in 1948 and provides an extensive list of rights that all human beings should ideally be able to enjoy.

You will find a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the UN’s website, (see (UN undated), in the reference listing). You don’t need to familiarise yourself with it, but do have a quick look. You will probably notice that the world has a long way to go before these aspirations are achieved. Take Articles 23 to 26, for example. How well does your country perform in relation to these particular human rights? Even if you are from a developed country, it is unlikely that all of your compatriots are entirely happy with their rights in these areas. In less developed countries the failings in relation to these articles are particularly great.

Now think about what you understand by the term 'development'. Write down a number of key words and phrases that spring to mind in relation to this concept.

Here are a number of words that you may have included in your list

change, economic growth, education, equity, good governance, health, human development, human rights, poverty reduction, process of change , progress (positive change), social development, sustainability

Check your answer

We can think about development in two ways


Development goals include, for example, the elimination of hunger and poverty, universal access to education and healthcare, representative government, social stability and many others, including those listed in the United Nation's (UN) charter on human rights.

In recent times, the most publicised development goals have been the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These were agreed by the United Nations at the Millennium Summit in September 2000 and aimed to be met by 2015. (see 1.1.1)

1.1.1 Millennium goals

The Millennium Development Goals are an ambitious agenda for reducing poverty and improving lives that world leaders agreed on at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. For each goal one or more targets have been set, most for 2015, using 1990 as a benchmark:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
    Target 1a: Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day
    Target 1b: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
    Target 1c: Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
    Target 2a: Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
    Target 3a: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015
  4. Reduce child mortality
    Target 4a: Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five
  5. Improve maternal health
    Target 5a: Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio
    Target 5b: Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
    Target 6a: Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
    Target 6b: Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it
    Target 6c: Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
    Target 7a: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources
    Target 7b: Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss
    Target 7c: Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water
    Target 7d: Achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020
  8. Develop a global partnership for development
    Target 8a: Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system. Includes a commitment to good governance, development, and poverty reduction - both nationally and internationally
    Target 8b: Address the special needs of the least developed countries. Includes tariff and quota free access for least developed countries' exports; enhanced programme of debt relief for HIPCs and cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous ODA for countries committed to poverty reduction.
    Target 8c: Address the special needs of landlocked countries and small island developing States
    Target 8d: Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term
    Target 8e: In co-operation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries
    Target 8f: In co-operation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications

Source: UN (2011)

If you look through these, you will probably notice that this framework, like the UN charter on human rights, is primarily a wish list of desirable outcomes. Little is said about the specific processes by which individual targets are to be achieved - although some of the goals are necessary steps on the way to achieving other goals, which suggests that there is a certain amount of overlap between goals and processes. Good governance could, for example, be viewed as both a means to an end and an end in itself.

As 2015 approaches, there is growing reflection about what the MDGs have achieved and what should replace them, with some calling for an approach that is more tailored to the needs and circumstances of individual countries than the MDGs have been.


Development processes, then, concern the means by which development goals are reached. They might involve specific policies and strategies adopted by governments and other development agencies, or they may relate to wider forces of change outside the control of governments or individual organisations. Whilst it is relatively easy for people and governments to agree on broadly defined aims, it is often much harder to prioritise between them or reach agreement on how to achieve them.

Much of this module provides insights into different perspectives on the debates surrounding development processes by examining the theories (especially economic ones) and empirical evidence commonly underlying support for some processes and the rejection of others.

Economic versus human development

Distinctions are sometimes made between the concepts of economic development and human development (sometimes also referred to as social development). Economic development usually refers to improvements in material living standards and therefore to improvements in income, consumption, employment, savings and investment. It also concerns how resources are distributed between different people and the processes that influence this distribution. Ensuring that economic improvements benefit the majority rather than just the few is an important goal in development. This broad-based development is important for both ethical and economic reasons, as large inequalities can be an obstacle to further economic development (see Ravallion 2005). Economic development is also associated with improvements in technology and institutional change as well as changes in the structure of the economy as a country typically diversifies away from agriculture and expands its industrial and service sectors.

The concept of human development or social development usually involves a broader set of goals in which economic development is often seen as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. In human or social development the goals relate to quality of life issues, such as security, health, education, social stability, equality, empowerment, dignity, and so on. These are themselves seen as means for achieving a wider conceptualisation of 'development as freedom' (Sen 2001 p. 382), as these goals and means are necessary components of freedom (to live, to participate in society, to choose, to consume, etc). We explore the concepts of human and economic development in more detail later.

How much are our ideas about the processes of development influenced by our cultural and professional backgrounds? Most discussions of development present views that are dominated by economic and institutional perspectives, but it is important to recognise this. While these may attempt to recognise the importance of valuable insights from other perspectives, they are nevertheless often evaluated from and incorporated into a predominantly economic and institutional analysis.

A social development perspective, by contrast, not only has its own perspectives on development, it also evaluates economic and institutional analysis from a different angle. It thus puts more emphasis on social exclusion and inequality as features of under-development and poverty, questions the values underlying dominant economic development paradigms, and, for example, contrasts 'efficiency', 'needs', and 'rights' based development policy approaches (Derbyshire and Locke 2008). These different perspectives raise fundamental questions about development goals and processes.

Different perspectives may also arise from varied interests in or experience of agriculture, health, education, social development, economics, politics, water, urban development, or rural development; from different religious or cultural beliefs and values; from gender, age or ethnic differences; or from different social, educational, and cultural backgrounds.

As you read papers and study materials on development questions, compare and contrast the different perspectives on development goals and processes arising from your own professional and personal background.

Make notes on the perspectives you encounter in your professional work, amongst colleagues, and in wider society. Compare these perspectives with those you encounter in different writings. You may want to use your notes to frame discussions with fellow students.