The term development describes good change, which can be seen in the growth of a child, a company or an idea. It’s also a global concern, with nations striving to develop their societies as well as their economies. The UN rates countries’ development by looking at factors such as literacy, school enrollment and life expectancy, as well as gross national income per capita.
The way we understand development has changed since its origins as an aid strategy against the threat of communism. It now aims to address the needs of all human beings, including those living in poverty. This means ensuring that people have access to adequate education, healthcare and work; that they can live free of disease and hunger; and that their homes are safe and secure from crime and natural disasters. It also involves making sure that people have a voice in decision-making and are treated with dignity.
Researchers study development based on assumptions about the nature and causes of humans’ behavior, called meta-theories. Generally, they assume that some aspects of development are determined by nature (genes, biology) and some by nurture (environment, learning). Some meta-theories also take into account the stability and change of these characteristics over time, as well as whether they are universal or context-specific.
Currently, researchers tend to favor interactionist meta-theories that take into consideration the relationship between culture and development. They are also starting to recognize that if development is to be sustainable, it must address both economic and cultural aspects of well-being, not just the former. It’s a big shift that will require different ways of thinking, planning and working — not just for developing countries themselves but also for outsiders trying to help them get there faster.