Session 1: Defining & Measuring Development

  LEVEL 1: What did I learn from Unit 1

At the mention of development, words like change, improvement, progress, initiatives of NGO’s and governments come to mind, but do we stop to think beyond these words and the implications of development? Where do we stand when we view development? Are we in the developers seat or we are being developed or are we assessing the level of development? Where we stand, when we view development, greatly affects the way we see it and present it to the world.

The past week has been a great eye opener in my understanding of development. I have always viewed development from the angle of ‘deliberate effort’ by organisations and governments to bring change, and probably assessed their work in my own right.  My line of thinking and assessment had always been if “this” is being done for the people then they must need it and it must be good for them, never really critically looking at these efforts from different angles. Over a period of time, I believe the projects of many development organisations have been applauded without critical assessment to evaluate true development.

In viewing development I leaned on Calvin Coolidge’s words (30th President of United States, 1923 – 1929) “All growth depends upon activity. There is no development, physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”

This line of thought on development falls under what Alan Thomas in his chapter on Meanings and Views of Development explains as ‘doing development’.  Obviously from what I have learnt, this is only a tiny branch of the development tree. I choose to call it a tree because of its many branches and offshoots. Other views as explained by Thomas are development as a state of being (desired state) and development as a historical process (process of social change). These viewpoints immediately flash a red light – what really is the meaning of the word development? Can it not be expressed in a single sentence? The answer would be, not really,  as a word it has proven to be both diverse in meaning and subjective, attempts have been made by many scholars to define it, but the logical conclusion is that no definition fits all and it is best defined in context to be applicable.

Development has become almost synonymous to the word change, but the weight here is being placed on change and what qualifies it.  Is it good change or bad change?  Do the developers consult with those in need of development or they impose development on them. In some cases it is argued that development is good, it brings change and improves the conditions of those in need of it, in other cases it is argued that it is not all together positive, it can wipe away cultures, forms of livelihood etc. wiping out the old (which worked well for the people) and imposing the new.

Some scholarly views on development further heighten these offshoots from the development tree. Sachs comments at development this way “The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape….….”(Sachs W. 1992)(Lecture slides) A pessimistic view of development, while Chambers rather optimistically puts it this way “There is no grounds for pessimism. Much can grow on and out of ruin. Past errors as well as achievements contribute to current learning.” (Chambers, 1997, p9) (Lecture slides).Will there ever be a convergence in views of development? The diversity of the term makes that almost impossible.

 Another view of development comes from Alan Thomas, he juxtaposes development with capitalism and indicates that, the rise of capitalism resulted in a natural development (self-generating out of capitalism)) this he refers to as ‘immanent’ development, and on the other hand, interventionism which implies a deliberate effort, which arose to combat the negatives of capitalism. These branches of development have further offshoots which heightens the idea that the term is a complex one.

Thomas further explains the different ‘senses’ of development as he puts it, as an idea (vision) which  he says can be applicably in any field, a historical process(transformation over a period of time) and an activity (deliberate effort),  of which I choose to talk more about the latter. Development as a deliberate effort ( interventionism, which arose out of the ‘evils’ of capitalism) can be seen through the work of governments, international organisations, groups and individuals dedicated to bringing change/ development to others. The question that comes to mind is how do these agencies develop others? Are these agencies channels to impose development on others? Then Banuri puts it well by saying ‘if development means what ‘we’ can do for ‘them’ it is just a license for imperial intervention’ (Banuri 1990) (Thomas 2000). “What can we do with them to help them” or “How can we help them to help themselves” sounds a lot better to me and by this the people are empowered to forge ahead with their own development. I do agree that this channel of development will have its disadvantages, but development without the involvement of the people can result in some level of destruction. The learning outcome here is that there are contestable views on how development  is achieved and which one should be best practice, but in this environment one cap does not fit all, however since development  is for the people and about the people,  I would vote  the concept of empowerment and sustainability.  I believe a little investment in the people by way of dialogue can help policy writers and decision makers to make better choices with the interests of the people in mind and not just about spending the resources available. Development as a deliberate action is needed and important in reducing poverty and inequality in societies, its impact will be greater than it is now if the people being developed had a say in the issues concerning them.

The importance of development lies not only in the fact that it brings about change, how this change is assessed in terms of measurement is equally important. Both Grieg et al and Seers discuss this aspect of development; mainly measurements based on economic (GDP, GNI) and social (health, life expectancy, education, urbanization) indicators. The argument here is that do these indicators capture the true image of development? Inaccuracies in data collection and inability to quantify aspects of some of these indicators make it almost impossible to reach this goal, rendering these indicators faulty. “This rejection of monocausal indicators has led to a growing recognition that the process of development……..monitoring a wider range of socio-economic and political gauges” Grieg et al (2007, p 37). This brings us to the Human Development Index (HDI) introduced in 1990 by the UNDP with Amartya Sen.  In the 2010 interview with Sen, he had this to say “it couldn’t be all about economic growth; it had to be something about human lives”. The HDI’s focus was measuring development based on people’s capabilities and capturing the realities of the lives people. Sen looks at areas of individual entitlements, functioning and capability and fundamental freedoms and human rights, making measuring development more people- centred than economic.

My final thoughts on this image of development as a tree with its many branches and off shoots (making it seemingly complex) are that it is not totally out of place, the guiding theories, both the grand theories and the context-specific theories are evolving and as time goes on and the world changes more theories and shifts in theories will form. This makes me realise how dynamic the world of development studies truly is, and as to whether the tree of development will ever stop growing? I have my strongest doubts. I started out with a single view of development and at the end of the unit I laugh at how wrong I had been all this while.

Level 2: My feelings about Unit 1

Being the first Unit in the module, I must admit I was really tensed up and not sure how it was going to go. So many posts were coming in and I began to wonder if I could read and contribute meaningfully and make time to read and manage the rest of my life without falling apart. By the end of the week I was surprised that I made it through without any problems.

I found activity one an eye opener, it directly established the complexity and diversity of the term development. It immediately set me on the path of critical thinking allowing me to be reflective and look at both sides of the coin as well as being open minded about the views of others that were coming in. It was surprising to see an aspect of development in everybody’s symbol further establishing the fact that context specific analysis of the term development could be one of the best way of looking at it.

 The lecture was comforting, it was good to hear a voice and associate it with a face in this seemingly faceless mode of education. Tom’s lecture was crucial in starting us of in the right direction. It made clearer my thoughts on how diverse development was and how I was going to work my way around it. It also established two distinct views of development that I had picked up during activity one, the dark side of development and the “positive change”.

The reading materials at first glance were overwhelming for me. I outline the required reading and wondered when I was going to finish that and the optional reading as well. I dedicated some time to reading and was surprised at the volume I covered, having established some control helped me to   settle down for the course. Time management has become very essential and working within the time schedules I have set for myself will help me to complete the course successfully.  .

I do feel more confident about the subsequent units and modules and Unit 1 has indeed been a good starting point to the course. Reading materials have been adequate and guidelines have been clearly outlined. Interaction with other students through the discussion board had been both insightful and comforting, a useful platform for sharing ideas and learning. The learning process in itself awakens a level of critical thinking enabling one to do most of the work on their one with a level of understanding which I find most suitable for this level of education.

The course content for this unit has awaken in me a passion for development work, I am totally new to this environment but I long to do something to make a deference in the lives of other people who cannot do it for themselves. I feel more encouraged and confident that I can be able to do this better with knowledge gain on the course and I do admit I am beginning to build up a sense of pride for enrolling.

I must admit I was way too anxious about blogging, but was really grateful for the sample blogs Tom put up and from the discussion board I realised I was not alone in my feelings, which is quiet comforting.

I have thoroughly enjoyed unit one, much to my surprise and my anxieties have been calmed and I look forward confidently to the other units and to completing the module.

 LEVEL 3: What is the relevance, if any, of Unit 1 to your existing knowledge, experience, context or attitudes?

Studying the meanings and definitions of development has completely changed my knowledge about development and the development world. It was a transformational process, from a complete lack of knowledge of development, except  knowledge of some work done by some development agencies to a better informed student who can critically assess the all subjective term development an what it entails.

I enrolled on this course with the aim of making a difference in the lives of others, with the knowledge gained from this unit, I have come to realise that I just cannot make a difference without any guidelines no matter how small the difference I am trying to make. The relevance of this Unit is that it has instructed me in a way to better decisions when it comes to development issues, no matter the scope of change I want to make.

Prior to this unit my decisions have been based hugely on emotions, now I am thinking more along the lines of empowerment, sustainability and most importantly dialogue. I try to do some small scale charity work here in Kampala and I must say this Unit has opened my eyes to the different ways (better) in which I can deal with the people I try to help.

I surprised myself a few days ago when in a discussion with a friend I impressed on her the need to think critically and weigh both sides of the coin before passing judgement. We tried to look at the point she had raised critically and agreed on the outcome of our conversation after doing some critical thinking. I did smile to myself because I realise Unit one had change my way of looking at things now.

 LEVEL 4: In what ways, if any, could you apply what you have learned from unit 1? What would you do differently?

Unit 1 of this module has established the importance of critical thinking. Without critical thinking there is a great tendency that one may draw conclusions that are lame. Critical thinking opens one’s mind to all available options before one draws a conclusion and in this case a strong and justifiable conclusion. Hence to gain a better understanding of any issue I would choose the path of a critical approach to enrich my understanding of the subject matter. The practical critical approach to Unit 1 “the definitions and meanings of development” has helped in making this choice. I look forward to applying this style of thinking to subsequent units and modules and wherever necessary.

Armed with this approach or better still this line of thinking, and with insights gained from measuring development, I will be more cautious about what I accept and do not accept as established facts.  In everyday life we are presented with views of other people through different channels but people, organisations, governments, media houses, establishments can be biased in their presentation of facts to the public. A critical look at what is presented, how it is presented, what the limitations are and what picture they want the world to see will help in deciding whether to embrace totally what is being presented or to take it in with a pinch of salt.

In every discipline there are jargons that guide everyday parlance, but how many of these words have been used and over used and even abused and have lost their true meaning over time. According to Andrea Cornwall language matters and has a strong bearing in its specific field. It is important to watch out for the usage of words, as words in speech and paper can be totally different or fall short of what it actually means on paper. Although I haven’t officially entered the corridors of the world of development yet, this is information I would like to keep in mind to guide me along the way when I do.

From the study of this unit, I have realised the importance of involving all stakeholders to establish change or development and to assess whatever is being done in the long term and weigh its sustainability. My experiences in Uganda influenced my decision to take this course. There are so many people out there who need help of some sort, previously in my associations I will try to meet the needs that I identify without thinking about the situation critically and involving the stakeholder,(eg. I meet someone who needs sugar, I provide the sugar and the next time they need I provide again without thinking of how to help the person get to the point where they can get the sugar themselves)   from what I have gathered from my readings and the discussion board, sustainability as well as stakeholder involvement is key in development, armed with this knowledge, I will dialogue with and involve the stakeholders before embarking on my small scale aid work and forge towards sustainability.

On the whole I have enjoyed the Unit and I look forward to blogging on the other units.


Cornwall, A., (2007) ‘Buzzwords and fuzzwords: deconstructing development discourse’, Development in Practice, Vol. 17,no. 4, pp.471 – 485

Grieg et al. ( 2007) Challenging Global Inequality: Development Theory and Practice in the 21st Century. Basingstoe: Palgrave Macmillian.

ODI, 2001, ‘Economic Theory, Freedom and Human Rights: The work of Amartya Sen’, ODI Briefing Paper, November, Overseas Development Institute.

Seers, D., 1969, ‘The Meaning of Development’, IDS Communication, no. 44, Institute of Development Studies.

Thomas, A., 2000, ‘Meanings and Views of Development’, in: Poverty and Development Into the 21st Century, Allen, T., Thomas, A. (eds.), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Transcript (Interview) (accessed 11/10/2011)



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Tom the drumble on October 16, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I really enjoyed reading your first entry. Thorough, thoughtful and following the guidelines. Great. I’m also thrilled to see that you have so quickly developed your critical analysis side! I look forward to more posts. Tom


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