Our Perspectives

Human Development – the Way Ahead


The 2016 report will look into conceptual matters that were not made explicit in past reports such as the interconnectedness of choices (e.g. an individual’s choice to play loud music has an impact on the choice of quiet time by others). Photo: UNDP in DRC

Over the last quarter of a century, Human Development Reports have extensively influenced the development discourse, provided a strong lens to assess human well-being, and informed policy making.

But the world today is different from 1990. Impressive human development progress has been achieved; yet advances have been uneven and significant deprivations still persist. As the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development states, there is a critical need for a transformational change in development, so that no one is left behind.

From a human development perspective, the time has come to focus on three fundamental aspects: extending the frontiers of the concept of human development; reviewing how human development is measured; and and revisiting the policy options linking various strategies and focusing on institutions at the country and global levels. This is why the theme of the jubilee HDR is Human Development – the Way Ahead.

Extending the frontiers

The 2016 report aims to extend the frontiers of human development thinking by looking into those conceptual matters that were not made explicit in past reports such as:

  • the balance between individual and social choices (e.g. how the individual choice of covering the face on the basis of religious beliefs may not be consistent with the norm that the broader society holds);
  • the hierarchy of choices (e.g. how some people may value a set of choices over others); and
  • the interconnectedness of choices (e.g. an individual’s choice to play loud music has an impact on the choice of quiet time by others)

Equally important is looking into themes from previous reports that deserve further exploration in the light of today’s changing world - such as human security, participation and environmental sustainability. And aspects that are critical for transformational changes in development –such as social justice and fairness, tolerance and non-violence, diversity and equality – have to be explored.

When assessing progress, the focus will be on how to ensure that the most disadvantaged benefit fully from human development gains and that those who have escaped basic deprivations continue to advance. Assessing not only the quantity but also the quality of the progress is also critical – children may complete primary education, but this does not represent sustainable human progress unless they can read or write properly. The report will also review some of the composite indices and complement the human development assessment by considering measurement questions related to environmental sustainability, human security, participation, etc. It will also investigate how measures of well-being and happiness which may add new insight on human development.

On the policy front, the report will pursue a unified framework for policy analysis, emphasizing not only what policies are necessary but also how they could be implemented. It will take both a normative and an instrumental approach towards issues like social justice, fairness, equality, tolerance, cultural diversity, non-violence and democracy; and pay attention to the state as well as country-level, regional and global institutions.

Human development and Agenda 2030

While the theme of the 2016 report is not the 2030 Agenda, the HDRs can make intellectual contributions and strengthen the policy options to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some human development indicators may be aligned to certain SDGs measures and could be used for tracking progress. Conversely, the commitment of 2030 agenda to leave no one behind can help prioritize certain human development dimensions and groups of people; and a transformational change in development.

Both the human development paradigm and the HDR have established a distinctive tradition.. The challenge is to leverage the gains in our knowledge and understanding to ensure that both of them, while maintaining continuity with the fundamental principles and approaches, motivate positive changes in people’s lives, and remain relevant and useful towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Read the full version of this blog post here.

Human development report Blog post Agenda 2030 Selim Jahan

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