When people talk about development, they often mean growth, progress, or positive change. It usually involves physical, economic, environmental and social changes. Generally, it leads to higher standards of living and a better quality of life for the population of a country.
The development agenda began to take shape in the second half of the twentieth century. It became clear that economic growth alone was not enough to lift people out of poverty. People needed to improve their educational and health systems too.
Different researchers have developed different definitions and emphases in their approaches to development. Amartya Sen developed a “capability approach” that emphasizes the importance of giving people freedom to make choices in their economic, social and family lives. Martha Nussbaum has emphasized the importance of equality as a foundation of development.
Other researchers have focused on the nature of human development and its causes. They have debated issues such as whether humans are innately stable and inflexible, or whether they are open to changing throughout their lives. They have also debated whether development is a process of quantitative incremental change, or if it involves qualitative shifts.
There is now a growing interest in using complexity theory to give new perspective to development. This is because it suggests that development is emergent property of a system – a consequence of the way parts of that system interact with each other. It is a far-reaching view that has implications for the international community as well as for countries themselves who wish to put their societies and economies on a path of continued development.