Information and Technology Serving Human Development

Exploratory ideas initiated by Simon Grant - 2004-07-29
revised 2004-08-04
updated 2006-05-13
links reviewed 2012

These ideas are here to invite firstly perhaps critique and discussion, but then more importantly suggestions of collaboration. Does anyone out there want to contribute to a book or a web site on the subject? Edit a chapter perhaps? It will be my first serious book project. Please get in touch by e-mail, even if it is just to add ideas to this page - which would be very welcome. Again, please don't just think, something I've written is wrong - write to me and tell me so I can put a better point!

ITSHuD - it should!

Ideas for a web site, a book, and eventually an organisation.

What is human development?

Most people have some concept of how the world could be a better place.

The UN has plenty on development, including a very effective quotation from Mahbub ul Haq about Human Development.

"The basic purpose of development is to enlarge people's choices. In principle, these choices can be infinite and can change over time. People often value achievements that do not show up at all, or not immediately, in income or growth figures: greater access to knowledge, better nutrition and health services, more secure livelihoods, security against crime and physical violence, satisfying leisure hours, political and cultural freedoms and sense of participation in community activities. The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives."

Certainly it makes sense that everyone who is interested in human development must have some idea of what a more "developed" state would be like. A major premise of this work is that people of different beliefs, philosophies, faiths may focus on different areas or aspects of human development, but that these can be brought together, so that good, caring people can better work together for the common good.

What is needed for a major work here is a review of different starting points for the idea of human development - or some close equivalent, expressed in the terms of those different belief systems. Then here will follow an attempt at a synthesis of these different views, picking out the points on which most people have a broad agreement.

One way of putting it is that human development promotes a culture of effective, responsible choice. Real choice comes about through information and opportunity or power. One of the keypoints of development through I&T is that is has to take into account the availability of choices that either have emerged or will do. Along with choice comes responsibility. The culture of choice can be seen as the next main revolution after agriculture and civilisation.

Another common thread could be expressed as the movement towards a culture of social and economic justice, leading towards greater peace. This is where people are free to act in ways that are beneficial to others; to care about other people. Information naturally requires responsibility.

Another view could be that, rather than wasting human energy in conflict and violence, human development would result in a shift in the challenges that are addressed. There are many non-violent challenges in the world, and those that could be generally thought of as worthwhile might include:

This is not the same as being non-competitive. Competition can be highly positive in these areas - e.g. a race to develop the best new medicine for a disease; debate on the best possible co-ordinated approach to environmental issues.

However, there is no room within the field of human development for those who are only interested in their own development, to the detriment of the development of others. Even if this principle were shown to work in the very limited area of economic behaviour (where it is doubtful), it has no place in a world where ethics are taken seriously and maturely.

In this way of looking at things, human development is needed at several levels at the same time. The levels need to be addressed separately, so that everyone can relate to their own area of concern, and then will be more able to relate that concern to the concerns of others.

The particular challenge being addressed here comes from the nature of information and technology, which I refer to here as "I&T". (The significant thing is not so much the technology - IT or ICT - but the information which the technology helps us manage and communicate.) The characteristics of I&T mean that it is possible to imagine systems co-ordinated across these different areas. This could be a very powerful vision for human development, but will need the collaboration of people who are knowledgeable in their own field, but also willing to reach across and acknowledge, if not embrace, other fields.

The different areas of development, and how information and technology play a part in them

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to focus at once on all the different levels of human development discussed below. Indeed, some people do well advancing development in one area, while at the same time being stuck in negative patterns in another area. The purpose of putting the whole structure together is to enable people to recognise how others are doing good in their own ways. This may be a more effective way of helping them to change in the other ways. We don't want people expending energy being defensive - we want them to put their energies into area which are positive for them and for the rest of humanity. Understanding how the different areas are interlinked may help this.

To review these different levels effectively, and not just in outline, needs the combined wisdom of different people who have been active in these different aspects of human development.

Notes on structure

At each level, the same pattern is repeated, to help develop a common understanding.

What it is: an overview of what is meant by development in that context, together with the main issues surrounding it, and how I&T can or do play a part.

Positives: what positive examples are there where I&T are used to further that kind of development? Where there are, critique is possible. This includes the traditional analytical category of "strengths".

Negatives: is it possible to identify negative forces or tendencies that stand in the way of this aspect of development, or threaten its progress? This includes "weaknesses" and "threats". It is a personal and political choice how much to focus on positives, and how much on negatives; though that choice is often informed by experience. There are many pitfalls along the road of focusing on negatives, so any ones mentioned here will have to be very clearly thought through, and certainly not just scapegoats, straw men, or convenient myths. But, if taken carefully, out of the consideration of negatives can come directions for future growth.

Directions: how can I&T be used for development in that context? This includes the traditional category of "opportunities".

Personal development

What it is

Positives

Negatives

Directions

Relationship and family development

What it is

Positives

Negatives

Directions

Corporate development

What it is

Positives

Negatives

Directions

Community development

What it is

Community is where people live in proximity, outside of the responsibilities of a family or business, sharing some of their social and physical environment. They therefore have some interests in common, arising from the combination of their physical location and their personal preferences and concerns. But there are unanswered questions here.

Positives

Negatives

Directions

The special case of intentional living communities

Regional economic development

What it is

Positives

Negatives

Directions

Global development

What it is

Positives

Negatives

Directions

Ethical and spiritual development

What it is

Positives

Negatives

Directions

Common issues in development

The role of sustainability and the long-term view

Sustainability is a key feature across all levels of development. Without sustainability, the concept of development is almost empty: who wants a few years of flowering now at the price of a desert for their descendants? Nature and the environment is a keynote value. Sustainability is a natural concern for those who have provided for themselves - providing for one's children and descendents. It is smothered by personal insecurity and lack of minimum requirements. Need to counter our western culture of insecurity, through people joining together with others. Personal sustainability is in terms of life choices - for example, drug and alcohol misuse is not sustainable; mistreating others selfishly is not sustainable, etc. Corporate sustainability is a well-known concept. Community sustainability is in contrast to community breakdown, conflict, disorder, crime, violence. And so on.

Particularly, in economics, the opposition between short-term speculator values and the longer-term interests of other stakeholders - including long-term investors.

The role of values

The values that people hold personally, and people's choosing to interact with people of similar values, is a key feature underlying the whole of development. Personal development proceeds largely through the recognition of different values in the world, and through the choice and owning of particular values as one's own. Making corporate values explicit is becoming more accepted.

See also my Visionary Application which was an attempt to detail what is needed.

The personal challenge for the individual

What is the nature of the personal challenge faced by individuals in this envisaged world? Not to become super-people, developed in every possible way, but to know themselves and others, and to be able to collaborate effectively by joining with others at the corporate and community levels. To manage their own information, about themselves and about what they want, so that the technology can help as much as possible. To come to know their own values. To recognise both the choices that there are, and the responsibility that goes with them.

Action with information and technology for development

Constructing knowledge for action

How to share without overloading? How to collaborate effectively in the task of building relevant knowledge? Does this need to link in to the corporate level of development? Examples from, e.g. software development.

Organisation for change

How do people get together in a non-threatening way to allow for corporate collaboration without insistance, letting people find their own level in their own time?

Information Strategy for development

Each of these topics might be considered alone, but I&T gives us the chance to integrate systems. This section to be written when a clearer view emerges of how the other sections can be linked up.