New Measures and New Approaches to Development

Just recently I have been thinking about what we measure and why we measure it in various development programmes.  In economic development, measures are based on productivity, a measure usually derived from Gross National Product or Gross Domestic Product.  Anything likely to increase the productivity of the economy is deemed to be a good thing and pursued wholeheartedly.

This has led to a long term and persistent bias towards the pursuit of productivity gains – rather than to investing in establishing a context from which productivity will emerge.

Consider this from Bobby Kennedy from almost 50 years ago:

‘Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.’

Robert F. Kennedy Address, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, March 18, 1968

Seems pretty close to the mark even 50 years later.

  • Why did this voice of reason not prevail?
  • Could it prevail now?
  • Should it?


  1. I think Social Capital, although a bit hackneyed, is probably nearest the mark

    • The challenge, as I see it, is that there is no agreed way of measuring, or even defining, social capital.

      And even if we could measure it effectively, accuraltey and cost effectively, can we show that social capital leads to progress – or does progress lead to social capital?

      Is social capital a cause or an effect of progress?

      Have you or any of your networks done any research on the ‘value’ of virtual social capital John?

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