Development Theories and Approaches


Development refers to the process of improving the economic and social well-being of a nation, region or local community. It involves everything from combating poverty and climate change to developing educational systems, health care and infrastructure. Many organizations are involved in this work, from intergovernmental bodies like the United Nations and World Bank to non-profits and private foundations.

A wide range of different theories and approaches to development exist. Some, like the behaviorists and Vygotsky, assume that human development is an ongoing and gradual process. Others, such as the Freudian, Erikson and Piaget theories of cognitive development, are known as stage theories of developmental change. These theorists believe that human development occurs in distinct, qualitatively different stages (like caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly) and unfolds according to a predetermined sequence.

Other theorists, such as those associated with information processing theory and complexity science, have developed a new view of development that is more fluid, flexible and individualized. They believe that people develop through a series of experiences, each of which contributes to the next level of their skills and knowledge.

The field of development has evolved to include a greater emphasis on people and the power of communities. This has led to the advocacy of a human centred approach to development, with a focus on basic needs and sustainable progress. Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach and Martha Nussbaum’s emphasis on gender equity are examples of this more inclusive development framework. This approach has also prompted an increased awareness of the importance of integrating economic and social development in plans, policies and programmes for people’s betterment.