This article examines the assumptions and values behind traditional notions of development. It argues that the optimal status of any community is not the achievement of a specific level of development, but rather the maintenance of an ongoing development process. A community must respond creatively and innovatively to technological, environmental and political changes. A public order of human dignity is thus ultimately achieved through increasing the aggregate participation in the shaping and sharing of all values on a global level across political boundaries and between communities of varying levels of development.
“Development” refers to decision processes which have been designed to induce the shaping and sharing of all values in ways and with consequences approximating a public order of human dignity. The component of intentional movement towards those goal values distinguishes development from social change more generally. Change is, of course, an ineluctable feature of social process, as all actors are constantly seeking, by means of persuasion — or coercion — to change or resist the changing of arrangements and the values they produce and distribute, with the aim of inducing them to henceforth discriminate — or continue to discriminate — in their own favour.
This so-called “value-free” inquiry about social change is not the interest of a policy-oriented approach to development. Development is unapologetically outcome-biased. Harold Lasswell minced no words when he said that models of development “should be explicitly preferential”.1 Development posits specific scope values with respect to which strategies for securing — and maintaining — selective changes are invented and implemented. Those same goal values also serve as criteria against which change flows in decision structures and in the production and distribution of values can be constantly appraised, providing intelligence for strategic adjustments to improve future goal attainment. The point is that not all changes are considered to be development. Changes incompatible with the postulated goal values of human dignity or retrogressions from them are what might be called “disdevelopments”;2 institutional practices which do not contribute to the achievement of development goals are dysdevelopmental.
The scholarly literature which Harold Lasswell reviewed in his seminal “The Policy Science of Development” looked largely to “the institutional details of tribal societies, of reviving ancient civilizations or of non-industrialized nations”.3 But every civilisation — pre-industrial, industrial, post-industrial and science and technology-based — is inescapably involved in the process of development. Not unlike Thomas Schelling’s disturbing example of the reluctant participant in a game of “chicken”, an actor saying his or her community will not play a role in development, has not merely opted out: it has lost.
Once upon a time, it was politically correct international parlance, to speak of “developed”, “developing” and “lesser developed” or “underdeveloped” states, awarding a few states the title “developed”. But the optimal status of any community is not the achievement of a specific level of “development”, in the sense of some static infrastructure and accumulation or capitalisation and allocation of values meeting the demands of certain members or even of all strata of a community at a particular moment. The optimal status is, rather, the establishment and maintenance of a viable and ongoing development process which is capable, through time, of identifying and responding creatively to technological, environmental and political changes capable, where necessary, of reformulating goals and adjusting strategies to exploit and not merely to meet changes and capable of performing the decision functions indispensable to the maintenance of satisfactory community order while contributing to the attainment of maximum goals. In all of this, creativity is critical: Chen and Lasswell said, “[a]n essential trait of development is innovativeness”.