‘Social development’ refers to many of the non-economic processes and outcomes of development, including but not limited to: reduced vulnerability; inclusion; wellbeing; accountability; people-centred approaches; and freedom from violence. It is fundamentally concerned with human rights, formal and informal power relations, inequality and possibilities for building greater equality between individuals and groups within societies.
‘Human development’ is a process of enlarging people’s choices by building human capabilities to lead lives that they value. This involves the capability to lead long and healthy lives, to be educated, to access resources and social protection, and fair employment. As such, human development is also fundamentally concerned with human rights, including those to life, health and wellbeing.
This guide explores how social development issues influence human development outcomes. It shows that addressing social development issues is crucial to optimising success in all efforts to promote human development.
How does social development influence human development outcomes?
Addressing social development issues can improve and sustain human development and reduce individual and community vulnerability. Poverty, gender inequality, social exclusion and geographic location can all affect a person’s ability to realise their right to a decent standard of living. Moreover, individuals and groups may face multiple barriers to realising their rights. These barriers can negatively reinforce each other. For example, girls and women living with disabilities, or poor women living in rural areas, are likely to face greater barriers than most women living in better-off, urban settings. Challenges to human development can change throughout a person’s life and especially at particular periods. For example, the early years of life, the transition from school to work and from work to retirement are periods when human development challenges are high.
To realise rights to human development, we need to understand and address the social drivers of development. If we do not do so, any gains made will be undermined. By taking social development issues on board, development actors will achieve better results and better value for money. This guide breaks down social development issues and human development sectors for conceptual clarity but in reality the issues are intersecting and interdependent. Specifically, although human rights are addressed in one section of this guide, they apply to all the other social development sections.
Key debates and challenges
Development actors have sought to incorporate a social development lens through approaches such as a human rights-based approach, Political Economy Analysis, inclusive institutions, and good governance. The literature recommends an inter-sectoral approach including engaging with other sectors of government and society to address influences outside of human development sectors.
The international discourse has been strongly influenced by the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) focus on human development outcomes. The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) involve shifting away from a technical approach for increasing human development, towards an equity/inclusion approach that focuses on ‘leave no-one behind’ (Starfield, 2007). Discussions draw on analysis of underlying power relations to understand intersecting inequalities and how these affect equitable outcomes. There is an increased emphasis on social norms and understanding social institutions, and on politics ‒ including informal politics such as clientelistic relationships ‒ and political analysis. Citizen engagement for increasing accountability is a strategy that donors generally support (Gaventa & Barrett, 2010).
The value-added of a social development approach is recognised in academic literature and policy. However, working to increase equity and shift power relations can be difficult to put into practice. Cultural norms are difficult to change, and donors can be reluctant to engage with an overtly political approach. Some of the barriers to including a social development lens include a lack of expertise in specific areas, such as gender, age or disability, difficulty working across sectors, and technocratic approaches to human development. Barriers also exist because people working in development and in basic services hold the same social and cultural norms as do their clients, and are subject to the same, or similar, social prejudices.
Starfield, B. (2007). Pathways of influence on equity in health. Social Science & Medicine, 64(7), 1355-1362.
What are the pathways that generate inequities and through which they may be addressed? The literature shows that inequities are greater for severity of illness than for occurrence of illness, and the extent of inequities is greater at younger ages. Geographic aggregation of data influences conclusions on the nature and extent of inequities. Health services can contribute to reductions in inequity particularly through primary care services. However, this contribution depends on the type of health services, attention to the type and orientation of the health services system and not just on the presence of health services. Failure to recognise the existence of health problems associated with inequity may be more important than failing to intervene when the problem is recognised. Efforts to improve average health are generally associated with increasing inequities, because new and effective interventions often reach the more advantaged first.
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Gaventa, J. & Barrett, G. (2010). So what difference does it make? Mapping the outcomes of citizen engagement (Working Paper 347). Brighton: Institute of Development Studies (IDS).
This paper presents results from a meta-analysis of 100 research studies of citizen engagement in 20 countries. By mapping over 800 observable effects of citizen participation, the authors created a typology of four democratic and developmental outcomes – construction of citizenship; strengthening of practices of participation; strengthening of responsive and accountable states; and development of inclusive and cohesive societies. Citizen participation produced positive effects across these outcome types in 75 per cent of the outcomes studied, although in each category there were also examples of negative outcomes. These outcomes also vary according to the type of citizen engagement and political context.
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