What Is Development?

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Development means change that’s good for people and the planet. It’s often described as improving the world’s quality of life by raising standards of living, improving education and health care, and encouraging individual creativity and fulfillment. It also includes the growth of economies, and how countries and regions progress economically.

The term is most commonly applied to human development. Many different theories of developmental psychology are in use. One of the most influential is Erikson’s theory of stages in a person’s life. It posits that every stage must be completed before the next one can begin. These stages include childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. The theory has been criticized for its lack of cultural sensitivity. For example, adolescence might not be seen as a time of searching for identity in cultures where adolescence is marked by rites of passage into adulthood.

Other theorists, such as those who support lifespan or ecological systems approaches, suggest that development can take on a wide variety of forms. For instance, a community might develop its assets through asset-based community development (ABCD), a strategy that supports member-led issue identification and action. Another form of development might be placemaking, a process by which communities create shared creative, social or recreational physical spaces.

International development is a complex undertaking. Even so-called developed nations have room to grow and face new challenges. How countries are classified as “developed” or “developing” influences how they’re funded. Large donors, like the United States and the European Union, disperse billions of dollars annually to support development projects around the world.