Development policy should be people-centred, says report

A new report calls for people affected by international development programmes to be listened to more closely, with their wellbeing given more emphasis

Development policy should place more emphasis on measuring peoples’ wellbeing rather than using economic growth to evaluate success, according to a new report.

Currently, most philanthropic and governmental organisations measure the impact of their programmes using economic indicators such as a country’s GDP or the dollar-a-day income yardstick. The report calls for a more people-centred approach, where issues such as dignity and quality of life are given due weight.

The report has emerged from the Bellagio Initiative – a series of widespread discussions between policymakers, academics, opinion leaders, social entrepreneurs, activists, donors and practitioners from over 30 countries. The report was commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation and supported by Institute of Development Studies and Resource Alliance.

The Bellagio Initiative has led six months of discussions focused on how philanthropic and development agencies can promote wellbeing and tackle the many and complex development challenges of the 21st century.

Voices rarely heard in policy debates, including refugees and indigenous representatives, were invited to participate in the discussions.

One of the initiative’s major observations was the need for building greater interconnectedness between those forming policy and those affected by policy. The report stated there is a disconnect between “development organisations and the people they are notionally working for; a gulf between governments and citizens,” and “gulfs between different development organisations [that are] working for the same outcome.”

The report suggests a shake-up in traditional thinking and proposes a new development ‘eco-system’ linking policy makers with those on the ground, as well as valuing wellbeing.

Francesca de Gasparis, European director of the Greenbelt Movement said: “We greatly welcome this initiative that breaks through the barriers in development that have prevented real change from happening.

“The Green Belt Movement has worked with rural women and their communities for over 35 years, using principles such as listening to people and instilling values to create healthy lives and ecosystems.”

Wellbeing measurements are not a new idea, countries such as Bhutan, Bolivia, Canada, Australia, France and the UK have already started to implement methods to capture this kind of data. What is new however, is the movement to embed this change of thinking in a new framework of policy and practice in the field of international development.

The publication of the Bellagio Initiative report suggests that policy makers are waking up to the limitations of economic measurements and are developing more inclusive thinking aimed at responding to peoples’ values and real needs.