The term social development refers in general to transformative processes of social change, usually intented to benefit human well-being.12

Social development is a meta-phenomenon: an amalgamated concept that is something fundamentally distinct from the assembly of constituent parts. The term may refer variously linked to theorectical models or policy prescripts and operational principles that define a particular institutions vision of ‘development’, or it may refer to particular actions, programmes or activities that are implemented to realise a particular policy or policy framework. Moreover—just as with any concept that cliams to represent the interests of a collective entity (such as a ‘society’)—the concept of social development takes on heterogenious meanings underpinned by nuanced and implicit value systems. Some ‘American’ and ‘European’ values ascribed to the concept of social development, for example, are inclusion, cohesion, resilience, citizen security and accountability.

The United Nations helped to broker a global “consensus on the need to put people at the centre of development” at the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen. At this time, delegates set out a ‘Programme of Action’ that prioritzed efforts for realizing social development in four main topical areas:3

1) poverty eradication and employment 2) intergovernmental support service and implementation 3) socio-economic policy and development management 4) social integration

Many multilateral development banks and other international financial instiutions have since adopted this ‘people-cenetered’ concept of social development as part of their core institutional values to help counter-balance the potential that market-driven forms of economic growth, (if ‘unchecked’ or ‘uncorrected’), may impose a disproporiate share of ‘unfactored’ costs of development (‘externalities’) on people and communities.

As a field of practice, social development involves the application of academic theory and methodology (anthropology, sociology, geography, etc.) to analyse social consequences of the development process, to help avoid or mitigate potentially negative impacts thereof, and to attend to the concerns and interests of people and their communities and societies. That is, social development practitioners explore processes of social change that can generate greater equity and well-being for people with diverse identities living in the developing world. The work of many social development practitioners today seeks to enable citizens (or at least a special cohort of citizens, such as ‘project-affected peoples’) to determine their own needs and to influence decisions that affect them (i.e., as work that involves the creation of participatory structures for incorporating public concerns in project design and operation). The implict assumption is that all stakeholders—especially poor, underprivileged, and otherwise vulnerable people and communities—should have the opportunity to contribute to decisions-making processes affecting their lives.4 Some implicit challenges of such work include recognizing and valuing diverse identities and aspirations while attempting to establish universal principles of equity.

References and Further Reading

Notes and Citations

  1. Wikipedia. n.d. Social Development 

  2. c.f.: Psychology Developmental [e.g. Hay, Dale and Elizabeth A. Lemerise and Amy Halberstadt (eds.) Social Development. John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Online ISSN: 1467-9507] 

  3. United Nations. 1995. Report of the World Summit for Social Development Doc ID# A/CONF.166/9 [Note: This document also includes the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action.] 

  4. World Bank. “Social Development” Last accessed: 2015-Feb-03 Last Updated: 2014-Oct-07.