UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The case for experimental evolution in development planning Mack, Bruce Howard


This thesis reveals some major weaknesses in development strategies based primarily on economic growth and suggests the development record can only be improved significantly by adopting a process of experimental evolution. The obvious starting point is defining and describing development. Development is defined as neither more nor less than the improvement of individual and social welfare, and the first chapter draws on some of the social sciences' literature in an attempt to describe individual and social development. While this description is far from definitive, several tentative conclusions may be drawn. Individuals have a wide variety of needs, from the basic physiological and psychological to those higher needs for fulfillment. These needs are satisfied in varying degrees by the social system (or the social delivery systems). There is no evidence that one type of social system performs better over all than any other. The components of the social system, the subsystems have a complex (and as yet poorly understood) interdependence and interaction, such that disruption of one subsystem is likely to produce (largely unforeseen) ramifications throughout the rest of the social system. Beyond the few basic physiological needs, economic activity satisfies few of the needs and many economic activities inhibit or even preclude many needs' satisfaction. And finally, any intervention which significantly disrupts the social system is likely to be counter-productive, as the reduced systemic performance generally negates the benefits derived from the intervention. For these reasons it is suggested there is little justification for social evangelism or mimicry and that disruptive strategies necessarily have anti-developmental consequences. Economic growth is neither costless nor priceless. The economic evaluations of the last two decades of 'development' efforts bear out this conclusion, that the development record for the Third World has been disappointing and less than adequate, and that the major cause was unanticipated societal repercussions. This appears to have been the case whether the strategies were explicitly disruptive or (as was more generally the case) inadvertently so. There are, however, other reasons for the poor record as well. The traditional 'barriers to development1, and numerous external or unalterable factors (comparative advantages, established markets, demand and supply limits, the 'development of underdevelopment') each contribute in varying degrees to circumscribe the economic growth potential of each country. These constraints further weaken the case for economic growth strategies that require easy access to open markets and to limited resources. It is recognized that a concerted effort is necessary to reduce these external barriers to economic growth, to more equitably distribute the world's resources and income. It is also necessary to develop, at this time, a developmental process that may be applied in any country, within these constraints. The process must seek to determine the level of social performance within the society, because every society has both strengths and weaknesses— and most have more strengths than weaknesses. It must involve the people in determining the level of performance and in defining their own social goals, because only they can legitimately do it and because the involvement is in itself developmental. The intervention must be designed to maintain the level of performance in non-target subsystems (minimize disruption) and it must be flexible, suitable for modification as problems arise. These objectives are facilitated by experiments small in scale and scope. Finally the process must include monitoring and evaluation, not only of the target subsystem, but of the whole social performance. This is necessary to permit adjustments to the strategy, to ensure there are no negative impacts in other institutions, and to improve our understanding of social system behavior, a prerequisite for more efficient development strategies.

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