January 09, 2015 | Ram Poudel

Social Science | Development

Many scholars and institutions have made attempts to answer this overarching question: How do we measure development? What does it mean for a country or a society to be considered developed? Conventional approaches used to classify societies based on their Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, or GINI coefficients fail to  answering the question, though these measures provide  some insights into the  comparative development  of different societies, one way or another. Societies with a comparable GNI or GINI may significantly differ from each other in regards to other indices of overall development, such as the Human Development Index (HDI) or the Energy Development Index (EDI).  A consensus has yet to be built on global quantitative measurements of development.  What is missing is a scientific foundation and framework for measuring overall development, the Development Metrology, proposed here.


Science has long made contributions to human development. Very recently, multi-lateral organizations have focused on behavioral science in their models of understanding development. Gradually, science has been sought out and is making an impact on policy formulation, including mainstream development policies. According to the World Development Report 2015, development economics and policy are due for a redesign following new insights in behavioral economics. This is a favorable shift in economic ideas that is in line with Development Metrology. The conventional piecemeal approach of addressing social issues with an economic lens has resulted in many divisions among economic scholars. The economics of development can only be revamped via a foundation of a science that economists have long been attempting to implement, since the era of William Jevons (1835 –1882) who introduced mathematical methods in economics.


The Social Field Theory (SFT) serves as the missing foundation in our understanding of development, as evidenced by the many social dynamics it has helped explain (Poudel, et al. 2014).  The Social Field Theory preserves an understanding of the uniqueness of an individual at the same time it captures the general patterns of a society. The theory is in line with the ideas of Kurt Lewin (1946:338): “to understand or to predict behaviour, the person and his environment have to be considered as one constellation of interdependent factors.” The SFT has been able to successfully quantify the means of production between Capital and Capabilities and Absolute Poverty. In the process, it has also redefined our understanding of business cycle expansion and contraction. An extension of SFT in regards to economic growth and development is under review in the American Economic Review.  The figure below from the same paper presents a glimpse of the integration concept, where FC1 and FC2 are the force/energy of Capitalism and Capabilities respectively; Po is the Absolute Poverty, and q is the measure of inequality in a society. The full paper is included under e4CDp: Publications.



Not all aspects of a society may be measured precisely. Albeit, this does not imply we should not aspire for it. Our society reveres the use of numbers as it relates to qualitative perception. Physicians in western society have championed numbers even to quantify pain (The one-to-ten scale of pain). Most importantly, assigning a number value to a parameter of interest provides us an opportunity to measure and control it. After all, it’s well understood that we achieve what we measure. The measurements made by SFT will provide policymakers with the data needed for informed decision making. Furthermore, the efficacy of interventions in development, local or international, may be measured by the metrics provided by SFT. Assigning a number(s) to the development of a society can elicit a better strategy and standardization for interventions by governments and multilateral organizations mobilizing Official Development Assistance (ODA) or other foreign aids.


The Social Field Theory developed at the University of Massachusetts promises to serve as a framework for the quantitative measurement that is missing in the scholarship. The Economic Temperature (S/r) defines magnitude, whereas the Economic Entropy (dSI/S) defines a direction of development. These terms are utilized in the Social Field Theory in order to define the function of social strength (S), individual strength (I) and the trust vector (r). These terms are yet to be quantified using their proper, more complex, system of units.  Currently they are expressed in their natural units. SFT looks at human psychology in a pragmatic way – with all these components intermingling – and tries to quantify the results of the interactions, as well or as scientifically possible.