In this brief paper, a non-psychologist suggests the utility of collaborative research, using stage theories, on social problems. He proposes a study of national development strategy, using Singapore as an example of a state that succeeded in both economic and human development terms in a record short time. Developmental psychologists are invited to comment on the feasibility of the proposed investigative approach, and to suggest methodologies for measuring collective developmental stages over time.   


Beit Eddine Lebanon '72


          I write as an outsider to the human development psychology field, an admiring and somewhat frustrated outsider. During a long career in international development, I found that human development psychology, especially stage theories, helped to explain many otherwise puzzling observations. The extraordinary cultural distance between highly educated Asians, Arabs, and Africans, and their less fortunate kinsmen, for example, attests not only to the transformation of individuals that occurs in the development process, but also to the rapidity with which the transformation can occur under favorable conditions. 

          Yet one has the feeling that developmental psychology has yet to contribute the significant insights to the resolution of social, economic and political problems of which it is capable. Stage theory can supply a missing dimension to problem analysis, without which conventional analyses frequently yield inadequate solutions -- yet it is seldom employed by those grappling with social problems. By now, it seems to me, advanced societies should be formulating the policies and seeking the organizational patterns that could best facilitate the psychological growth of participants. Instead, we often donít even recognize transformative settings where they exist. 

          In the Sudan, for example, an irrigation scheme called the Gezeira, launched by the British between the two Niles, succeeded as intended in producing the cotton needed to cover the foreign exchange costs of the colonial government. Even more remarkable, but less noted, was the fact that the semi-nomadic population brought in and settled on the Scheme produced half the student body of the University College, Khartoum, after only two generations as farmers. They had become wealthy in local terms when they were selected to participate in the Gezeira, but soon coming to understand that irrigation is a repressive livelihood, they undertook to ensure that their progeny had a chance for a better life. This, to me, indicates that significant human development had occurred in the Gezeira, yet it was not valued by conventional accounting methods. 

          Also in the Sudan, the lasting impact made upon Sudanese students attending a junior secondary teacher training school at Bakht-er-Ruda, a hundred miles up the Nile from Khartoum, was detectable thirty years later when the graduates were senior figures in Government and other organizations. Something happened to those boys, shielded from the bright lights of Khartoum and subjected to Outward Bound-type character building, which set them apart from their cohort all through their lives. And they knew it. A group of them asked the Ford Foundation for funds to re-establish Bakht-er-Ruda, but with Sudanese values. As the Foundationís representative, after visiting the site, I declined the request, to my lasting regret. Although interested at the time in the work of Kohlberg and Loevinger, I responded to the request in a conventional way. 

          These and other examples led me to resume reading in the area of human development psychology after I retired. Twenty years ago, when the Ford Foundation sent me to Harvard for a year, I had begun reading in the field. Between then and now the field has made substantial theoretical advances, particularly in the area of adult development, but seems to have done so at the expense of application. Perhaps from the absence of research funding, or possibly because of the tendency of each scholar to work out her or his own stage theory, the expansion of knowledge seems to have had little impact on the world of affairs. True, Keganís work helps to explain why the complexity of modern life leaves so many in our population on the sidelines (Kegan 1995), but the pioneering work of Alex Inkeles in exploring the changes of values, attitudes and beliefs brought about by modernization seems to have disappeared without succession. (Inkeles and Smith 1974) 

          Conventional analyses leading to interventions on social issues, domestic and foreign, have often had disappointing results. Human development psychology may very well be the missing ingredient in current analytical methods. By assuming a false homogeneity among people inter-culturally and within a single culture group, interventions often fail to produce the intended outcomes. In order to see how a human development perspective might be applied, I have done two preliminary papers, one (Nelson 1997) on three cases where authors sought to apply human development concepts in their fields (management (Fisher and Torbert 1995), faith (Fowler 1976), and education (Kohlberg 1984)). The second (Nelson 1998) is a critique from a human development perspective of Professor Samuel Huntingtonís book The Clash of Civilizations (Huntington 1996). The human development perspective leads one to conclusions differing not only from Huntingtonís, but also from his many critics, writing in Foreign Affairs (Huntington, Ajami et al. 1996). 

          These exercises convince me that the surface has scarcely been scratched of opportunities for applying developmental psychology to other fields. Each of you must daily have the feeling that if politicians and policy-makers understood basic developmental principles better, they would make different and more effective decisions. What a difference it would make if elementary developmental concepts were as great a part of our conventional wisdom as elementary economic concepts are currently.  

          The exercises also make me aware, however, that an amateur like myself, and like the authors of some of the books seeking to apply developmental theory to faith and management issues, are unlikely to get beyond the shallow waters of the field without a full immersion in the literature. At the same time it is unlikely that many professionals and scholars in other fields will deviate sufficiently from their principal pursuits to grasp and use the theories of your field. Most of us have become acquainted with the Piaget theories pertaining to childhood and adolescence, and take comfort in leaving applications to mommies, nannies and school teachers. 

          In short, the dissemination of knowledge of human development theory, and its application to problems of social and global importance, must arise from within your field. It is time for SRAD members to reach out to other disciplines and professions, seeking collaborative relationships with other researchers in order to break new sod in the application of developmental theory. Foundations need to be encouraged or entreated to fund collaborative interdisciplinary research projects designed to use for social purposes what is known only to you, the developmental elite. 

          To illustrate the kind of collaborative approach I am suggesting, I put forth below the gist of a grant application I recently submitted to a major foundation. In doing so, I hope to elicit comments and suggestions from SRAD members about the feasibility of the approach and about methodology. 


          In the research for which I requested funding, I hope to demonstrate that a nation that consistently favors education and training, and thus human development, can achieve its development objectives faster than others, even those with more abundant resource endowments. By development objectives I mean elevated income levels, improved health and education status, increased longevity, lower fertility rates, and a concern for environmental quality. 

            The project will have primary and secondary objectives. The primary ones are to define an improved development strategy in which a higher than usual value is placed upon human development, and to suggest why global efforts to assist nations to develop in this way deserve high priority. 

          An improved development strategy is needed because of the environmental consequences of current practices. If the countries that remain poor, especially China and India, develop through industrialization, with lagging education and training, as most successful countries have done, the burden of increased population and environmental deterioration on our planet will be enormous. Economic growth cannot be ignored, of course, but a growth pattern emphasizing human development measures could, I believe, achieve lower fertility and greater environmental concern among a population much earlier than would be the case from the more traditional pattern. In countries the size of China and India, choice of development paths can have major consequences for the rest of the world, including the United States. 

          Singapore, fortunately, provides a successful model, albeit on a small scale, of extraordinary economic growth and rapidly-rising educational and health status indicators in the population. Its usefulness as a model is enhanced by the pluralism of its population: more than half are of Chinese origin, but sizable fractions of the remainder are of Malay and Indian extraction. It was the first country in Southeast Asia to adopt a family planning program, and fertility dropped so rapidly that the Singapore Government is now pro-natalist. (This is not to say that the family planning program in itself led to the decline in fertility; increasing incomes and educational status doubtless had much to do with it.) 

          Environmentally, Singapore is one of the neatest and cleanest cities of its size in the world. True, this has much to do with the paternalistic policies of the Government, but evidence of the environmental concerns of the people will be sought in the study. The authoritarian style of the Government may make the choice of that country as a model problematical for some people. I would concur with the opinion that the current level of government control is unnecessary, perhaps even repressive, given the level of maturity of its people, and I will of course cite whatever evidence of this I find in the course of the study. 

          An important element in the development model I am seeking is the parallel between levels of human development and levels of organizational development and governmental organization. That is to say that as the modal level of individuals participating in organizations or societies increases, decision-making devolves downward in the case of organizations, and societies become more democratic, or at least they should for optimal effectiveness. The notion of a parallel structure ideally existing between modal human development and organization is not commonly found in social science literature, although authors like Ken Wilber (Wilber 1995) and Dalmar Fisher and William Torbert (Fisher and Torbert 1995) have dealt with it to some extent. The implications of this concept for the proposed study are that we should not be quick to apply our own standards of democracy and rights to other societies and cultures without understanding their circumstances. For much of Singaporeís history, a firm hand on the tiller may have been quite efficacious, even if the firmness should now be relaxed. 

          The secondary objective of the project will be to demonstrate the utility of the human development perspective in analyzing social issues. Human development psychology focuses of course on the individual, and our intellectual tools for moving between the individual and the collective are not strong. Nevertheless, an awareness of individual developmental stages in an historical context can be very helpful in understanding todayís problems. 

          Few of us recall how recent a notion it is that all societies can achieve a fully mature level of civility, education, income and appreciation of environmental quality. Indeed, some may still not be persuaded, but since the Second World War, international organizations, and most importantly the United States, have acted upon the assumption that all societies can achieve an advanced technological and civic level if they have the will and the opportunity to do so. In historical terms, this is a very fresh idea indeed. But the same egalitarian impulses that led us to conclude that universal development is possible seem to have precluded us from carefully examining what it takes at the individual and the institutional level to bring it about. 

          Abraham Maslow (Maslow 1954; Maslow 1971) pointed out that individuals can and do improve; and that societies can and do improve. These seemingly obvious observations point to the need to bring all the knowledge we can muster to bear on the issues of how and why such improvement can be consciously brought about. Singapore, whatever its failings, has brought its people to a high level of consciousness, education and productivity in a remarkably short time. As a species we need to understand how this can be accomplished, because the shorter the transition between traditional high fertility / high mortality societies to low fertility / low mortality societies, the lower the level at which the global population will level off. 

          If, as I seek to demonstrate in the case of Singapore, a policy framework conducive to the improvement of an entire population can be designed and implemented without the egregious use of repressive power by the authorities, it may be possible to design measures for enhancing the development of lagging populations in societies such as our own, where the gap between bottom and top income and social strata seems to be widening. A human development perspective could lead to a very different set of interventions than those normally proposed on the basis of conventional analysis. 


          I intend to use the broad concepts of human development psychology, not the measurement devices it has produced, in my study. Measurement techniques, such as Loevingerís sentence completion exercise (Loevinger 1976), are the means of refining theory and delving more deeply into the particulars of an individualís development. My purpose is to broaden the utility of human development psychology at the collective level, not to deepen its understanding at the individual level. 

          Consequently, I intend to study the policies of the Singapore state as they have affected the development of its people. Education and training policies will be a central focus. I will also examine minimum-wage legislation and other economic policies. Singapore made clever use of the minimum wage by raising it whenever the economy approached full employment. This ensured that the industries initially attracted to Singapore by cheap labor would be forced to relocate if they could not raise the productivity and wages of their workers. This systematic ratcheting upward of the minimum wage meant that the technology employed in production was constantly becoming more advanced. This in turn created a challenging environment in the workplace, which encouraged and rewarded more and more skilled employees. Singaporeís policy objectives may have been largely in the economic sphere, but whatever the motivation, they seem to have had the effect of raising the modal developmental stage of the people of Singapore, in turn producing drastically lowered fertility rates and a highly desirable environment. 

          The analysis of policies promoting education and training presents no unusual problems, but assigning human development outcomes to them is a stretch. I suspect the correlation of fertility with stage of development would be possible, although I havenít seen it done. Other attributes one would like to associate with higher development stages include prominently environmental awareness. Even measuring environmental awareness presents methodological problems, to say nothing of correlating it to stage of development. 

          Yet the attempt to make these associations seems to me worth the effort. If a more earth-friendly economic and social development path could be found, especially one that appealed to the Chinese, the earth could be spared one or two billion unwanted births. 

          Here, then, is the problem. Does the developmental psychology field have methodologies that can help me with it? 


Fisher, D. and W. R. Torbert (1995). Personal and Organizational Transformations: the true challenge of continual quality improvement. New York, McGraw-Hill. 

Fowler, J. W. (1976). Stages of Faith: the psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. San Francisco, Harper.       

Huntington, S. P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York, Touchstone.       

Huntington, S. P., F. Ajami, et al. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate. New York, Foreign Affairs.       

Inkeles, A. and D. Smith (1974). Becoming Modern: Individual change in six developing countries. Cambridge, Harvard.       

Kegan, R. (1995). In Over Our Heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, Harvard.       

Kohlberg, L. (1984). Essays on Moral Development: The Psychology of Moral Development. San Francisco, Harper & Row.       

Loevinger, J. (1976). Ego Development. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.       

Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and Personality. New York, Harper & Row.       

Maslow, A. (1971). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York, Penguin.       

Nelson, C. (1997). Human Development Theory Applications. Wells, The Fielding Institute.      

Nelson, C. (1998). Progress and Global Politics. Wells, The Fielding Institute.       

Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The spirit of evolution. Boston, Shambhala.

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