Practical Research Methods for Human Development and Social Change: A Potential of Agents-based Collaborative Action Research

Kusago, Takayoshi (2016). 'Practical Research Methods for Human Development and Social Change: A Potential of Agents-based Collaborative Action Research' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Human development has paid close attention to the improvement of the multi­dimensional well­being of the people. Researchers have worked so hard to come up with new innovative concepts and theories and have sought for good practices in policy­making. Policy measures, like multi­dimensional poverty index and analysis, participatory budgeting method, social fund, and micro­credit scheme, have been applied by international development agencies and local governments in developing countries to solve a variety of development issues (income, education, health, gender, and environment). However, if we have looked at the present situation, it is hard to expect that bright future is coming shortly. Besides climate change, economic inequality has risen and reached one of the most devastating scales, and social stratification has become a norm and threat to social stability both in developed and developing countries. We need to contemplate for some effective way to improve the outcome of human development interventions. In particular, we have to think carefully how the innovative ideas and policy measures could be transformed into social change conducive to the higher well­being of the people. This challenge leads us to make efforts, on the ground, to search for practical methods to support the meaningful connection between development policy and outcome.
One explicit goal is to enhance overall well­being of the people. We cannot accomplish it without consideration of both individual and social aspects. Rather, examining the linkage between individual and society can be critical for establishing a process that generates a better outcome in human development. Regarding the process and change issues, HDCA has thematic groups such as Empowerment and Collective Capabilities and Participatory Methods. These groups have contributed in these regards by actively engaging discussions on participatory methods and applications. In fact, respecting people’s voices becomes a norm in the process of formulating development policies (for instance, World Bank’s study on “Voices of the Poor”). New development indicators use not only objective but subjective survey data, which helps to reflect people’s views and concerns into problem identification, policy formulation and program evaluation.
In the course of development, we have made emphasis on the importance of individual and society, which can be linked to Nussbaum's normative definitions on capabilities (Nussbaum 2000). According to Nussbaum, capabilities consist of three different notions: basic, internal and combined capabilities. From the human development perspective, it is important to reach out from basic to internal capabilities. Also, it is important to ensure social conditions allowing people to utilize fully own internal capabilities. Thus, both individual-­based and society­-based improvements are critical for social change and human development. The former can be viewed as motivational change and empowerment while the latter can be regarded as group dynamics among different stakeholders living in the same society. Participatory approaches are needed and necessary for human development; yet, we need to study further the process of participation from individual­-based intrinsic aspect to the stakeholder­-based inner element of development.
As for the stakeholders’element, Tsurumi (1986) proposed “endogenous development” model as an alternative to conventional modernization model driven by experts. Tsurumi views the importance of stakeholders’ engagement by showing concrete regional development cases from Japan, China, and Thailand. Her endogenous development model aims at the people concerned (not the outsiders or experts) acting for their own social development and change, which could be consistent with the human development and capability approach. What kind of practical methods can be helpful to realize intrinsic/endogenous sustainable human development? One promising style of research method is the “action research,” which was started in the 1930s in management science. Since then, it has been slowly developed and tested in the fields of management, education, social work, and health to bring out better outcome in business practice, health recovery, and schooling. Since the human development approach covers a range of domains required for comprehensive examination of people’s well­being, the action research method can be a useful research tool to drive social changes initiated by the actors’ involvement and interactions among the stakeholders (individual members of the society, government, business entities, etc.).
Thus, the proposed session will explore this question broadly from individual to collective endogenous perspectives based on four papers with intrinsic/endogenous aspects. We will discuss (1) the importance of actors (both personal and collective levels) in human development, (2) the needs of collaborative action research and research methods, and (3) the role of researchers in action research.
Nussbaum, M. (2000) Women and human development: the capabilities approach. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press
Tsurumi, K. (1996) Naihatsuteki hatten ron no tenkai [Study on Endogenous Development]. Tokyo: Chikumashobo. (In Japanese)

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