All posts by Brendan Rigby

Brendan is an education and development specialist. Most recently, he was an Education Officer with UNICEF in Tamale, Ghana. This year, Brendan is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education studying the literacy practices of out-of-school children in Ghana and Myanmar. He is obsessed with tea, American football and karaoke.

The Real World: Developing countries

“This is the true story… of eight development goals… picked to improve people’s lives…work together and have their indicators measured… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real…The Real World.”

The Real World, MTV’s longest-running series, has 30 seasons and 570+ episodes. Starting in 1992, each season picks seven or eight people in their mid-20s to live together, usually in a major U.S city. Their lives are filmed, documented, edited and packaged into 52-minute episodes (excluding ads). It used to be celebrated for tackling taboo issues of the 90s such as sexuality and racism. It was a cultural phenomenon – groundbreaking in its format, style and substance.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)  include eight goals and 21 targets. Starting in 2000, each goal was meant to bring focus, funding and commitment to some of global development’s many challenges. These included reductions in poverty and improvements in primary education, maternal health and gender equality. Reviews on progress, fitness for purpose and methodology are mixed.

“The MDGs were hijacked at an early stage. A set of global development indicators initially intended simply to monitor progress rapidly acquired firm numerical targets, which were then wrongly used to judge government policy country by country and finally became a guide to disbursing development aid.” – Alan Beattie

The current draft from the Open Working Group proposal for the Sustainable Development Goals imagines 17 goals and 169 targets. Chris Blattman, on the other hand, suggests an alternative group of indicators – the Real World Development Indicators (RWDI). The folks at AidLeap also published an alternative development indicator list in 2014.

Like any global goals, the RWDIs need to be categorised under key and emerging themes, which I’ve taken the liberty of doing. These include some posted on Blattman’s blog and AidLeap, as well as some contributions of my own.

When goals and targets stop being polite and start getting real.

Infrastructure, roads & transport

  • Number of buildings that are taller than United Nations or government buildings
  • Number of wrecked airplanes near the runway of the main airport
  • Proportion of major roads named after business, social or religious leaders not affiliated with the government
  • Proportion of vehicles in daily use in a state of disrepair
  • Proportion of working traffic lights outside the capital city
  • Significance of driving or motor boat licences
  • Proportion of structures built with corrugated iron sheets
  • Prevalence of rubbish on the streets
  • Number of passengers allowed in one taxi
  • Number of people/animals on one motorbike

Government & public policy

  • Proportion of political leaders younger than the average life expectancy
  • Probability the President/Prime Minister seeks medical treatment in their own country
  • Number of government officials who give foreign experts a “Who the hell are you?”
  • Size of the President’s/Prime Minister’s portrait in government buildings and schools

Tourism, lifestyle & well-being

  • Proportion of resort vacationers from that or neighbouring countries
  • Number of shopping malls per capita
  • Number of attendees invited to a wedding
  • Percentage of subjects who refuse to answer your survey because they are too busy
  • Number of people who take pictures of you
  • Access to national embassies and embassy staff

Higher education & migration

  • Percent of undergraduate students taking a major other than development studies
  • Number of children of heads of state of other countries who choose to attend university there
  • Proportion of the workforce educated abroad
  • Proportion of foreigners self-identifying as “expats” vs. “immigrants”

Business, NGOs & jobs

  • Percent of young people who prefer to start a business rather than work for an NGO
  • Number of people employed to formally and informally collect and sort rubbish
  • Number of NGO t-shirts worn by sample population
  • Likelihood that a local business has a street address

Although humour is perhaps intended, there is an underlying seriousness we should consider with the RWDIs. The concept goes to the core of the question we all keep coming back to without being able to sufficiently answer: what is development? The MDGs and draft SDGs represent one version of development realities, and the RWDIs another.

Featured image shows the skyline of Kampala, Uganda. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.