Measuring Human Development

There is a disconnect between the peoples of the world.  The broad divisions we see in our world today is rooted in our own ability to conceptually discriminate and regard some people with warmth and others with fear, reservation, coldness and distance. The collective result of this learned personal trait is our contribution towards the society we live in. To correct this imbalance, we need means to characterize the imbalance, ways to measure it. A means of measuring human development is therefore vital.

Victims of the Past

Today, we are the latest incarnation of the entire evolution of the human species. Our societies bear the inescapable marks of the past which both limit and propel us into the future. Human physiological memory is both a gift and a curse. It makes communication and logical analysis possible at the same time that it keeps painful memories of the past alive and vital today. It is those very painful memories that contribute to keeping old wounds and conflict alive. It is the stories which our forefathers perpetuate within us, stories of self-righteousness and of entitlement that continue to keep that very pattern alive. We are continually creating the very misery we see around us and try to protect ourselves from.

Consider this gadanken, If the current participants of all the wars in the world today magically had their negative meme’s erased – concepts of hatred, enemy, retribution that had been passed down to them from enculturation, what impact would this have on our global society today?

Adults who have suffered severe abuse, such as the death of a loved one at the hands of an “enemy”, we may easily carry anger for a lifetime.  Carrying that anger, we may just as easily and unfairly  transfer our own personal wounds to our children.  Our stories educate our children, teaching them to hate a culture, an abstract quality. The end result is that a child may grow up hating a symbol but which becomes translated to a real, living, breathing human being. Through our stories of unhealed wounds, we unknowingly perpetuate the very cycle of pain that has caused us such harm. When one child is culturally indoctrinated into symbolic hatred, that child may grow up to kill another child. Then that begins the cycle anew. In this way, our ignorance perpetuates the pain. Many generations of children, killing each other due to reasons that have nothing to do with our own life.

If these dangerous memes could all be eradicated at once – perhaps by a pulse that would selectively wipe out these harmful memories, all violence and hatred based on age old war wounds would vanish.

Authentic Development Moving Forward

Today, as we move forward to create a better world, we must be aware of the powerful force of the past – these memes which continually goad us into differences and conflict. It is each our responsibility to be fully aware of how our minds operate on a basic psychological level so that we can truly act with freedom rather than as slaves to stories planted within us long ago.

Our human societies around the world have evolved from the complex social dynamics of our historical past to create the civilization of today, with warts and all. Our ancestors and ourselves have produced a society of extreme and growing inequity.  It is clear that if we are to correct the mistakes of the past and rebalance our societies and our planet, we need ways to measure the parameters of equity. One attempt to measure this and provide a variable to stimulate development from a human-centric perspective is the Human Development Indicator (HDI),  a composite index that had its origins in the UN document Human Development Report 1990.

Developed by the United Nations, it assigns one cumulative number to each country, a number based upon a host of variables such as:

  1. health
  2. education
  3. life expectancy
  4. living standard
  5. GDP



  • measured by:
    • mean of years of schooling for adults aged 25 years
    • expected years of schooling for children of school entering age
  • mean years of schooling is estimated based on educational attainment data from censuses and surveys available in the UNESCO Institute for Statistics database and Barro and Lee (2010) methodology
  • expected years of schooling estimates are based on enrollment by age at all levels of education and population of official school age for each level of education

Life expectancy at birth

  • calculated using a minimum value of 20 years and maximum value of 83.4 years
  • this is the observed maximum value of the indicators from the countries in the time series, 1980–2010
  • the longevity component for a country where life expectancy birth is 55 years would be 0.552.


  • minimum income is $100 (PPP)
  • the maximum is $107,721 (PPP), both estimated during the same period, 1980-2011.
  • the decent standard of living component is measured by GNI per capita (PPP$) instead of GDP per capita (PPP$)
  • the HDI uses the logarithm of income, to reflect the diminishing importance of income with increasing GNI
  • the scores for the three HDI dimension indices are then aggregated into a composite index using geometric mean.

Figure 1: Introduction to the UN Human Development Report. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.

This following interactive infographic graphically displays information from the HDR and allows the user to see how sustainability is inter-related to development by plotting different performance factors on different axis.

Figure 2: Sustainability and human development. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.

In the figure below, the interactive graphic has a suite of tools to help you uncover the information you’re interested in. You can map the data, create reports for specific countries, see how quickly the world is progressing, and more. The tool begins with general summaries to quickly give you a feel for the broader picture, but it then allows you to drill down into great specificity with the data.

Figure 3: Main indicators from UN HDR report. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive. For best performance, please use Google Chrome or Firefox; Internet Explorer is not supported at this time.

Some of the world’s most pressing problems can be traced to inequity between people, both in the present and over time. Long periods of inequity can lead to both social and environmental degradation. In its 2011 Human Development Report (HDR), the United Nations incisively examines some of the complex relationships between socioeconomic equity and environmental sustainability. This visualization shown in the figure below, created by members of the MIT Media Lab and The DuKode Studio, organizes some of the HDR’s summative indicators into network graphs to show how nations are multi-dimensionally linked.

Figure 4: Network linkages between countries from UN HDR report. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.

Human Development Index

Figure 5: HDI interactive graphic. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.

Voice of the Vulnerable

Alexander Muresan created the following interactive infographic to represent data gathered from interviews of the vulnerable. In her words:

In the – Country’s Economy vs Meeting your Household Needs – graphs, I showed also the relationships between those answers. This might give us a clue of the relevance of the answers, because those who answered that the economy is much worse but they do better at their household might have a reason not related to the global crises for doing better, or were too subjective.

The part about – Relevant things that people talk about – tries to capture the pulse of the surveyed people about dealing with the household problems and about their quality of life (I chose to treat these to questions together as the answers completed each other in very many cases, the quality of life is also explored further in the graphs below this section). Many answers contained information about more than one issue, therefore they were included in many circles.
The whole graph is not a breakdown of what % of the population thinks or does, it’s actually more similar to a word cloud, it’s an issue cloud. Also, I have included some issues that appeared only few times but I believe some of them are relevant and may give important clues about what the majority talked about, but didn’t mentioned it.

A special case it’s Ukraine, where about 2 thirds mentioned the word “Change” with different attitudes, (from No change, to a change is highly needed, a change is visible) and many more talked about it with other words. Only few said “A change of power” or a “Change of government”, “Justice for the people”, although few, I believe they are very relevant and give “Change” a political meaning besides the economical one.

In order to make the wordclouds about the future, I had grouped together similar words (like change and changing), treated as an expression groups of few words that had a meaning like that, and regarding the answers that were phrases with many words, I had included them in the one word that summed up best the phrase (not necessary written in the phrase, but had the meaning of the phrase). For example, in India, many people told what profession they want to have in future, I grouped them as “profession” so that their plans about careers would show up in the cloud.

Figure 6: Voice of the Vulnerable interactive infographic. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive. This visualization can be navigated via the vertical arrows (or vertical scroll) to view at first an overview of all the countries and then each country, one by one, OR, via the horizontal arrows (or horizontal scroll) to view a certain issue in all of the countries

Figure 7: The relationship between ustainability and equity interactive graphic. Click on the “play” button on the far left to make interactive.