It has been 30 years since the first Human Development Report was published in 1990, and since that time, our world has changed considerably. Current and impending crises in ecological, health, political, and economic systems have become evident.

It’s time to rearticulate Human Development for the 21st century. The ISC and the United Nations Development Programme invite you to explore these issues and contribute to this new thinking.

Since its introduction, the Human Development Report (HDR) has been influential in broadening the scope of the concept of development by pointing decision makers to the multi-dimensional nature of development.

Fundamental shifts are now taking place in how we understand ourselves and our connections to local and global societies in the light of new technologies, socio-political realities and deep environmental changes.

In 2020 the ISC is partnering with UNDP to start a global discussion on Rethinking Human Development, gathering voices from across the world to answer some of the following questions: 

  1. How could we rethink our conceptual understanding of human development?
  2. What are the major emerging challenges to human centred development in the world today?
  3. How can the human development approach inform public debates and decision makers about current and future challenges?
  4. What would be a meaningful and useful definition of human development – for our changing world – according to you?

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Navigating this project:


The project’s Steering Committee has written an introduction to Rethinking Human Development, looking at how previous reports have explored dimensions around human security, inequality, human rights, capabilities, gender, peace, environmental challenges and many other topics. The Committee argues that while the Sustainable Development Goals reflect the recognition of the increased complexity and interconnections of our society, they do not specify pathways or approaches to achieve the goals. This is the challenge we are being set in Rethinking Human Development. Read the introduction here.

Mapping Emerging Dimensions: A proposal for discussion

To assist in answering the three questions above, we will be speaking to a broad group of experts and creative thinkers from different fields that represent a range of perspectives. To guide the discussion, the Committee has mapped six emerging dimensions of human development that respond to the global challenges humanity faces today:

  • Environmental Changes and Sustainability
  • Collective and Relational Dimensions
  • Human Well-being and Personal Development
  • The Digital Transformation
  • Local Specificities
  • Global Interdependencies

Explore the six dimensions here. The Committee stresses that these are not meant to be exhaustive, but offer a point of guidance for the discussion. Contributors may wish to suggest further dimensions, or wish to discuss how these dimensions interact with each other.

Responses to the Global Call

  1. As a first response to the Rethinking Human Development project, Ismail Serageldin, ISC Patron and Founding Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, has written a Think Piece, Reflections on Constructing a Human-Centered Development Paradigm.
  2. Steering Committee members, Peter Gluckman, ISC President-elect, and Elisa Reis, ISC Vice President, have responded to Serageldin’s piece, taking into consideration the six emerging dimensions posed by the Steering Committee.
  3. The ISC has invited the human development community to consider the emerging six dimensions, along with the think piece and its responses, by contributing their knowledge to the discussion.
  4. A global call went out to the scientific community to include the voices of science from all disciplines. Read the responses.

The second phase, starting July 2020, will include the development of a webpage and a report on rethinking human development. It will be delivered to the United Nations Secretary General during the General Assembly in September 2020.

Rethinking Human Development is a joint initiative by the United Nations Development Programme and the International Science Council, and is overseen by a Steering Committee of experts.

The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout these webpages do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the ISC or UNDP concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. Each author or interviewee is responsible for the facts contained in his/her article and the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of the ISC or the UNDP and do not commit these organizations.