Understanding development

In this series of short videos Dr Duncan Green explores the measurement and classification of poverty. Traditionally poverty has simply been measured through economic methods, however, in these videos Duncan argues that it is not just economical and explores other poverty indicators.

About the presenter

Dr. Duncan Green is a Senior Strategic Advisor for Oxfam GB, and is also currently a visiting fellow of the University of Sussex. He has written several books on the topic of development, including From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States can Change the World. His blog can be found at oxfamblogs.org/fp2p Follow him on Twitter at @fp2p.

Supporting Questions

  1. What is the difference between relative and absolute poverty?
  2. What are the common sources of anxiety of poverty?
  3. How does the definition of poverty vary across the globe, from the UK to sub-Saharan Africa? What are the similarities and differences between poverty in these areas?
  4. How is the approach to aid and development changing with systems thinking?

Changes in the way we understand development

The global system and development

Running the aid business


  • over the past few decades there has been a focus on getting people above the 'poverty line', which is simply an economic indicator
  • this fails to consider more complicated factors, like the burden of anxiety caused by being relatively poorer than the people around you
  • the 'development business' has for a long time focused on community projects and initiatives, but this level of planning is hard to achieve in an unpredictable world.

Accompanying resources

Related videos

Journal articles and books

Decentralising Development in South Africa

This paper explores how top down development is being challenged in South Africa. However, fostering grassroots development has also proved hard to implement. This allows to build on the discussion of the video, and to discuss the difficulties of global development and aid.

Nel, E. and T. Binns. 2003. Decentralising Development in South Africa. Geography 88(2):108-116.

For Richer for Poorer? A study of uneven development – Paula Cooper

A GCSE teachers’ toolkit which cover many topic on development, including lessons on 'What is the evidence for uneven development?', and 'Why does uneven development exist today'

Shop link

Live Below the Line UK

An exploration of the idea of 'Living below the Line' can begin a discussion about global poverty.


Global Learning Programme

Supports teachers to help pupils learn about the challenges our world faces and think critically about how to deal with issues such as poverty, inequality and sustainability. It helps pupils to make sense of the world in which they live and to understand their role within a global society.


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