1.1 Select a Theme

A national or regional HDR should pioneer a theme that is vital, strategic and timely in terms of addressing pressing current national or regional development needs. Such a theme will spark substantial attention and public discussion, and the HDR will have more occasion to foster awareness, exert influence and have an impact and give life to the message of human development. According to this message, economic growth, enhanced trade and investment, and technological advances are means, not ends of development. The building of human capabilities to help people lead productive, meaningful lives is a more fundamental goal. Indeed, in a sense, the principal theme of an HDR is human development: the process of enlarging people’s choices by expanding their ability to remain healthy, become educated, gain knowledge, enjoy decent standards of living, participate actively in community life and be creative in an environment of dignity and freedom.

The theme should be amenable to analysis that highlights the advantages of the human development approach to national and regional problems. Issues of gender, the environment, and human security, for example, cut across many development areas and may provide new avenues for the comprehensive application of development policies. In many countries and regions, the search for ways to reduce perennial barriers to social or economic development can benefit from this approach when it is well supported by new data and research. At the regional level, the case of the 2008 HDR in Asia and the Pacific on corruption is revealing.
The selection of the specific theme may involve one or more of the following approaches:

  1. Undertake a thorough survey of previous global HDRs, HDRs in the local region or other regions, and national or district HDRs.
    Examine the possible application and impact of these reports at the national or regional level. The survey might be used as guidance in the selection and elaboration of the specific theme.
  2. Carry out an exhaustive review of current development strategies and policies.
    The theme should be sufficiently robust to help formulate sound policy recommendations to deal with deep-rooted, long-standing development problems of national or regional interest. Development problems are likely to be persistent because past and current policies have not addressed them adequately. One frequent failure is a focus on the resolution of development issues principally through macroeconomic policies without due regard for human development. One aim of the report is to influence policy makers to adopt the human development approach.
  3. Implement a consultative process among human development actors to winnow down possible HDR themes.
    The process should include the UNDP Country Office, Regional Bureau, or Regional Centre. as well as consultation with the government. The theme should reflect the country’s or region’s particular development aspirations. The consultation process should therefore involve meetings with policy makers and other key stakeholders and partners to debate and articulate critical national and regional development priorities and sensitive development issues facing the country or region.
  4. Once a specific HDR theme has been tentatively determined, prepare a concept note to focus consultations.
    The concept note should center on issues of national or regional human development associated with the theme and practical and theoretical justifications for the selection of the theme, including the availability of appropriate data, the ability to collect new and meaningful data quickly to support findings and recommendations, and the wide interest of stakeholders and funders. It should include a work plan.
    While theme selection for a national HDR is a prerogative of the UNDP Country Office and national partners, it is advisable to inform the relevant Regional Bureau and the Human Development Report Office on proposed themes at the beginning of an HDR process through the concept note. The selected theme and the HDR process should also be endorsed by key UNDP counterparts in local academic institutions, civil society and government, including national statistics agencies. Likewise, discuss the concept note with other United Nations organizations, local community leaders and other stakeholders across all segments of the population to gauge the views of these partners. The engagement of all these partners will be critical in the production of the report and in the subsequent advocacy initiatives.
  5. 6. Announce the selected theme at a public event designed to draw attention to the significance of the theme to national or regional human development needs. Consider the announcement as a chance to solicit participation, begin advocacy and encourage funding. Invite major stakeholders, potential funders, relevant representatives at various levels of government and civil society, and the media.
  6. 7. The presentation of these initiatives in figure 2 is schematic and relates only to the selection of the theme. Undoubtedly, it will also be necessary to initiate outreach, begin mobilizing resources and form parts of the national or regional report team and other HDR support structures even as the theme is being selected.