Project Management


Entries in human development report (2)


Getting Read Matters: International Development Publications | 11 June 2016



As the Internet has grown, those working in development have responded in kind by broadening access to what they write: publishing online is now routine. There are many platforms out there encouraging transparent publishing -,,,,, etc. - making it easy to share.

For decades, international development organizations have run vast publishing and research programmes. But prior to the Internet, it was just not possible to access this material and the knowledge and data within without a trip to the library or a UN HQ. The Internet has made it much easier to find out what is out there but there is still the thorny issue of "is anyone reading this stuff?". One survey unearthed a problem: many publications were being read by a very small audience, or nobody at all.

A survey in 2014 of the World Bank's publications, for example, produced a shocking result: it found a third of their publications are never downloaded, 40 per cent were downloaded just 100 times, and only 13 per cent were downloaded more than 250 times in their lifetime (The Washington Post). As The Washington Post pointed out, these are publicly funded publications with the intention of contributing to policy debates and providing solutions to the world's problems. So, if nobody is reading them, or just a handful are, that actually does matter if you care about positive change in the world.

We pride ourselves on creating publications that actually get read. It is risky: when you inspire people, they may just act on what you write. The gatekeepers of development knowledge have developed many ways to uninspire people: they bury documents in jargon and obfuscation, they don't bother telling anyone about a publication, they charge people who can least afford to pay for the publication first-world, dollar prices. Or, as has happened more and more these days, they contact Google to try and get publications obliterated from search engines, so nobody can find them in the first place.

We draw on experience gleaned from working with complex organizations staffed by highly educated people doing complicated things. This has included working on the UN's communications during a severe crisis in late 1990s Mongolia, transforming online access to child health resources for the UK's NHS, and championing innovation across the global South.

The Scribd platform is used by many public bodies to archive documents. It is as good a place as any to make a comparison. So, how do our various resources compare when it comes to communicating on the topics of innovation/innovators, human development and the global South?

How has Southern Innovator's first five issues faired on Scribd?:

And if we search using the words 'global South innovator', we can compare Southern Innovator with other publications and see how many views each has had:

In 1997 I worked as the Managing Editor for the first Mongolian Human Development Report while serving as Head of Communications for the UN in Mongolia. Read more about this project here: It still attracts readers all these years later.


Southern Innovator has become one of the most viewed resources on Scribd for UNDP and innovators, human development and innovators, and global South and innovators.

Southern Innovator Impact Summary 1:

Southern Innovator Impact Summary 2:






You Heard It Here First: Influencing Perspectives on the Global South | 24 June 2014



In 2013, UNDP launched its yearly global human development report ( The theme was the “Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World”. For those who have been following our e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, or, been reading our magazine Southern Innovator, this will not come as a surprise. Both the e-newsletter and the magazine have consistently championed a new perspective on the global South and have shown through solid evidence that a fundamental shift is underway in the world. Both publications have been influential in shifting perspectives and priorities, and most importantly, in drawing attention to the plentiful abundance of innovators: all part of a global innovation culture. As can be seen below, the seeds of the HDR can be found in the first issue of Southern Innovator, launched in 2011.

The cover for the 2013 Global Human Development Report and its theme “The Rise of the South”.

SI Prototypes

In 1997, I was the Managing Editor for Mongolia’s first national human development report. The challenge was to deliver a report that reflected the new thinking on poverty expressed in the 1997 global human development report – that it was possible to apply human know-how to eradicate poverty within a generation – and to communicate the story of Mongolia’s turbulent transition years in a way that placed the people at the centre of the narrative, and to do it during a major economic crisis. The team decided to take a sharply different approach to the design of the report, placing the photograph of a child on the cover and using children’s illustrations throughout the report. It showed that human development is not just a series of charts and statistics, but is about making life better for the country’s large youth population. The cover also had a minor adjustment to how the title is presented, discarding the staccato breaking up of the words human and development, to run them side by side as “Human Development”. A subtle change but one that was picked up by the global human development report in its future editions. The report also chose to use its design and printing as a spur to improve the publishing industry in Mongolia. Devastated by the economic crisis, the domestic printing companies lacked the resources and skills to publish to modern standards. Working with a Mongolian publishing company, the large print run of the report (20,000 copies) was able to transform the company’s fortunes, enabling them to purchase new computers and equipment.

Human Development Report Mongolia 1997.
Human Development Report 1997 The 1997 global human development report and the 2013 human development report.




© David South Consulting 2017