To design and decide interventions, stakeholders and development practitioners (as hired or employed by institutions, governments, economic operators, companies and persons) need high-quality insight in the constraints that affect their and others' situation and share in development initiatives.

The decision frame (in Entity dictionary) provides a context in which also decision constraints are at work.

Sustainable development is constrained by what is accessible. In his famous report to the Balaton Group, Hartmut Bossel [1] identified several families of constraints that constrain development.

Constraint Families

Laws of Nature & Rules of Logic

Constraints of physical conditions and laws of nature imply that not everything is possible.

c1: Laws of nature, rules of logic and permissible physical processes.

c2: Conditions of the global environment also constrain development: available space;
waste absorption capacity of soils, rivers, oceans, atmosphere; availability of
renewable and non-renewable resources; soil fertility and climate. These constraints could be state limitations and rate limitations.

c3: Solar energy flows and material resource stocks.

c4: Carrying Capacity: the number of organisms of a given species that can be supported by the region, given its (biomass) productivity and the demands of its organisms.

Human Nature and Goals

Constraints of human nature and human goals imply that not everything is desirable.

c5: States (in the accessibility space) must be mentally and intellectually accessible for human actors. A closed cultural environment may restrict humans to act in narrowly confined ways.

c6: Human organizations, cultural and political systems, available and possible technology and its systems, with their implications for behaviour and the acceptance of change.

c7: The ethical standards, or other behavioural or cultural values and norms of a given society will not tolerate everything that is mentally and intellectually accessible.

Constraints of Time

Constraints of time: dynamics and evolution determine pace and direction

c8: The characteristic time constants of essential processes, i.e., their characteristic rates or speeds, pose restrictions on what can be done, and how quickly or slowly things can be changed. When the ratio of rates of threat to rates of response is high, then viability and sustainability are at risk.

c9: The available spectrum of diversity. Diversity ( a wide possible spectrum of adaptive responses) allows timely adaptation by offering options, some of which may turn out to be better suited to cope with present conditions than others.

Dictionary Focus

The focus is on supply-side constraints, including norms of behaviour, and their combined impact for stakeholders in development situations. In Garcia (2008) [2] the relevant constraints are called: …multi-faceted supply-side constraints such as policy barriers, poor infrastructure, limited access to finance and technology, etc.

Because it is usually unrealistic to address all needs and required reforms and changes simultaneously, good prioritisation is a critical step in designing development interventions.

Garcia (2008) [2] lists these prioritisation approaches to identify major bottlenecks in an economy's interface with international trade:

  • Asking the constrained - by having a dialogue involving the stakeholders;
  • Cross-country comparisons based on economic literature findings concerning the determinants of trade growth and on benchmarking exercises such as the Costs of Doing Business or other available indicators on competitiveness, investment climate or logistics;
  • Analysis of economic fundamentals and sectoral economic expertise.

The focus on knowledge commons enabling sustainable development suggests these generalizations of those approaches that must be supported by the dictionary:

  • Constraints faced by smallholders: The interest in an eco-system is related to the system's capability to create outcomes (value) for its dwellers and other stakeholders. In the sustainable livelihoods framework several kinds of capital assets have been articulated. Smallholders' perception of constraints with respect to these capital assets are included in the dictionary.
  • Constraints regarding the determinants of sustainable development: In this area our focus will be on the constraints related to the material order (Entity Dictionary page) (c1, c2, c3, c4, and c8).
  • Constraints to Competitiveness & Innovation: The World Economic Forum publishes every year a Global Competitiveness Report, with the 2009-2010 version (at Scribd) the most recent one. In these reports the determinants (components) of competitiveness are grouped into 12 pillars: (i) Institutions; (ii) Infrastructure; (iii) Macroeconomic stability; (iv) Health and primary education; (v) Higher education and training; (vi) Goods market efficiency; (vii) Labor market efficiency; (viii) Financial market sophistication; (ix) Technological readiness; (x) Market size; (xi) Business sophistication; and (xii) Innovation. Low scores for these pillars implies constraints for development. These constraints are those of the social order and the techno order (Entity Dictionary pages) (c5, c6, c7, and c9).

Integrated Frameworks: how is Trade Expansion related to breaking constraints?

In the context of the Integrated Framework (Actor Atlas page), Diagnostic Trade Integration Studies (DTIS) have been prepared for several Least Developed Countries (these countries are listed at Actor Atlas (tab: Priority Countries)).

The objective of those DTIS has been to identify key constraints, both internal and external, to the expansion of LD country’s trade, with a focus on how trade expansion could help alleviate poverty (and break constraints). In particular, each DTIS is aimed towards supporting the government of the country in the realization of its national trade policy.

The causal chains linking various constraints must be emphasized in the diagnostic hypothesis for a country or region.

The constraints and causal chains addressed in the DTIS studies should also be included in the constraints dictionary.

Constraints for the #SDGs: beyond the MDG good practices

In the separate chapter MDG Good Practices, constraints that have been articulated in the four chapters of the UNDG MDG Good Practices (2010) publication are listed.
Some of these constraints are also positioned in an overview by function of government and level in the social architecture.

Our position is that the description of constraints and their mutual dependencies should be a collaborative effort of which the result is widely shared (as is done in the UNDG website).

We need to move beyond the UNDG MDG Good Practices by clarifying also the socio-technical level of constraints and the cross-level dependencies. By doing this, resources can be allocated in a more effective way. For transparency reasons, resource allocation decisions should be communicated widely and clearly. A communications approach as advocated by the social capital wikis and the Actor Atlas can achieve this.

Maintenance of the Constraint Dictionary

Many constraint classifications will co-exist. Also new classifications may be added as an economy or society develops.

This dictionary's purpose is to be a prototype, to demonstrate a service concept in support of an effective sustainable development strategy.

Constraint descriptions are included as initiatives and their social contexts (which constraints are articulated?) are represented as systematized content commons.

As the constraint dictionary service will be adopted by a growing user community, it will be important to enact formal maintenance procedures and comply to certain principles as explained at Global Agreement - Maintenance Procedures. For instance, when a project in a country addresses a priority constraint to a certain level, the implied reduction of the constraint should be documented such that new priorities can emerge.


In its current version, the constraint dictionary is offered as a prototype.
The main purpose is to illustrate the benefits of systematized content commons, as explained at http://wikiworx.info/systematized

Therefore, the dictionary does not aim to be complete regarding the identification and presentation of constraints.

1. Bossel, H., 1999. Indicators for Sustainable Development: Theory, Method, Applications. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). URL http://www.iisd.org/pdf/balatonreport.pdf
2. Garcia, M., 2008. Binding Constraints to Trade and the Role of Aid for Trade, OECD Background paper, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/14/62/41577617.pdf

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