Applied Research in Quality of Life

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 135–154 | Cite as

Needs, Wants and Goals: Wellbeing, Quality of Life and Public Policy

  • J. Allister McGregorEmail author
  • Laura Camfield
  • Alison Woodcock


This paper considers the possible contribution of Quality of Life methods in international development policy and practice. It discusses the role of theories of human needs in how public policy makers and implementors might distinguish between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. There is a good case for extending theories of human need to encompass social and psychological needs, but when we do so the ability of theory to distinguish between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ begins to evaporate. Rather, by virtue of the core relationship between needs denial and harm, it is argued that a theory of human need can provide a framework for reasoning about what constitute needs. Empirical quality of life data can then assist policy makers to identify what constitute needs satisfiers in particular societal and cultural contexts. They also can provide important information to enable processes of public reasoning about the relative societal importance of different needs claims. The paper uses data generated through the application of two Quality of Life methods in Southern and Northeast Thailand, which were employed as part of a comprehensive study of the social and cultural construction of wellbeing in developing countries, to illustrate its arguments. The paper concludes that if routinely incorporated into local policy process, such quality of life methods have a possible contribution to make to effective democratic governance for development.


Human need Wants Wellbeing Public policy International development 



The support of the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is gratefully acknowledged. The work was part of the program of the ESRC Research Group on Wellbeing in Developing Countries. The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of the research teams in Prince of Songkhla and Khon Kaen Universities.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V./The International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Allister McGregor
    • 1
    Email author
  • Laura Camfield
    • 2
  • Alison Woodcock
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Development StudiesUniversity of SussexBrightonUK
  2. 2.Young Lives, Department of International Development-Queen Elizabeth HouseUniversity of OxfordEnglandUK
  3. 3.Department of Psychology, Royal HollowayUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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