Talk:Alternatives to Maslow’s motivation model

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See the original thread of this E-Discussion on D-Groups

Michèle Marin, 2010/06/28

Dear collegues

We are searching for a more recent and accurate alternative to Maslow's motivation model ( as a starting point for indicators of basic human needs to visualize progress in disaster assistance in the context of humanitarian aid. There is for instance the International Definition and Mesurement of Levels of Living, an Interim Guide, New York 1961, but it is unfortunaltely rather outdated. I am grateful for any hint...

Laurie Adams, 2010/06/28

A very nice feminist alternative was presented in a conflict training I went to in DRC run by Gavin Preuss...but it was more than 6 years ago and I don' t remember the exact details!

Googling feminist maslow and conflict came up with human needs approach (Marker, Sandra. "Unmet Human Needs." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: August 2003, also pasted below) and below that some further work on it from a feminist point of view. Gives you a starting point. Hope that's helpful.

What Human Needs Are

"[H]uman needs are a powerful source of explanation of human behavior and social interaction. All individuals have needs that they strive to satisfy, either by using the system[,] 'acting on the fringes[,]' or acting as a reformist or revolutionary. Given this condition, social systems must be responsive to individual needs, or be subject to instability and forced change (possibly through violence or conflict)." Coate and Rosati, "Preface," in The Power of Human Needs in World Society, ed. Roger A.Coate and Jerel A. Rosati, ix. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1988.

Humans need a number of essentials to survive. According to the renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow and the conflict scholar John Burton, these essentials go beyond just food, water, and shelter. They include both physical and non-physical elements needed for human growth and development, as well as all those things humans are innately driven to attain.

For Maslow, needs are hierarchical in nature. That is, each need has a specific ranking or order of obtainment. Maslow's needs pyramid starts with the basic items of food, water, and shelter. These are followed by the need for safety and security, then belonging or love, self-esteem, and finally, personal fulfillment.[1] Burton and other needs theorists who have adopted Maslow's ideas to conflict theory, however, perceive human needs in a different way -- as an emergent collection of human development essentials.[2] Furthermore, they contend needs do not have a hierarchical order. Rather, needs are sought simultaneously in an intense and relentless manner.[3] Needs theorists' list of human essentials include: [PicExportError] Safety/Security<> <> -- the need for structure, predictability, stability, and freedom from fear and anxiety.

  • Belongingness/Love<> -- the need to be accepted by others and to have strong personal ties with one's family, friends, and identity groups.
  • Self-esteem -- the need to be recognized by oneself and others as strong, competent, and capable. It also includes the need to know that one has some effect on her/his environment.
  • Personal fulfillment -- the need to reach one's potential in all areas of life.
  • Identity<> -- goes beyond a psychological "sense of self." Burton and other human needs theorists define identity as a sense of self in relation to the outside world. Identity becomes a problem when one's identity is not recognized as legitimate<>, or when it is considered inferior or is threatened by others with different identifications.
  • Cultural security -- is related to identity, the need for recognition of one's language, traditions, religion, cultural values, ideas, and concepts.
  • Freedom -- is the condition of having no physical, political, or civil restraints; having the capacity to exercise choice in all aspects of one's life.
  • Distributive justice<> -- is the need for the fair allocation of resources among all members of a community.
  • Participation -- is the need to be able to actively partake in and influence civil society<>.

Why the Concept of Human Needs Matters

[cid:image001.gif@01CB16D8.83F29010]<> Additional insights into unmet human needs are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

Human needs theorists argue that one of the primary causes of protracted or intractable conflict is people's unyielding drive to meet their unmet needs on the individual, group, and societal level.[4] For example, the Palestinian conflict involves the unmet needs of identity and security. Countless Palestinians feel that their legitimate identity is being denied them, both personally and nationally. Numerous Israelis feel they have no security individually because of suicide bombings, nationally because their state is not recognized by many of their close neighbors, and culturally because anti-Semitism is growing worldwide. Israeli and Palestinian unmet needs directly and deeply affect all the other issues associated with this conflict. Consequently, if a resolution is to be found, the needs of Palestinian identity and Israeli security must be addressed and satisfied on all levels.

Arguments For the Human Needs Approach

Human needs theorists offer a new dimension to conflict theory. Their approach provides an important conceptual tool that not only connects and addresses human needs on all levels. Furthermore, it recognizes the existence of negotiable and nonnegotiable issues.[5] That is, needs theorists understand that needs, unlike interests, cannot be traded, suppressed, or bargained for.[6] Thus, the human needs approach makes a case for turning away from traditional negotiation models that do not take into account nonnegotiable issues. These include interest-based negotiation<> models that view conflict in terms of win-win<> or other consensus-based<> solutions, and conventional power<> models (primarily used in the field of negotiation and international relations) that construct conflict and conflict management in terms of factual and zero-sum<> game perspectives.[7]

The human needs approach, on the other hand, supports collaborative and multifaceted problem-solving models and related techniques, such as problem-solving workshops<> or an analytical problem-solving process. These models take into account the complexity of human life and the insistent nature of human needs.[8] Problem-solving approaches also analyze the fundamental sources of conflict<>, while maintaining a focus on fulfilling peoples' unmet needs. In addition, they involve the interested parties in finding and developing acceptable ways to meet the needs of all concerned.

Human needs theorists further understand that although needs cannot be compromised<>, they can be addressed in a generally win-win<> or positive-sum way.[9] An example of this win-win or positive sum process can be gleaned from the Kosovo conflict. When the Albanians obtained protective security, the Serbs also gained this protection, so both sides gained.[10]

Arguments Against the Human Needs Approach

However, many questions and uncertainties surround the human needs approach to solving conflicts. For instance, how can one define human needs? How can one know what needs are involved in conflict situations? How can one know what human needs are being met and unmet? Are human needs cultural or universal in nature? If they are cultural, is the analysis of human needs beneficial beyond a specific conflict? Are some needs inherently more important than others? If some needs are more important, should these be pursued first?

Other critics of the human needs approach assert that many conflicts involve both needs and interests. So, conflict resolution cannot come about by just meeting human needs. For example, when looking at the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, it is understood that both needs (identity, security, freedom) and interests (i.e., resource allocation, international boundaries) are involved. Consequently, even if the needs of both parties get met, the conflict will probably not be resolved. Resolution can only come about when both needs and interests are dealt with.[11]

Nevertheless, most scholars and practitioners agree that issues of identity<>, security<>, and recognition<>, are critical in many or even most intractable conflicts. They may not be the only issue, but they are one of the important issues that must be dealt with if an intractable conflict is to be transformed<>. Ignoring the underlying needs and just negotiating the interests may at times lead to a short-term settlement, but it rarely will lead to long-term resolution.

  • [1] Jay Rothman, Resolving Identity-Based Conflict in Nations, Organizations, and Communities (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997)
  • [2] John Burton, Conflict Resolution and Prevention (New York: St. Martins Press, 1990)
  • [3] Jay Rothman, 1997
  • [4] Terrell A. Northrup, "The Dynamic of Identity in Personal and Social Conflict," in Intractable Conflicts and their Transformation, ed. Louis Kriesberg, Terrell A. Northrup and Stuart J. Thorson (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1989), 55-82.
  • [5] Roger A. Coate and Jerel A. Rosati, "Human Needs in World Society," in The Power of Human Needs in World Society, ed. Roger A. Coate and Jerel A. Rosati (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1988), 1-20.
  • [6] David J. Carroll, Jerel A. Rosati, and Roger A. Coate, "Human Needs Realism: A Critical Assessment of the Power of Human Needs in World Society," in The Power of Human Needs in World Society, ed. Roger A. Coate and Jerel A. Rosati (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1988), 257-274.
  • [7] ibid
  • [8] ibid
  • [9] Jay Rothman, 1997.
  • [10] "Kosovo Leaders Agree to Pact Against Violence," in PeaceWatch 6, no. 5. (August 2000): 1-3. Article also available on-line at (accessed 11 February 2003); Internet.
  • [11] David J. Carroll, Jerel A. Rosati, and Roger A. Coate, 1988.

Use the following to cite this article:

Marker, Sandra. "Unmet Human Needs." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: August 2003 <>.

Sources of Additional, In-depth Information on this Topic Additional Explanations of the Underlying Concepts:

Online (Web) Sources Reimann, Cordula. All You Need is Love...and What About Gender? Engendering Burton's Human Needs Theory. Available at: There seems to be some general agreement among conflict resolution scholars that Burton's human needs theory has had a lasting impact on developing a theory of conflict resolution practice and the practice of problem-solving workshops. However, a feminist or gender-specific critique of Burton's theory has so far been missing. This paper aims to partly fill this analytical gap.

Glaser, Tanya. Analyzing and Resolving Class Conflict -- Summary. Available at: This is a summary of Richard E. Rubenstein's chapter, "Analyzing and Resolving Class Conflict," in Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice edited by Dennis J.D. Sandole and Hugo van der Merwe. The chapter discusses the notion that contemporary conflict resolution focuses less on negotiation and interests, and more on human needs and the root causes of conflict.

Rubenstein, Richard E. "Basic Human Needs: The Next Steps in Theory Development." The Internation Journal of Peace Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1 , 2001 Available at:

The great promise of human needs theory, in Burton's view, was that it would provide a relatively objective basis, transcending local political and cultural differences, for understanding the sources of conflict, designing conflict resolution processes, and founding conflict analysis and resolution as an autonomous discipline. The importance of this ambitious project is now generally recognized by conflict theorists, whether they agree with Burton or not. This essay will suggest some ways in which the project has succeeded, some ways in which it has fallen short, and some possible avenues for further theory development.

Adan, Mohamud, Ruto Pkalya and Isabella Masinde. "Conflict in Northern Kenya: A Focus on the Internally Displaced Conflict Victims in Northern Kenya." Intermediate Technology Development Group, 2003. Available at: Click here for ore info<>.

This case study describes the nature of violent conflicts in the Northern districts of Kenya. It describes the causes and consequences attached to the conflicts, the actors involved and preventative measures that can be used to transform and prevent these violent episodes.

Burton, John W. "Conflict Resolution: The Human Dimension." International Journal of Peace Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1 , 1998 Available at:

Burton describes Human Needs Theory explaining that needs, rather than interests, are often the root cause of long term conflicts.

Burton, John W. "Conflict Resolution: Towards Problem Solving." , December 1, 1997 Available at:

Burton highlights the importance of looking at conflict and conflict resolution with a new lens. Conventional interest and power negotiation strategies do not address import non-negotiable factors, such as security and identity, therefore, Burton advocates for a new human needs theory and conflict resolution approach.

Glaser, Tanya. "Conflict: Practices in Management, Settlement and Resolution - Book Summary." University of Colorado: Conflict Research Consortium. Available at:

This summary outlines John Buron and Frank Dukes' book, Conflict: Practices in Management, Settlement and Resolution. The work describes different types of conflicts and different approaches to conflict management, matching the different types of conflict with the most appropriate management process.

Glaser, Tanya. "Conflict: Readings in Management and Resolution--Book Summary." University of Colorado: Conflict Research Consortium, 1900. Available at:

This summary of Conflict: Readings in Management and Resolution, edited by John Burton and Frank Dukes, provides an overview of the essays that make up the work. The essays include both classic texts and contemporary contributions to the field of conflict resolution. The book is intended to provide the general reader with a "start-up library" on the subject of conflict and conflict resolution.

Conflict: Resolution and Provention--Book Summary. Centre for Conflict Resolution, Univ of Cape Town, South Africa. Available at: This summary of Conflict: Resolution and Provention, by John Burton, gives a good overview of the book. The book offers an historical and theoretical overview of approaches to conflict resolution, emphasizing a problem-solving approach to conflict resolution and the need for conflict prevention (provention).

Glaser, Tanya and Conflict Research Consortium Staff. "From Confrontation to Cooperation: Resolving Ethnic and Regional Conflict--Book Summary." University of Colorado: Conflict Research Consortium. Available at:

This summary of From Confrontation to Cooperation, by Jay Rothman, provides a good overview of the book, which presents a new conceptual framework for understanding and resolving protracted ethnic conflicts.

Conflict Research Consortium Staff. International Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice--Book Summary. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado. Available at: This summary of International Conflict Resolution, edited by Edward Azar and John Burton, provides a good overview of the book. The book discusses alternative approaches to the realist view of international relations, particularly the problem solving approach to international conflicts.

The Propagation of Peace. 2003. Available at:

An interview with A. T. Ariyaratne, Mary Robinson, and William Ury. "Peace isn't just an absence of war," says Mary Robinson, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Irish president. She joins Ari Ariyaratne, known as the Gandhi of our time,to discuss fulfilling basic human needs and rights so the peace enjoyed by 90% of humanity can be extended to the other 10% still ravaged by wars.

Offline (Print) Sources Burton, John W. "Conflict Resolution as a political philosophy." In Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice: Integration and Application. Edited by der Merwe, Hugo van and Dennis J.D. Sandole, eds. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1993. The author looks at new techniques have that been developed in dispute managment in recent years. Conflict resolution has not received as much attention though. It is capable of dealing with both domestic and international conflicts, as well as in operating in different economic and political systems. But these are not the main tasks of conflict resolution. The major promise of it is conflict provention. Both goals promote conditions for peaceful transformation of the societies toward social harmony. Click here for more info<>.

Burton, John W. and E. Frank Dukes. Conflict: Practices in Management, Settlement, and Resolution . New York: St. Martin's Press, October 1990. This book explains why the problem solving approach is the most appropriate technique for resolving conflicts with human needs issues. Click here for more info<>.

Dukes, E. Frank and John W. Burton, eds. Conflict: Readings in Management and Resolution. New York: St. Martin's Press, October 1990. This book is a collection of essays intended to provide an introduction to and overview of the theoretical foundations of the field of conflict resolution. These essays include both classic texts and contemporary human needs theories. Click here for more info<>.

Burton, John W. Conflict: Resolution and Provention. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, Inc., July 1990. The author suggests that protracted conflict often arises out of unmet human needs. Conflict provention seeks to address the underlying systemic causes of conflict rather than merely dealing with its symptoms. It suggests that the best way to deal with serious social problems is to alter the structures of the social environments that give rise to these problems. Click here for more info<>.

Azar, Edward E. and John W. Burton, eds. International Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, April 1986. This edited volume discusses how the problem solving approach to international conflicts is a better way of dealing with conflicts that involve human needs issues such as identity and security. Click here for more info<>.

International Dimensions of Internal Conflict. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996. The first part of the book details the causes of inter-group conflict. It finds that human needs such as identity and security are integral to understanding inter-group conflicts.

Rothman, Jay. Resolving Identity-Based Conflict in Nations, Organizations, and Communities. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, June 1997. This book discusses identity-based conflict in terms of theory and practice, with Rothman outlining a four-phase model of conflict; antagonism, resonance, invention, and action. The work offers possible avenues for transforming a wide array of conflict situations including those involving unmet human needs. Click here for more info<>.

Fisher, Ronald J. "Social-Psychological Processes in Interactive Conflict Analysis and Reconciliation." In Conflict Resolution: Dynamics, Process and Structure. Edited by Jeong, Ho-Won, ed. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 1999. This article discusses the notion that many intractable conflicts are resistant to resolution because traditional approaches to resolving them do not address basic human needs. The author argues that the frustration of things like the need for security, identity, recogntition, participation, and equity, are key underlying causes of protracted conflict. The author goes on to discuss new and innovative ways of approaching difficult ethnopolitical conflicts, namely a technique called Interactive Conflict Resolution (ICR).

Northrup, Terrell A. "The Dynamic of Identity in Personal and Social Conflict." Intractable Conflicts and Their Transformation , October 1989. This essay argues that the human need, identity, is always an important factor to consider when examining conflict causes. Threats to a person's or to a peoples' identity can cause conflict or contribute to its intractability. The essay gives a definition and a thorough analysis of the concept of identity. Click here for more info<>.

Burton, John W. Violence Explained: The Sources of Conflict, Violence and Crime and Their Prevention. New York: Manchester University Press, July 1997. John Burton argues that one of the main sources of conflict and violence is the denial of human needs. He examines the adversarial institutions of society leadership, legislatures, the work place, the legal system and the international relations system, and considers what each would be like if it was designed to solve basic human needs problems.

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ActionAid, South Africa.

Servane Crave , 2010/06/28


I came across this one: which is the adaptation for the enterprise 2.0. Maybe this helps to build yours!

Don Kildebeck, 2010/06/28

While we do live in an era of unrelentless change and as such we naturally assume EVERYTHING must be updated, I find it hard to imagine Maslowe's hierarchy needs to be (or even can be) improved upon. At best, your success will likely hinge upon you making the model RELEVENT to your audience and organizational needs, as opposed to utilizing a more "recent and accurate" model.

Tarit Kumar Datta Gupta, 2010/06/28

28 June 2010

Dear Michèle Marin and others

[I would be happy to clear my position that whenever and whatever I write to discuss any issue it is not intended to belittle the importance of others’ opinion. I simply want to know what others think, how much other thoughts are similar to me, what are the differences and let me share my understanding. If anything from my deliberations hurt any one that is completely unintentional. I do not have any personal interest.}

This is a lucrative subject for me, in fact, I become very much happy while I am to work with indicators of basic human needsto visualizeprogress in disaster assistance or any other issue concerned. I always prefer and I feel comfortable to work with qualitative assessment instead of quantitative assessment, and such type of attitude in mine is since 1970s. I always try to bank on my professional and practical experiences. I will be happy if you can give me some time, at least by the end of the next week I hope to send. At this moment, I am writing a resource on ‘Learning Organization’ which I dedicate to my very good friend Nadejda (KM4Dev member) and at the same time I am also shifting my house tomorrow.

I will write indicators step by step that will help you to screen out the indicators. But I again request you to inform me at what level of human beings you are talking about. As I understand basic needs of the poor and disadvantaged will differ than those of the rich or middle rich and from region to region, in other words with targeted audience as well as the location. Or should I assume general status of your targeted audience? If so, please also inform me the targeted audience.

I hope my friend Manuel Flury in your Division is fine and hearty.

Thanking you for your nice cooperation.

With very best of regards

Sincerely and honestly yours

Tarit Kumar Datta Gupta Development Specialist (Independent) Bangladesh

Tarit Kumar Datta Gupta, 2010/06/29

Dear Don

Without any minimum intention to undermine the contribution of any contributor to knowledge management for development I am very pleased to bring it to your notice that your understanding and my understanding concerning the issue concerned are very close. I have already informed Juerg of my understanding and I have simply added the ‘targeted audience’. This is my understanding and I may be wrong that the targeted audience will vary from organization to organization which will further determine the needs of the organization. These needs will also change over the period.

Thanking you and all others for your nice cooperation.

Development Specialist (Independent) Bangladesh

George de Gooijer, 2010/06/29

Hej Michèle,

I happened to see this TED video last week where an answer to your question was presented:

Benjamin Kumpf, 2010/06/29

Dear Michèle,

To my knowledge there has been no major revision to Maslow's model, it is still accepted and widely used in the scientific community. There are, however, adaptations to specific needs of certain groups. Here is a link to an article that presents such an adaptation for hospice and palliative care in the United States.

In the context of humanitarian aid, a paper from A.J.W. Taylor (Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington NZ) that suggests adaptations to Maslow's model with regard to the need of justice could be useful. The abstract is copied below. I am happy to share it with everyone interested, just send an email.

Brian Foster, 2010/06/29

I remember working with an African professional who said that Maslow's model worked for him except for the top stage "self-actualization". He said that where he comes from. after he had mastered the lower three steps, he would try to advance the position of his family, rather than himself. "Us-actualization" perhaps?

W Cowie, 2010/06/29

Advancing bthe 'us' improves his standing in the community - which is 'self'

Jon Lebkowsky, 2010/06/29

Maybe he's a bodhisattva - advancing all to enlightenment before proceeding to Nirvana?