The background of the Developmental Project model and its advanced modules for research and reflection.


1.1 Project-oriented Activity Theory
1.2 What’s a Developmental Project?
1.3 The Perspective of Adult Development
1.4 Any project can be a Developmental Project
1.5 The Developmental Project Model


2.1 Developmental Resources Analysis
2.2 Situational Context Analysis
2.3 Cultural Projection Analysis
2.4 Social Engagement Analysis
2.5 Project Network Analysis


This part introduces the background of the Developmental Project Model.

1.1 Project-oriented Activity Theory

The Developmental Project Model is part of my 2020/2021 book Project-oriented Activity Theory.

Activity Theory or the “Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT)” is an interdisciplinary philosophical framework for studying both individual and social aspects of human behavior. Activity Theory is an established theoretical tradition with several theoretical approaches developed by different theorists. Originally, it was inspired by Russian/Soviet psychology of the 1920s and 1930s.

A major development of Activity Theory during the past decade is Andy Blunden’s account “An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity”. Andy Blunden is an independent scholar in Melbourne, Australia. He works with the Independent Social Research Network and the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy, and has run a Hegel Summer School since 1998.

In order to develop the notion of “Project as a unit of Activity” as a theoretical foundation of the new interdisciplinary theory of Activity, Blunden adopts Hegel’s logic and Vygotsky’s theory about “Unit of Analysis” and “Concept” as theoretical resources. The process is documented in four books: An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity (2010), Concepts: A Critical Approach (2012), Collaborative Projects: An Interdisciplinary Study (2014), and Hegel for Social Movements (2019).

At the end of 2020, I wrote a book about Andy Blunden's approach. Since his approach focuses on philosophical analysis, I developed several practical frameworks to connect it with practice: the Developmental Project model, the Zone of Project framework, and the Cultural Projection Analysis method.

1.2 What’s a Developmental Project?

What’s a Developmental Project? What’s the difference between a Developmental Project and a normal Project?

The term “Developmental Project” is adopted from my work the Developmental Project Model. See the diagram below.

The Developmental Project Model was originally developed as version 1.0 of the Platform-for-Development framework. The original idea is very simple:


I used the above idea Platform(Project) to define a new unit of analysis. On March 31, 2021, I renamed the framework Developmental Project Model.

Now the Developmental Project model is an independent knowledge framework that is curated into several toolkits or other knowledge frameworks.

1.3 The Perspective of Adult Development

From a theoretical perspective of adult development, the concept of “Developmental Project” emphasizes the life development of individuals within the context of Projects. It cares about the transformation of a person’s life themes and her or his identity in the stream of Projects.

You join a project, you leave a project. You initiate a project, you close a project. All kinds of activities form a chain of projects and they are projections of the development of your life.

If we read the chain of projects of your life, it is also a projection of social life.

By adopting the Developmental Project model, we have a way to reflect on the development of personal life and social life in one unit of analysis. We can connect psychology, sociology, and others.

1.4 Any project can be a Developmental Project

It all depends on your perception and awareness, any project can be a Developmental Project. The term “Development” can be understood from various dimensions and levels of abstraction.

Anyway, we can perceive a project as a Developmental Project if we believe it can contribute to our life development.

You can initiate a Developmental Project, or you can join an existing project and consider it a Developmental Project.

For example, the #Tim_Unscripted project is initiated by Tim Dickey. It is a Developmental Project for him.

1.5 The Developmental Project Model

I developed a model to describe the general structure of Development Projects. Based on the model, we can design, improve, evaluate, select, reflect, and act on Developmental Projects.

The above picture is the standard diagram of the Developmental Project Model. It uses eight elements to describe a developmental project:

  • Purpose: Why do you want to initiate or join the project?
  • Position: What’s the social structure of the project?
  • Program: Does the project have formal organizational processes?
  • Social: How do you connect with others due to joining the project?
  • Content: How do you acquire new information and knowledge due to joining the project?
  • Action: What actually do you do due to joining the project?
  • Theme: Do you find some new and interesting themes for your career development?
  • Identity: How do you perceive your identity before and after joining the project?

In the past few years, the Activity U project (2020–2022) is one of my Developmental Projects. I started the Activity U project on August 19, 2020. Initially, I just made a diagram called “Activity U” which is a test of the “HERO U” framework. I wrote a post to explain the diagram “Activity U”. The original title of the post is Activity U: The Landscape of Activity Theory. Later, I added “(Part I)” to the end of the title. It expanded from one post to a series of articles.

My primary actions were reading and writing. I originally published long articles on Medium. Later, I curated them into three books.

While the Activity U project is a three-year journey, a Developmental Project can be a three-week project. It depends on your goals. You can find more details in Developmental Project Canvas.


There are several advanced modules for using the Developmental Project Model for research and reflection. The rest of the article introduces several modules.

2.1 Developmental Resources Analysis

This module refers to three dimensions of Developmental Resources. See the diagram below.

Three dimensions of developmental resources (Oliver Ding, 2020)

The above triangle represents three dimensions of developmental resources:

  • Content
  • Social
  • Action

“Content” refers to information that is to be expressed through some medium, such as speech, writing, or any of various art. “Social” refers to opportunities for connecting to other people. “Action” refers to operational opportunities offered by social environments such as digital platforms. The center of the triangle is “Theme” which refers to “Themes of Practice”.

The three dimensions of developmental resources are inspired by Knud Illeris’ How We Learn: Learning and Non-Learning in School and Beyond (2007). Knud Illeris use three dimensions (Content, Incentive, and Interaction) to curate and sort various learning theories. I adopted the dimension of Content and separated the dimension of Interaction into Social and Action.

Source: Knud Illeris (2007)

These three dimensions also roughly correspond to John Hagel’s typology of platforms.

  • Connect users to resources — Content
  • Connect individuals to communities — Social
  • Move people to act together — Action

We have to notice that three dimensions are abstract ideal aspects. In real life, some developmental resources have two or three aspects. So, I am not claiming that there are only three categories of developmental resources.

2.2 Situational Context Analysis

From the perspective of adult development, Project is a type of situational context. This notion is inspired by two theoretical resources:

  • Andy Blunden’s idea “project as a unit of activity”
  • Derek Layder’s Social Domains Theory

In 2014, Andy Blunden edited a book titled Collaborative Projects: An Interdisciplinary Study and argued that there is a need to establish a concept of “project” as a unit of activity theory and human sciences. He said, “There are already many writers who address themselves to collaborative projects as part of their research, and among these, some who share a commitment to Activity Theory or the Cultural-Historical Psychology which underpins Activity Theory. However, these writers do not constitute a coherent current of thinking, as each writer does not take the concept of ‘project’ as central to their own project. Nonetheless, this literature providers a beginning for interdisciplinary research in the human sciences which can reach across the chasm between the sciences of the individual and the science of society… In what follows I will outline the origins of ‘project’ as a unit for the human sciences and its value as an interdisciplinary concept, and then briefly review the foundation of the concept in different domains of theory, and conclude with a concise definition of the concept of ‘collaborative project’.”

I was fascinated by Andy Blunden’s innovative approach. The “project” is a perfect concept for conceptualizing various activities within platforms. Inspired by Andy Blunden’s idea “project as a unit of activity”, I use “program” to refer to informal organizing activities on platforms. Thus, I made a new triad: People (O) — Program (A) — Platform (E).

People (O) — Program (A) — Platform (E)

The Developmental Project Model is also inspired by Derek Layder’s Social Domains Theory.

Layder suggested four principal social domains: Psychobiography (including self-identity), Situated activity, Social setting (including fields), and Contextual resources. We have to notice these four social domains are “principal” and they can be subdivided into smaller “domains” or even understood as component elements of larger “domains”.

Thus, I applied it to expand the People (O) — Program (A) — Platform (E) framework:

  • Psychobiography: Purpose (personal motivation for the development of self-identity)
  • Situated activity: Program
  • Contextual resources: Position
  • Settings: Platform

The result is a 5P framework: People (O, organism) — Purpose (M, motivation) — Program (A, activity) — Position (R, resources) — Platform (E, Environment).

If we consider “Purpose”, “Program”, and “Position” as three aspects of “Project” — (this is not the original claim of Andy Blunden’s approach) — then we get a simple model of a nested social structure:

If we put Project and Platform together, I’d like to claim that Project is embedded social context and Platform is the setting of Project. Without any Project (informal and flexible social activities), a Platform is only a Tool that helps People take individual actions.

The notion of Platform [Project(People)] was developed for the Platform-for-Development framework. If we focus on the concept of "Project", we can use the following diagram to represent three aspects of "Project".

The above triangle uses “Purpose, Program, and Position” to describe three important aspects of "Project". I’d like to point out that this is not the original claim of Andy Blunden’s approach. What I am looking for is the “Platform for Development” framework is a concept that can describe informal and flexible social activities.

For the Developmental Project Model, we can use "Platform" and other types of social environments as the context of "Project". It all depends on your research design.

2.3 Cultural Projection Analysis

This module refers to a method behind the Developmental Project Model. It is researching the transformation of themes and identity within "Project". See the diagram below.

The term “Projection” is inspired by Brecht De Smet who adopts Andy Blunden’s idea “project as a unit of activity” to analyze the 25 Jan Revolution. In an article titled Tahrir: A Project(ion) of Revolutionary Change, Smet (2014) said, “The collaboration of Tahrir not only entailed a project, in the sense of people jointly working towards a shared goal, but also a projection: an image that shone forth from this activity.” (p.297) He also pointed out, “The concept of projection denotes the capacity of a project to universalize itself and attract new participants to its cause, and, most importantly, it underscores collaboration as a process of learning and instruction.” (p.299)

At the end of the article Life as Activity (version 0.3), I mentioned that the sense-maker of “Activity, Project, and Event”. Since Activity Theory has the key concept Object which is a sense-maker of the theory. So, I think we can assign similar sense-makers to Project and Event. For example, I think the primary sense-maker of Project can be Identity and the primary sense-maker of Event can be Theme.

The above diagram is a possible way to conceptualize the relationship between event, project, and activity. As a core concept of the approach, Project refers to both event and activity and it shares the same aspects with them. In other words, Project’s primary sense-maker is Identity and its secondary sense-makers are theme and object.

For normal people, the 25 Jan Revolution is an event. For participants of the Revolution, it is a project. Thus, the concept of “Projection” can connect “the Object of Activity”, “Themes of Practice”, and “Identity in Practice” together. As Smet emphasized, “Hence, a projection also constitutes the inward appearance of the project to its own participants. Tahrir was not only the actual collaboration of protesters on the Square (project), it was also a glimpse of a better society (projection); an imagination that moved ahead of their current project and instructed and inspired them to develop their activity accordingly. Within the development of revolutionary collaboration, there was a continuous, reciprocal transformation of imagined goals by actual activities and vice versa, which highlights the dual character of a project as both a teleological and immanent movement.” (p.299)

You can find more details in Activity U (X): Projecting, Projectivity, and Cultural Projection.

2.4 Social Engagement Analysis

This module refers to positive impact (Engagement) and negative impact (Coping).

The dynamics of Developmental Projects are emphasized by plus signs and minus signs. Plus signs refer to positive impacts while minus signs refer to negative impacts.

This component refers to individual psychological status. In order for further discussion, I’d like to adopt a model developed by Ellen Skinner and Kathleen Edge in 2000. According to the authors, “The motivational model is an action-theoretical account of motivation, and its goal is to provide a framework for explaining psychological sources of energized and directed action. The basic model integrates work on attachment, perceived control, and self-determination.”

A Motivational Model of Context, Self, Action, and Outcomes (Ellen Skinner and Kathleen Edge, 2002)

The model is based on Self-determination theory (SDT) which is one of my favorite psychological theories. SDT claims that there are three basic psychological needs — namely, the needs for Relatedness, Competence, and Autonomy.

Skinner and Edge pointed out, “Ongoing engagement refers to active, goal-directed, flexible, constructive, persistent, focused interactions with the social and physical environments. In contrast, patterns of action are described as disaffected when individuals are emotionally alienated or behaviorally disengaged from participation in an enterprise. Coping describes patterns of action when ongoing engagement encounters resistance or is disrupted. Energetic resources (effort, executive capacity, ego resources) are required to regulate actions. Action regulation under stress is considered ‘coping.’ Engagement and coping are critical mechanisms through which motivational processes influence the quality of self-systems and social relationships and, over time, shape development.”

The pair of concepts of "Engagement - Cope" echoes Activity Theory's related concepts:  internalization and externalization.

2.5 Project Network Analysis

This module refers to the network of projects which is similar to "Activity Network".

The model of “Project Network” is a multiple-level network that considers 1) a network of Themes, 2) a network of Projects, and 3) a network of People.

  • All theoretical approaches and frameworks belong to the network of themes.
  • All real activities such as developing a toolkit, designing a canvas, and hosting a program, are part of a network of projects.
  • All things about people’s biogeography are located in the network of People.

On June 7, 2022, I used the model of “Project Network” to discuss the notion of “Knowledge Centers”. It’s a multiple-level network, not a one-level network. Each level refers to one type of Project. The “Themes” level refers to “Concept as Project”. The “Knowledge Centers” level refers to “Center as Project”. The “People” level refers to “Engagement as Project”.

On July 7, 2022, I used the model of "Project Network" to discuss my life discovery activities from Jan 2022 to June 2022. I identified ten themes and designed the following diagram to visualize the complexity of these themes.

You can find more details in  Life Discovery: Biography, Journey, Program (and a possible book, Part 3) and Life Strategy: Moving between Thematic Spaces.