Bridgeton and Dalmarnock, Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland, Concepts, ideas and research

Using the Capabilities Approach at Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland

Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland (CNS) proposes to use a Capabilities Approach in our research.  Capabilities was developed by Amartya Sen (1980) and Martha Nussbaum (2000) as a framework of social justice, concerned with identifying the freedoms people need to live ‘a good life.’ These freedoms constitute a set of ‘beings and doings’ that people would like to achieve. Examples might include being able to play outside, eat well, enjoy good relationships with others and develop creativity. Capabilities is used in many different contexts, including education, health policy and practice, human rights and equalities, and community work.

Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland plans to identify a capability set with and for children and young people, to give us a broad set of goals to which our stakeholders can contribute. Capabilities research with children (Biggeri, 2007) reveals that children and young people prioritised their top capabilities as education, relationships, play, health, safety, shelter and environment, and participation.

Nussbaum (2011) has developed a set of capabilities – adapted by Burchardt and Vizard (2011) for use in a community setting – that provide a helpful starting point for discussion. Table 1.1 below shows how capabilities align with Scotland’s SHANARRI indicators across health, education, social relationships, identity and participation.

Table 1.1 Aligning Capability domains with SHANARRI indicators

No. Capability Capability Description SHANARRI Indicator
1. LIFE Able to live a normal length human lifespan. HEALTHY
2. HEALTH Able to have a good life, including nourishment and shelter. HEALTHY
3. PHYSICAL HEALTH Able to live in physical and bodily security. SAFE
4. IDENTITY, EXPRESSION & SELF-RESPECT Able to be yourself, express yourself and have self-respect. RESPECTED
5. INDIVIDUAL, FAMILY & SOCIAL LIFE Able to enjoy individual, family and social life. NURTURED
6. EDUCATION & LEARNING Able to be knowledgeable, to understand and reason, and to have the skills to participate in society. ACHIEVING
7. STANDARD OF LIVING Able to achieve a good standard of living including food, clothing and housing.
8. PRODUCTIVE & VALUED ACTIVITIES Able to engage in productive and valued activities. INCLUDED
9. PARTICIPATION & VOICE Able to participate in decision-making and make decisions affecting your own life. RESPONSIBLE
10. LEGAL SECURITY Able to know the law will protect you and treat you fairly. SAFE
11. PLAY Able to laugh, play, enjoy recreational activities ACTIVE

Although standard of living is the only capabilities domain not reflected in SHANARRI, this domain is vital to the CNS study. Our research needs to engage with the structural barriers to outcomes for children and young people, as well as the considering the ways in which local resources and behaviour change may affect change. For example, family income such as benefits or employment, housing, and access to food are likely to have as great an impact on outcomes as direct interventions like homework support or family cookery sessions.

Substantial research evidence tells us that policy intervention is required at micro, meso and macro levels concurrently, if they are is address the causes of inequality that produce unequal outcomes. A capabilities analysis provides a helpful means of framing these micro/meso/macro ‘conversion factors,’ so that our research can interrogate what is enabling or hindering progress at all three levels.

Finally, Capabilities focuses on empowerment as a key factor in social change. This aligns well with current policy legislation such as Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, and provides a powerful tool for analysis that directly connects empowerment to outcomes.

Taken together, Capabilities can provide the tools to set collaborative goals for CNS stakeholders and offer a multidimensional analysis of the pathways that enable progress towards them. We’ll be back soon with further reflections as we progress with our research.

Sarah Ward
Research Associate, CNS

Further references

Richard Brunner and Nick Watson’s working paper for What Works Scotland, on why and how capabilities is a useful approach to evaluate public service reform, highlights the key features of a Capabilities Approach.

For further reading, webinars and networking, visit the Human Development and Capability Association website.

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