Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland, Concepts, ideas and research

The Capabilities Approach: ‘A Family of Theories’

Our aim at Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland is to find ways of bringing people, partners and services together, in order to tackle the big issues currently making it difficult for children and young people to live happy and healthy lives.

The big, big issue at the moment – for everyone – is undoubtedly the outbreak of COVID-19, and the subsequent ‘lockdown’ measures that have changed everyday life for us all. We’ve been trying our best to adapt, so that we can continue to work collaboratively with our partners and co-researchers.

Pre-lockdown, we were preparing a face-to-face seminar on the key elements of the Capabilities Approach, and how it can be applied in practical social research. With a host of researchers, policymakers and practitioners all keen to attend, it was only right we found a way to bring people together despite the ‘new normal’. Instead of postponing, we took to Zoom for an online session with over 30 attendees.

So, what is the Capabilities Approach?

The capabilities approach is a framework for understanding and measuring well-being. It prioritises human capabilities – the freedoms people have to be and do things that they value – across a wide range of domains. These include health, education, relationships and participation. First developed by Amartya Sen (1992) and Martha Nussbaum (2012), it has been used across a range of disciplines to understand the enablers of and barriers to improved well-being at personal, social and structural levels.

Applying the Capabilities Approach to Social Research

Our webinar event was all about how the capabilities approach can be applied in the context of social research. This took the form of two examples. The first being I-SPHERE’s work with the Hunter Foundation and Scottish Government on the Social Innovation Partnership, where a capabilities framework is being applied to understand the impact of relational responses to poverty and disadvantage across Scotland.

Sam Thomas of I-SPHERE highlighted the Capabilities Approach as a ‘Family of Theories’, and this is a really great way to understand how the approach can be interpreted and applied in a number of social contexts.

The second example came from our very own Research Associate, Sarah Ward. For CNS, the capabilities approach has been a means of developing a shared set of well-being goals. This gives children and young people a central voice within our programme.

Both examples shone light on the key elements of the capabilities approach, relating to issues around poverty and disadvantage. As well as this, there is also evidence of how it can be applied in practical social research.

If you’d like to know more about each example, both sets of slides are available below. There’s also a really useful list of further reading from Sarah and Sam:

I-SPHERE Presentation: ‘Using a Capabilities Approach to Address Social Disadvantage

CNS Presentation: ‘Defining Wellbeing with Children and Young People

Capabilities: A Suggested Reading List from I-SPHERE and CNS

The CNS Capabilities Research Model is also available to download.

CNS literature review: Using the Capabilities Approach with children and young people

Helping Children Achieve

The webinar event also included some insight from Victoria Bianchi, our CNS Local Coordinator based in Clydebank. This helped showcase the Capabilities Approach in different school-based settings; one primary, and one secondary. For more insight into the CNS work in Clydebank, check out our recent blog posts:

Wee Chats & Big Cats: Surveying Clydebank’s Primary Concerns

The Pursuit of Happiness & Confidence: Clydebank’s Capabilities Co-researchers

Responses to COVID-19

We know that, at time of writing, it might be a little while before we’re running seminars and events like our Capabilities session in person again. Our research work is still well underway, though. We’ve been capturing the experiences and responses from services and organisations who work with children, young people and their families. Find out more about our new research and read the briefings we’ve produced in partnership with Policy Scotland and NSEE.

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