Limitations and Frontiers: Concepts, Measures, and Applications of the Capability Approach

Webinar with Sabina Alkire
6 August, Friday, 10:30-12:00 BST (GMT+1) / 11:30-13:00 CEST (GMT+2)

Description: Since HDCA was launched in 2004, applications of well-being and multidimensional poverty have gained ground, including applications drawing from the Capability Approach. It has been a period of intense reflection, experimentation, hope, competition, and learning. In parallel, the data environment and availability of qualitative, quantitative, and participatory data has bounded forward, as has policy interest in topics central to the capability approach. This has truly been a fertile period.

This talk will review a few advances, then focus on and call for creative investment in some high priority gaps, such as:

  • Can poverty and well-being measures be linked, to understand a fuller set of aspects of life for poor and non-poor alike?
  • How and when must research create spaces to reflect on what people value and have reason to value?
  • Can management techniques in business be a ‘new frontier’ for work in how to advance capabilities and human development – for the working community and via the products?
  • With the data revolutions, why has it proven so difficult to obtain accurate, regularly updated data on capabilities?
  • How can the interface between data providers (singly and in groups) be created, so they can interact with their own data accurately and swiftly. Can they edit or update data? Can this and should this link to ‘how to’ resources?
  • Should diverse data sources be merged at the level of a person? Is it feasible to maintain impeccable privacy controls?
Naturally this talk draws on a number of papers prepared with dedicated co-authors.

Recording available here


Sabina Alkire's slides available here


Sabina Alkire directs the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), a research centre within the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford. Sabina works on a new approach to measuring poverty and well-being that looks at clustered disadvantages. This multidimensional approach to measurement can consider overlapping challenges in health, education, nutrition, standard of living, work, and other valuable aspects of life. With her colleague James Foster (OPHI Research Associate and Professor of Economics at George Washington University) Sabina devised a counting-based method for measuring multidimensional poverty that has been widely used by governments, international agencies, and other actors. She has participated in and learned from initiatives seeking to take a broader approach to well-being, such as the French Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (instigated by President Sarkozy); the United Nations Human Development Programme Human Development Report Office; the European Commission; and the UK’s Department for International Development. Sabina has published numerous articles and chapters on the capability approach, human development, poverty, and well-being.



April - August 2021 Webinar Series

Multidimensional Well-Being:
Concepts, Measurement, & Applications

Questions/Suggestions? E-mail us at: 2021multidimensional [at] gmail.com

The webinar series brings together and into conversation established scholars, junior researchers, and practitioners working to conceptualise, measure, and improve multidimensional well-being. It addresses and allows for discussion regarding both long-standing and contemporary issues regarding the conceptualization and measurement of well-being, with a special focus on applications related to the Capability Approach.


General themes running through the series include concepts of well-being, philosophies of well-being measurement, methodological issues including formal procedures for multidimensional measurement, the role of participation and deliberation, empirical applications and challenges, policy uses and implications, and current research frontiers.


The series is hosted by a group of junior HDCA scholars and aims at providing a forum for exchanges and discussions between junior and senior researchers and practitioners, and in combining their competencies. All are welcome.


Full Webinar Schedule

1. Democratising Measurement: A Case Study from Well-Being Public Policy
Anna Alexandrova & Mark Fabian
6 April 11:00 - 12:30 BST (GMT +1)
Recording available here

Abstract: There is now widespread recognition that well-being, educational success, fairness, equality, poverty, etc. are value-laden. There is less agreement on a responsible way of measuring their value. This is a tricky issue for public policy because governments need effective measures for benchmarking, impact evaluation, and other forms of accountability, but would ideally like to leave value judgements to citizens. Our research explores the potential of coproduction mechanisms to chart a course through these dilemmas.

We'll present a case study from our work around coproducing a theory and measure/s of thriving for the national poverty charity Turn2Us. These outputs will inform their work in a variety of ways, including assessment criteria for giving grants and the charity's campaigning work in the social policy space. We'll explain our rationale for coproduction, discuss our preliminary results in comparison to other efforts underway in well-being public policy, and identify some of the lessons learned for applying coproduction in value-laden policy domains.

Our results indicate that 'off the shelf' theories and measures of value-laden concepts developed by experts often require substantial translation and tailoring to be suitable to applied policy. This underscores the need to develop more 'bottom up' approaches to measurement.


2. Using the Capability Approach to Conceptualise Wellbeing
Ingrid Robeyns
19 April 18:30 - 20:30 BST (GMT +1)
Recording available here

Abstract: The capability approach is one of the many different frameworks that can be used to conceptualise well-being. This seminar will address the following questions: How does one use the capability approach to conceptualise wellbeing? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the capability approach to conceptualise well-being? For which purposes is this an appropriate framework, and in which contexts should one consider using another framework? What are the consequences for the deeply inter- and multidisciplinary nature of the capability approach to its conceptualisation of wellbeing? And finally, what are some points of attention to keep in mind if one wants to use this framework not just for conceptualising well-being, but also for empirical research and policy making?


3. Methodological Options and Challenges for Measuring Multidimensional Well-Being
José Manuel Roche
7 June 11:00 - 12:30 BST (GMT+1) / 12:00 - 13:30 (CEST/GMT +2)
Recording available here

Abstract: Turning complex conceptual frameworks into operational applications implies a series of methodological decisions that are not free of challenges. The capability approach is far from an exception. This third webinar of the series on measuring multidimensional well-being invites reflection on some of these methodological challenges, in close connection with themes from previous webinars in the series. This webinar will host an open conversation with Dr. José Manuel Roche, drawing also on questions from the audience.

Some of the guiding questions during our conversation will include: What are the most common measurement approaches used in the capabilities approach, and what are the pros and cons of different methods? When it comes to creating metrics of multidimensional well-being, what are the key methodological decisions behind aggregation, and how do different methods approach them? As a related formal issue, how do measurement applications deal with ‘values’ in different stages of measurement, for example in the choice of evaluation space, unit of analysis, dimensions, choice of indicators or weights, and how can different purposes or contexts affect the justification for different measurement applications? And finally, what does the reality of shortcomings of available data entail for methodological choices in practical applications of the capability approach?


4. The Development and Application of Multidimensional Well-being Measures
Jaya Krishnakumar, Giulia Greco & Enrica Chiappero-Martinetti
18 June, 09:00-11:00 BST (GMT +1) / 10:00 – 12:00 (CEST/GMT +2)
Recording available here
Jaya Krishnakumar's slides available here
Giulia Greco's slides available here
Enrica Chiappero-Martinetti's slides available here

Abstract: In this session, Jaya Krishnakumar, Giulia Greco and Enrica Chiappero-Martinetti will join us for a panel discussion on developing multidimensional wellbeing measures in varied contexts and with diverse data sources. Starting with the necessity to measure concepts for monitoring and evaluation, Jaya Krishnakumar will go over various approaches to measurement of wellbeing in terms of capabilities as well as functionings, with particular emphasis on statistical and econometric models. Giulia Greco will then discuss the determination of weights in a composite measure, highlighting four different weighting methods and showing how these different aggregation methods matter for identifying the “worst off”. Finally, Enrica Chiappero-Martinetti will proceed with a discussion on measuring inequalities from a multidimensional perspective using budget allocation techniques in contexts and circumstances where standard techniques may not be fully adequate. The session will conclude with a discussion amongst the panellists on how we can better adapt our methodologies to accord with the context of interest and available data sources, as well as questions from the audience.


5. Taking a Relational Approach to Multidimensional Wellbeing
Sarah C. White and Shreya Jha
5 July, Monday, 10:30 - 12:00 BST (GMT+1) / 11:30 - 13:00 (CEST/GMT +2)
Recording available here

Abstract: The Capability Approach has long taken a person-centred approach to wellbeing, emphasising what people in practice can do and be, and to some extent how they think and feel. Relational Wellbeing aligns with this, but stresses the relational character of human being, such that people’s relationships with others critically affect the opportunities they have and the choices they make. Linking personal, societal and ecological change, Relational Wellbeing looks beyond individual psychology or behaviour to the underlying conditions that promote healthy environments and happy lives. While many models of wellbeing rely on the notion of domains to represent its multidimensional character, Relational Wellbeing draws attention instead to the flows, connections and obstructions between different aspects of life, and between the diverse factors that help to generate or undermine wellbeing.

In this seminar we will introduce the relational approach to wellbeing and describe how we are applying it in development practice. We look forward to a lively discussion concerning its similarities to and differences from the Capability Approach, and its implications for multidimensional wellbeing measurement.


6. Knowledge Politics: Multidimensional wellbeing indicators as policy instruments
Karen Scott
22 July, Thursday, 09:30-11:00 BST (GMT+1) / 10:30-12:00 CEST (GMT+2)
Recording available here

Abstract: The conceptualisation and measurement of wellbeing has become a significant policy concern over the last two decades. Many local, national, supranational and international governance bodies have engaged intensively in research to develop wellbeing indicators. Slower, however, has been the transition to using these wellbeing indicators for policy development and implementation, with there being significant critique of how governance bodies have approached this agenda. In this webinar, Karen will cover the main critiques and challenges in using wellbeing indicators as policy instruments based on her interest in knowledge politics and epistemic justice. By drawing on her own research and experience of local and central government in the UK and New Zealand, she will argue for more democratic and context-based research, as well as systematic reviews of qualitative evidence on wellbeing, to inform policy.


7. Limitations and Frontiers: Concepts, Measures, and Applications of the Capability Approach
Sabina Alkire
6 August, Friday, 10:30-12:00 BST (GMT+1) / 11:30-13:00 CEST (GMT+2)
Recording available here
Sabina Alkire's slides available here

Abstract: Since HDCA was launched in 2004, applications of well-being and multidimensional poverty have gained ground, including applications drawing from the Capability Approach. It has been a period of intense reflection, experimentation, hope, competition, and learning. In parallel, the data environment and availability of qualitative, quantitative, and participatory data has bounded forward, as has policy interest in topics central to the capability approach. This has truly been a fertile period.

This talk will review a few advances, then focus on and call for creative investment in some high priority gaps, such as:

  • Can poverty and well-being measures be linked, to understand a fuller set of aspects of life for poor and non-poor alike?
  • How and when must research create spaces to reflect on what people value and have reason to value?
  • Can management techniques in business be a ‘new frontier’ for work in how to advance capabilities and human development – for the working community and via the products?
  • With the data revolutions, why has it proven so difficult to obtain accurate, regularly updated data on capabilities?
  • How can the interface between data providers (singly and in groups) be created, so they can interact with their own data accurately and swiftly. Can they edit or update data? Can this and should this link to ‘how to’ resources?
  • Should diverse data sources be merged at the level of a person? Is it feasible to maintain impeccable privacy controls?
Naturally this talk draws on a number of papers prepared with dedicated co-authors.