1) In working with troubled families, success is:
a. A reduction in anti-social behaviour.
b. Improved school attendance.
c. A functioning and supportive relationship between parent and child.
2) In working with the unemployed, success is:
a. A low unemployment rate.
b. The number of jobs applied for in a week.
c. A person who is meeting new people and taking up work or learning opportunities in something that they’re interested in.
3) In working with those battling long-term health conditions, success is:
a. A reduction in blood pressure.
b. Losing weight.
c. A person who continues to take actions to live well and can bounce back from set-backs.
4) In working with the ageing population, success is:
a. A reduction in the number of hospital admissions.
b. Increase in mobility.
c. A person who is active in their community and has a network of friends who are there for them.
Obviously, all these things are important. But if you answered C to all of the above, then you believe in the capabilities approach to define a successful relational welfare state. So do we! And if you didn’t, let us tell you why we think this approach is so important.
What are capabilities?
Capabilities are what people are able to be and do given their daily lives and environment. What does that mean exactly? Let’s break it down. A capability has two parts: internal influences and external influences.
Internal influences on capabilities are the things that people are able to be and do because they value them and have the freedom to pursue them. That could mean anything from meeting new people, working at a job, being part of a community or having positive self-esteem.
It’s important to recognise that a person’s capabilities are very much subject to external influences too- it’s not just a lack of motivation that stops people from achieving all they could. There are many things that a person can’t necessarily control. These range from things we can’t change like age, gender, and genetic background, to things we can change, such as laws, infrastructure and culture. Of course even those external influences we can change take a great deal of time and effort, and are usually the result of collective action.
You’ll notice that of our pop quiz answers, option C (for capabilities) have some interesting things in common. They’re all likely to lead to sustainable success in the long term, because they focus on abilities rather than achievements at a single point in time. They’re also the options that are least likely to be targeted and measured by public services as they are currently set up. But the landscape is slowly changing, which we applaud.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more on where this capabilities idea came from, and how the way we treat data influences our decision-making in public policy.
Amanda Briden is Measure Manager at Participle, and leads the development and implementation of social impact measures across all our work. Find her online at @amandabriden.