The latest Maurice Bloch lecture at Glasgow University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing focused on health capabilities.

The event, on 25 May 2017, was chaired by What Works Scotland research associate Richard Brunner, who introduced Dr Sridhar Venkatapuram from King’s College, London.

Dr Sridhar Venkatapuram delivers his health capabilities lectureIn his lecture, entitled Why Health Capability? The necessity for conceptual clarity in pursuing health justice, Dr Venkatapuram presented the capabilities approach (CA), initially conceived by the Nobel Prize-winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, and explained how it can be extended to health and public health.

Using the historic example of a 19th century famine in India at a time when there wasn’t food scarcity, Dr Venkatapuram made two main points. First, that ideas, concepts, theories and paradigms matter a great deal – they can mean life or death on a massive scale. Second, that addressing national and global health inequalities requires inter-disciplinary and ethical reasoning.

Dr Venkatapuram introduced the CA and the concept of health capability: health defined as the capability to be and do certain things that constitute a life with equal human dignity. He argued that the CA offers a productive approach to identifying and addressing the full determinants, levels, distribution patterns, and differing experiences of disease and impairments. He concluded that the challenge is how to sustain the capability for health across the lifecourse.

What Works Scotland is exploring how the CA can be used as a framework for understanding public service reform.

In a blog post on capabilities Richard and What Works Scotland co-director Nick Watson explained,

“What Works Scotland wants to be able to describe the impact of any new initiative, programme, or change in the way services are delivered in ways that analyse both whether or how an intervention works and how the changes it produces are actually experienced, and so focusing on what public services are ultimately for – to improve lived social justice.

“The capabilities approach offers a framework that will allow us to draw on different types of evidence to capture the impact of services on the lives of people, that can be participative and allow a full range of ‘voices’ to be heard in the research.”

You can see the more of their analysis in the working paper What can the capabilities approach add to policy analysis in high-income countries?

What Works Scotland is also supporting research by PhD student Sarah Ward to examine using the capabilities framework to identify clear objectives for asset-based work community development intended to address health inequalities. You can read about her research so far on the blog.

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