The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU collaborate with VSO to produce report on the Capability Approach

5 September 2018

The DPU teamed up with VSO to develop and test tools and methods based on the Capability Approach. A report aiming to capture the learning has been published and is available for free download.

VSO report

The DPU teamed up with VSO in a collaboration that has focused on developing strategic and methodological inputs which support the application of VSO’s ‘People First’ Strategy. This strategy aims to structure VSO’s contribution to the fight against global poverty and to put people at the centre of VSO’s work.

The DPU team, led by Alexander Apsan Frediani and Julian Walker worked alongside VSO to develop and test tools and methods based on the Capability Approach (CA), drawing on the work of Amartya Sen and others, as a means of operationalising the ‘People First’ strategy in the livelihoods programmatic work of VSO. Essentially, the capability approach explores people’s aspirations, both as individuals and as collectives, in terms of, for example, expansion of income, dignity, lifestyle, values and people as agents of change. Crucially, the approach also explores people’s freedom to achieve these aspirations, that is, whether they have the opportunities to use their abilities and capacities to achieve these aspirations.
achieve these aspirations.

VSO and DPU created volunteer placements for DPU Masters’ alumni, for the first half of 2017, to work on VSO livelihoods programmes in Bangladesh, Zambia and Uganda. The DPU volunteers were: Alun Cledwyn, who went to Bangladesh to work with the Growing Together project; Rose Ziaei, who went to Zambia to work with the Integrated Youth Empowerment project, and; Natasha Menon, who went to Uganda to work with the SCOPE project.

These placements looked at how to bring a peoplecentred perspective to livelihoods programming, through the development of applied research methods and activities based on the application of the capability approach.

A report has been published that aims to capture the learning generated by this initiative, with the objective of supporting the application of VSO’s People First strategy. The main question that this report addresses is ‘how can the capability approach be used to expand VSO livelihoods programmes in order to improve the well-being of marginalised people?’ The report addresses the learning question by responding to three sub-questions:

1) How the CA can support a better understanding of the VSO people first methodology and the implementation of people first programmes?
2) Under which conditions could the CA support impoverished and marginalised people?
3) How can participatory tools and approaches be used to work with marginalised people to gather information on capabilities?

The report is available to download here.