Applications of the Capability Approach in the Health Field: A Literature Review

Paul Mark Mitchell, Tracy E. Roberts, Pelham M. Barton, Joanna Coast (2016) Applications of the Capability Approach in the Health Field: A Literature Review, Social Indicators Research, pp. 1-27, DOI: 10.1007/s11205-016-1356-8

The primary aims of this review are to document capability applications in the health field and to explore the objectives and decision-rules of studies measuring capability more broadly. Relevant studies are identified using a literature search strategy known as “comprehensive pearl growing”. All studies with a primary focus on health are assessed individually, whilst a summary narrative analysis of the full review examines the objectives of capability studies. Four distinct groups in the health field are identified in the review: (1) physical activity and diet; (2) patient empowerment; (3) multidimensional poverty and (4) assessments of health and social care interventions. Different approaches to applying mixed methods, selecting capability dimensions and weighting capabilities are found across studies. There is a noticeable non-reliance on health status as a sole indicator of capability in health. In terms of objectives of studies measuring capability, although there is a lack of consistency, an objective related to sufficiency of capabilities appeared most often in the studies found in this review. Even though one of the appeals of the capability perspective is its underspecified nature, this review highlights the challenge of finding a coherent alternative to more established approaches of evaluation.

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