Can the Social Progress Index be a tool for Capability Approach operationalization ?

Mosaner, Marcelo Sette (2016). 'Can the Social Progress Index be a tool for Capability Approach operationalization ?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Amartya Sen´s critique to welfarism amounted to the construction of a normative framework that defines human development as the evolution of human freedoms (‘capabilities’) to live a life worth living (‘Capability Approach’). Nevertheless, attempts to measure such concepts in composite indices fall prey to criticism on overspecification and distortion of the informational basis, generating concerns on the extent to which Sen´s original defense of autonomy and human agency is de facto being translated into public policy. Social Progress Index (SPI) is a framework of multidimensional, non-monetary, outcome-based measures specifically designed to foster public debate towards the deployment of actionable tools that power social change. As Social Progress initiatives gain thrust worldwide, it is tempting to assess to what degree its empirical applications are tuned in Capability Approach main tenets and what are the main conceptual and empirical challenges to consider SPI as a tool for CA operationalization. Illustration and examples were drawn from Global SPI and subnational applications with primary and secondary data.
The present article introduces the Social Progress Index to the debate of Capability Approach operationalization. It´s an exploratory article that presents SPI framework and features, intertwining empirical applications with a variety of issues and common challenges faced on attempts to turn Amartya Sen´s and Martha Nussbaum´s theoretical concepts operational.  Instead of providing in-depth analysis on particular issues, this articles provides an overview on topics such as the role of composite indicators for the Capability Approach, the choice of parameters, context adaptation, measuring outcomes, capabilities and achieved functionings, lists of human development, individual and collective capabilities, index comparability, weighting and aggregation procedures. The focus is to analyze whether Social Progress Index can help to turn CA tenets operational, promoting agency and freedom expansion. Illustrations were drawn from the building process of SPI Rio de Janeiro (intracity) and from the first SPI initiative built solely with primary data, in the riverine communities of Middle Juruá river, in the southwest of Amazon State, Brazil.  Global Social Progress Index 2015, calculated from 133 countries, is also used for illustration and correlation analysis with the HDI, global MPI and GDP per capita (PPP).
The article is divided into introduction and four sections. First section introduces the Social Progress Index origins, framework, methodology and context adaptation using the case of SPI Rio de Janeiro. Second section explains the motivations of introducing SPI in the capabilities debate. Third section is the longest and sketches challenging points in order to consider SPI as a tool for CA operationalization including: (1) the measurement of outcome indicators and the measurement of achieved functionings and capabilities; (2) issues of overspecification and paternalism; (3) agency and public engagement in the case of SPI Carauari; (4) collective capabilities; (5) interrelations with human development lists and local specification of capabilities; (6) index comparability and robustness. Fourth section concludes pointing out to advantages and challenges for CA operationalization using the Social Progress framework.

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