Combining the capability approach and Max-Neef’s needs approach for a better assessment of multidimensional well-being and inequalities: a case study perspective with vulnerable teenagers of the region of Paris (France)

Pelenc, Jerome (2014). 'Combining the capability approach and Max-Neef's needs approach for a better assessment of multidimensional well-being and inequalities: a case study perspective with vulnerable teenagers of the region of Paris (France)' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

           Few works have tried to articulate the Capability Approach (noted CA) originally developed by Amartya Sen and the Fundamental Human Needs approach developed by Manfred Max-Neef. However, Sen and Max-Neef pursued a similar goal i.e. to develop an alternative to the monetary and utilitarian well-being assessment framework of neoclassical economics but their respective analytical frameworks differ. First, this paper looks at the possibility of combining the two approaches to build a unique integrated framework for the analysis of human well-being in a multidimensional perspective. Second, it aims at the empirical operationalization of this new framework through the assessment of well-being of vulnerable teenagers.

            In the paper we highlight the fact that if the Max-Neef's needs approach gives us precise information about the possible lacks of well-being (unsatisfied needs) it does not provide a structured frame to identify the causes of well-being deprivation (i.e. why people can not meet their needs). We demonstrate that it is precisely where the articulation with the CA is very useful as the CA highlights the different parameters people need to satisfy their needs i.e. resources, entitlements and conversion factors. In this perspective capabilities can be considered as a pre requisite to enable people to meet their needs and experience well-being. Consequently, by combining the capability and the needs approach it is possible to build up a new framework for the integrated assessment of human well being ranging from freedom of choice to the satisfied needs.  

            To test this new framework we have conducted an empirical experimentation with vulnerable teenagers (15-17 years old) living in the suburbs of Paris (Dammarie-les-Lys, France) who suffer strong social exclusion and education difficulties. To do so we organized four participatory workshops of two hours and two workshops of four hours between January and February 2012 with 8 teenagers. These workshops aimed to offer the opportunity for the teenagers of to self-evaluate different aspects of their well-being. We first rebuilt the Max-Neef's matrix of needs; we then transformed the matrix into a questionnaire in order to identify the unsatisfied needs. Thanks to the CA we conducted a participatory analysis of the causes of the non-satisfaction of these needs. Then we conducted the questionnaire with another two groups for reaching a total of 18 vulnerable teenagers. Finally, we distributed the questionnaire to another group of teenagers of the same age but who did not suffer from social or educational problems (control group, n=16) in order to test the relevance of our methodology to assess well-being inequalities. The results clearly demonstrate that the group of vulnerable teenagers suffer inequalities in all dimensions of well-being that we tested. These dimensions correspond to the nine axiological needs (Subsistence, Protection, Affection, Understanding, Participation, Idleness, Creation, Identity, Freedom) and the four existential needs (Being, Having, Doing, Interacting) that Max-Neef identifies in his matrix. Addressing inequalities in all of these dimensions clearly help to operationalize multidimensional well-being assessment.   

            The paper is structured as follow. We start by presenting the two approaches, their differences and complementarities. We then discuss the possibility to combine them into a unique framework. The second part of the paper is dedicated to the presentation of the method and the results of the workshop and the survey we conducted. A third part, on light of the analysis of the results, presents the avenues of research this new integrated framework could open to foster human development evaluation and implementation.

            As a conclusion we can say that this new framework helps to better characterize the vulnerability of social groups and to better address well-being inequalities in a multidimensional perspective.

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