Spirituality and impact evaluation design: the case of an addiction recovery fbo in argentina

Deneulin, Severine (1); Mitchell, Ann (2) (2019). 'Spirituality and impact evaluation design: the case of an addiction recovery FBO in Argentina' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


Drug use and addiction has escalated in Argentina during the past two decades (Epele 2011; SEDRONAR 2017). Substance abuse negatively affects not only the health, education and long-term opportunities of drug users and their families, but also the wider community by increasing violence and insecurity (Organización de Estados Americanos 2011, 2014). There also is a strong relationship between drug consumption and the territorial and sociocultural context of disadvantage in Latin America (Ullman 2015). One study on informal settlements in Greater Buenos Aires showed that 22 per cent of youth had consumed drugs during the preceding month (Rival & Salvia 2016).

Within this context, in 2008 Catholic priests living in three of the City of Buenos Aires’ informal settlements created ‘neighbourhood centres’ to provide an integral response to socially vulnerable people who suffer from additions. The guiding principles of the neighbourhood centres include ‘to welcome life as it comes’, to create a community family and to understand that each person has a unique path and possibilities for addiction recovery. The faith dimension is transversal to its mode of operation. Today, the Hogar de Cristo (‘Home of Christ’ in Spanish) is a federation of 123 neighbourhood centres throughout Argentina.

The international development sector has increasingly recognised the role of such faith-based organisations in addressing poverty and social exclusion. There also is an emerging literature on how to integrate the faith dimension into the evaluation of faith-based organisation programmes and on quantifying the effects of faith (Heinrich, Leege & Miller 2008; O’Neill 2017). The existing literature, however, falls short of taking into account the full theological underpinnings of incorporating faith into impact evaluation. The objective of this paper is to propose a framework for integrating a spiritual dimension into the design and practice of impact evaluation by using the concept of integral human development (IHD). The IHD concept emerged within the Catholic social tradition but is not specific to it. It is an integrated perspective for social analysis which integrates the material and spiritual dimensions of life, recognizes the interdependence between humans and their environment/territory, and demands change at both the individual and collective levels.

Our proposed framework for an integrated perspective on impact evaluation is based on three sources of information and analysis. First, we examine the concept of IHD as expressed in the Catholic social tradition, identify its defining characteristics and explain its relation to Amartya Sen’s capability approach and how the approach serves to clarify and operationalize the IHD concept. Second, we review the literature on impact evaluation focusing in particular on the strategies that have been used to incorporate a spiritual dimension into programme evaluation. Our third source is qualitative empirical research with the Hogar de Cristo, which included interviews with organization leaders and programme participants, observation of the neighbourhood centres’ activities, discussions with government officials at SEDRONAR, the national agency responsible for the prevention and treatment of persons with drug addictions and the review of numerous documents describing the organization’s guiding principles and mode of operation.

We highlight several commonalities between IHD and Sen’s capability approach to development and how the approach can serve as a useful tool for operationalizing the IHD perspective. First is the argument that progress should not be assessed based on the resources people possess, but on the types of lives people live and what they are able to be and do. Growth in material resources may help but the relation is not linear (Stewart, Ranis, Samman 2018). Second, the fact that Sen leaves open the choice of what counts as valuable—the dimensions of analysis can be chosen based on a variety of methods, such as participatory approaches, moral or political entitlements, theoretical arguments, empirical evidence (Alkire 2015, Robeyns 2017)—makes the capability approach open to include the spiritual aspect of life. Third, the capability approach provides a framework for operationalizing the principal of ‘each person as an end’, which it shares with IHD. As each person is of equal moral worth but unique, each will need different amounts of resources to achieve the same ‘being’ or ‘doing’ depending on his or her individual, social, and environmental characteristics, what is called ‘conversion factors’ (Robeyns 2017:45-47; Sen 2017:26). This concern for human diversity reinforces the need for multidimensional interventions (e.g. enabling persons with addiction to recover her health, job, social relationships, etc.); for applying different strategies in different social, economic and environmental contexts; and for considering the multiple and diverse pathways to impact. Fourth, the IHD perspective emphasizes the importance of transformative action at both the personal and community/collective levels. Sen’s capability approach operationalizes this by situating public reasoning and dialogue as the locus for personal and social transformation (Sen 2009, 2017).

Our proposed framework for integral impact evaluation has five key characteristics. First, it measures the effects of an intervention on multiple dimensions of life and examines the interconnection between dimensions. Second, it integrates knowledge and methods of analysis from multiple disciplines. Third, it seeks to understand the diverse pathways that lead to programme experiences and outcomes. Fourth, it argues that the spiritual dimension of life can be manifested and evaluated by considering the relationships with oneself, God, others and the territory and by examining how people choose to live out these relations. Fifth, it is concerned with transformations that occur at both the personal and community levels, changes that emerge through the creation of opportunities and space for dialogue.

Our paper directly links to the 2019 HDCA conference’s theme by examining the interconnection between capabilities and between disciplines (theology, development studies, economics, medicine, anthropology, sociology), and by connecting development research, policy and practice.

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