Does Matson matter? Assessing the impact of a UK neighbourhood project

The question of how development agencies should assess their impact has no simple answers and so is often either unasked, or is framed in terms that privilege time-bound and quantitative findings. Describing a council estate neighbourhood project in the UK, the author probes the understandings and perceptions of different stakeholders concerning what they believe has changed over the life of the project, and to what they would attribute those changes. The findings suggest that the impact of development interventions is always contingent upon many factors and can only be properly viewed over time; and that many of the most critical factors in shaping change are intangible and have to do with a wide range of social relations and with human motivation and drive, both individual and collective. The author does not present a `blueprint' for how to conduct impact assessment, but offers some insights into how to frame the questions and interpret the answers. This article is freely available as a chapter in Debating Development: NGOs and the Future.