Reflections on innovation, assessment, and social change: a SPARC case study

This article challenges the terms on which donor agencies evaluate development success, drawing on a particular case to make its point. It describes the resettlement of 60,000 people squatting along the railway tracks in Mumbai, a process planned and carried out by a federation of the railway dwellers themselves, with support from the NGO SPARC (the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres). The article argues that this effort, which met donor criteria for a successful project, was the tip of an iceberg. Without an appreciation of the years of learning and innovation that preceded it, and the underpinning of principles and relationships built up over many years, this achievement cannot be adequately assessed or understood - and certainly not replicated. Yet in the world of formal assessment and evaluation, there tends to be a lack of interest in the deeper learning about social change that makes such success stories possible.