Oxfam and the Problem of NGO Aid Appraisal in the 1960s

Abstract: During the United Nations’ first Development Decade (the 1960s), NGOs forged a place for themselves within the professional world of long-term development. Within this context, one British organisation – Oxfam – asked a straightforward question: does aid work? To answer, it appointed its own ‘aid appraiser’. This article examines what happened when the organisation was confronted with his reports. The self-perpetuating nature of development work has long been observed. How Oxfam responded to self-critique shows that the capacities for organisations to engage in self-assessment, absorb criticism, expand and maintain a positive vision of their future direction were evident as soon as appraisal began.

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About Matthew Hilton

Matthew Hilton is professor of social history at Queen Mary University of London. He has published widely on the history of charities, social activism, consumption, and NGOs. His most recent book is (with James McKay, Nicholas Crowson and Jean-François Mouhot) The Politics of Expertise: How NGOs Shaped Modern Britain (Oxford, 2013) and he is coeditor (with John Arnold and Jan Ruger) of History Matters: Writing History for the 21st Century (Oxford, 2017). He is coeditor of Past and Present and is currently engaged on a history of British approaches to humanitarianism.