Social protection, livelihoods and ‘structural gaps’: impact assessment as stories of social change

Impact assessments form a significant strand of research in development studies because they assess the extent to which policy efforts to bring about desired forms of change in a society succeed in their objectives. In frequently under-researched countries in the Global South, these assessments can tell important stories about how change happens in such contexts, what promotes it and what blocks it, but only if they incorporate methodologies that enable them to do so. In the absence of such methodologies, assessments merely provide information on whether an intervention worked or not, but not how, why (or why not) and for whom. This paper uses examples of impact assessments of social protection measures in the Global South to demonstrate how a poor understanding of gender, livelihoods and households in different contexts can lead to conclusions that either misrepresent local realities or fail to capture relevant aspects of them.