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.