This article aims to contribute to the discussion about how to make development interventions more effective by analyzing the factors contributing to the success or failure of rural development projects. We made an aggregate level analysis of 46 projects in the field of agricultural research (AR), water management (WM), natural resource management (NRM), and integrated rural development (IRD), financed by the Netherlands’ Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS) and carried out between 1975-2005 in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Making a distinction between the successful projects and failures, we showed the possibilities and limitations of evaluating projects on the basis of the official criteria (relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, sustainability and impact and/or using criteria such as poverty, gender, institutional development, governance and environment). We learned that project performance very much depends on whether interventions ‘keep track’ with local priorities and trends. This is much more important than ‘measuring output’ (are results in line with the project goal?) which is wrongly presented as a priority in monitoring and evaluation practices.