How can the public sector, including school districts, make the most of opportunities to learn what works — in other words, to fill knowledge gaps about effective policies and practices? In this interview, we discuss on an important tool for doing that: opportunistic experiments. These experiments, i.e., randomized controlled trials (RCTs), are “opportunistic” because they focus on policy or program changes that are already being planned (not changes done specifically for a study) and typically use administrative data that are already being collected. As a result, they can be lower disruption and lower cost than traditional experiments. In short, they’re a way for public leaders to do more experimentation and learning.
To get an overview of opportunistic experiments, we’re joined by Peter Schochet of Mathematica Policy Research, who is a nationally known expert on rigorous program evaluations. Earlier this year, Mathematica authored a how-to guide to using opportunistic experiments in education, as well as a guide specifically for school district leaders and principals, both funded and published by the U.S. Department of Education.