How can public officials move beyond guesses and hunches to more data-driven decision-making? One approach borrows from the health field, where randomized drug trials are a standard way to test the efficacy of potential pharmaceutical treatments. Leading companies also use randomized experiments — making operational changes to see if they work better — to improve their products and services. This same approach can be used in public policy, with individuals randomly assigned to a program group and a control group, in order to rigorously test what works and improve program performance. The approach is known as randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or impact evaluations using an experimental design.
To learn more, we’re joined by Rachel Glennerster, the Executive Director of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab or J-PAL based at MIT. She’s also the co-author, with Kudzai Takavarasha, of the new book Running Randomized Evaluations. It is a how-to guide for conducing valid randomized impact evaluations of social programs in developing countries. Our interview focuses on broader insights that are applicable to policymakers and public managers in the United States.
Web extra: Rachel Glennerster talks about some of the ethical issues involved in using randomized controlled trials in public policy. [click here]