UNU-WIDER focal point:
Rachel M. Gisselquist, Research Fellow
Miguel Niño-Zarazúa, Research Fellow
Quantitative Analysis in Social Sciences: A Brief Introduction for non-Economists
Identifying 'what works' in foreign aid: Experimental and non-experimental approaches
WIDER Angle September 2013
UNU-WIDER's ReCom programme is centred around four core questions: what works, what could work, what is scalable, and what is transferrable in foreign aid? One of the first challenges in addressing these questions is a methodological one: what is the best way to identify the policies that 'work'? This question has obvious links to another major debate in development studies over the use of experimental methods, and in particular, of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). While some researchers have argued that RCTs are the best means of determining what works in development policy (e.g., Banerjee 2007; Druckman et al. 2006), others raise a number of strong concerns (see, e.g., Deaton 2009; Ravallion 2009).
What Can Experiments Tell Us About How to Improve Governance?
WIDER Angle October 2012
Over the past decade, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have become a staple of research in development economics. Proponents of RCTs have advocated for their use as the best means of identifying ‘what works’ in development, while sceptics voice strong concerns about their growing hegemony in the field. Last year, two influential books, Karlan and Appel’s More Than Good Intentions, and Banerjee and Duflo’s Poor Economics, summarized what RCTs can tell us about how to reduce global poverty. Sceptics such as Angus Deaton and Martin Ravallion point out that RCTs, even if well designed, are not the ‘gold standard’ to policy evaluation as they often rely on small samples (and small pilot interventions) that cannot tell us much about whether a policy would work if scaled up at national level, or transferred to different socioeconomic and political conditions.