Giving Compass' Take:

• This social policy research demonstrates how policy officials can use scientific evidence about “what works” to increase governmental program impact.

• A performance-based government could help set a strong standard for using evidence to inform social policy as well as charitable giving. How are you prioritizing evidence-based outcomes in your philanthropy?

• Read about transforming evidence-based programs for more impact. 

The increasing ability of social policy researchers to conduct randomized controlled trial (RCTs) at low cost could revolutionize the field of performance-based government. RCTs are widely judged to be the most credible method of evaluating whether a social program is effective, overcoming the demonstrated inability of other, more common methods to produce definitive evidence.

In recent years, researchers have shown it is often possible to conduct high-quality RCTs at low cost, addressing a key obstacle to their widespread use. Costs are reduced by measuring study outcomes with administrative data already collected for other purposes (e.g., student test scores, criminal arrests, health care expenditures).

Purpose of this document: To illustrate the feasibility and value of low-cost RCTs for policy officials and researchers, by providing concrete examples from diverse program areas. This paper summarizes five well-conducted, low-cost RCTs, carried out in real-world community settings. Study costs range from $50,000 to $300,000, with random assignment itself comprising only a small portion of this cost (between $0 and $20,000). The studies all produced valid evidence that is of policy and practical importance.

This article on program impact was written by the Coalition for Evidence Based Policy.