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?
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).
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These developments make it possible now, more than ever before, for policy officials to use scientific evidence about “what works” to increase governmental program impact.
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.
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