Randomized controlled trials are kind of a big deal in development economics right now. A recent article in The Economist shows a sizeable rise in the use of RCTs in economics overall over the last 15 years, and recent analysis by David McKenzie shows that RCTs make up a large minority of development papers in top journals (see the figures below).
Source: The Economist on the left; McKenzie (2016) on the right.
In his new book Experimental Conversations: Perspectives on Randomized Trials in Development Economics, Tim Ogden has assembled interviews with a distinguished group that interacts with RCTs in every imaginable way: you have those who pioneered the use of the method in development economics, the next generation of researchers, the chief critics of the method, and consumers of development RCTs at organizations like GiveWell, the Ford and Grameen Foundations, and the Center for Global Development. You also hear from one broader observer of economics as a field (Tyler Cowen) and one of the scholars who pioneered the use of RCTs in U.S. policy (Judy Gueron), to give added perspective.
- The case of the fired up implementers.One of the evaluations we are working on is comparing two different types of business training – with both being delivered by the same service providers.Apparently the training of the trainers worked too well; in at least one location the trainers were so entrepreneurially energized by the training that they developed their own hybrid model that combines the two (yes, there already was a third arm where folks get both).This reminded me the importance of always knowing (at multiple points in time), as best you can, what is actually being implemented.
I am currently in Malawi rolling out a firm survey with my colleagues Francisco Campos and Manuela Bucciarelli. As we’ve gone through the enumerator selection and training this week and a pre-test of the survey, a number of observations have come up – some related to firm surveys in particular, some more general. In no particular order:
One of the things I learned in my first field work experience was that keeping interviews private was critical if you wanted unbiased information. Why? I guess at the time it should have been kind of obvious to me – there are certain questions that a person will answer differently depending on whom else is in the room. We were doing a socio-economic survey of rural households in Ghana, and we thought that income, in particular, would be sensitive, since spouses tended to share information on this selectively and perhaps in a strategic way.