Straitjackets of RCT culture…
I am glad to see Jeff pointing out the straitjackets that the RCT culture has imposed on the development discourse. It almost feels like we are living in a world of “have a method, propose a question that can be answered with this method” without asking whether the question is the right one to ask.
Clean experimental design often requires that the world does not move fast enough to “mess up” the experiment and so the experiment must be evaluated within a short time frame. This often tends to focus our attention on quick fixes – what Jeff calls tweaks – rather than long term solutions or solutions that depend on several changes working synergistically.
This equivalent of searching for keys below the lamp post has overwhelmed the field of development studies to a level where it crowds out other, more fundamental, questions as Jeff points out. However, the policy world does not stop just because economists are worrying about whether giving bicycles to girls has an impact on school attendance or not, it goes right on making large policies that are often enshrined in constitutions (e.g. Right to Education Act in India) with long lasting consequences while simultaneously pushing aside social science research as being irrelevant.