Randomized control trial as social observatory: A case study

Published in World Development, 2020


Critics of randomized control trials (RCTs) in development economics argue that this methodology lends itself to ‘smaller’ questions with limited relevance to policy or economics. Using the seminal work of Miguel and Kremer (2004) on a school-based deworming intervention in Kenya as a case study, we argue that RCTs can spearhead policy change, serve as a laboratory to test economic theories and develop cutting-edge empirical methods, or do both. This does not happen in a vacuum, but through thoughtful design embedded in a broader research and policy agenda. Here, we describe a family of studies built on Miguel and Kremer (2004), shedding light on factors that supported the generation of evidence and insights far beyond the near-term RCT result. As in any piece of social sciences research, this descriptive evidence may not be externally valid in all settings. We nevertheless hope the lessons it offers will inspire others to examine these possibilities in their own research.

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Link to published paper in World Development

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Recommended citation: Baird, Sarah, Joan Hamory Hicks, and Owen Ozier. "Randomized control trial as social observatory: A case study." World Development 127 (2020): 104787.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.104787