Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

The rising popularity of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in development applications has come with continuing debates on the pros and cons of this approach. The paper revisits the issues. While RCTs have a place in the toolkit for impact evaluation, an unconditional preference for RCTs as the “gold standard” is questionable. The statistical case is unclear on a priori grounds; a stronger ethical defense is often called for; and there is a risk of distorting the evidence-base for informing policymaking. Going forward, pressing knowledge gaps should drive the questions asked and how they are answered, not the methodological preferences of some researchers. The gold standard is the best method for the question at hand.

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