How Low-Cost Randomized Controlled Trials Are Possible in Many Areas of Social Policy

This paper from the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy uses a range of examples to highlight the feasibility of conducting high quality randomised control trial (RCT) at a low cost. The paper outlines five well-conducted RCTs carried out in community settings to demonstrate how they all produced valid evidence that is of policy and practical importance. 


"The increasing ability of social policy researchers to conduct randomized controlled trials (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). These developments make it possible now, more than ever before, for policy officials to use scientific evidence about “what works” to increase government effectiveness."


  • Purpose and Background
  • Criminal Justice Example: Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) Program
  • Child Welfare Example: Recovery Coaches for Substance-Abusing Parents
  • Example of a Community-Wide Intervention: The Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) SystemK-12 Education Example: New York City Teacher Incentive Program
  • Criminal Justice Example: Philadelphia Low-Intensity Community Supervision Experiment 


Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy (2012). How Low-Cost Randomized Controlled Trials Are Possible in Many Areas of Social Policy. Retrieved from: