IDEAS book launch: Randomized control trials in the field of development, a critical perspective [Webinar]

This webinar to launch the book Randomized Control Trials in the Field of Development: A Critical Perspective brings together five representatives of the book's editors and authors for a discussion around some of the key ideas and contentious issues surrounding the use of RCTs in development.

This resource and the following information was contributed by Alice Macfarlan.

Authors and their affiliation

Hosted by the International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS)

Webinar presenters:

  • James Heckman (author)
  • Ariane Szafarz (author)
  • Lant Pritchett (author)
  • Isabelle Guérin (editor)
  • François Roubaud (editor)
  • Zenda Ofir (moderator)

Key features

Blurb of Randomized Control Trials in the Field of Development: A Critical Perspective:

"In October 2019, the 51st Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel was awarded to three of the main proponents of Randomized Control Trials (RCTs). Yet there is reason to question the validity and repercussions of the elevation of this design to the so-called “gold standard” for impact evaluation.

Have RCTs really “dramatically improved our ability to fight poverty in practice”? Which sorts of questions are they able to address and which do they fail to answer? Is causal explanation the only way to understand poverty, and do RCTs systematically manage to provide causal explanations? Are RCTs really a gold standard? What are the dangers in their misuse? Is the supremacy of experimentation in development economics, as commended by the Nobel jury, scientifically legitimate and politically desirable?

Bringing together 26 leading specialists in the field (including two Nobel Prize winning economists) from a range of backgrounds and disciplines (economics, econometrics, mathematics, statistics, political economy, socioeconomics, anthropology, philosophy, global health, epidemiology, and medicine), this authoritative book presents a full and coherent picture of the main strengths and weaknesses of RCTs in the field of development - how they work, what they can achieve, why they sometimes fail, how they can be improved, and why other methods are both useful and necessary."

Why would you recommend it to other people?

This webinar contains an excellent discussion of some of the issues of contention around the use of RCTs in development, including epistemology, politics, and ethics.

Given the exponential rise in the use of RCTs in the field of development over the last 10 years, this book (and associated webinar) are extremely timely. It brings together voices from different disciplines and epistemological background to unpack when RCTs are and are not appropriate.