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Finding our balance? Revisiting the randomization revolution in development economics ten years further on


  • Barrett, Christopher B.
  • Carter, Michael R.


Ten years ago, we offered reflections on the power and pitfalls of randomized controlled trials in development economics, arguing that the research community had lost its balance between theory, observational data and randomized experiments. We remain convinced of both the importance and the limits of RCTs for development economics research. But with another decade of RCTs under our collective belts, three issues now strike us as having become increasingly important. First, ethical risks still loom large. Second, increasing evidence that many interventions have highly heterogeneous impacts, places a premium on reintegrating ex ante theorizing with RCT methods to understand the heterogeneity. In some cases, heterogeneity may imply RCTs are less desirable than other research methods. Third, the increasing use of RCTs to study informational, behavioral, and other perceptions-mediated interventions creates an opportunity for non-classical measurement error problems that undercut the statistical power of seemingly well-designed studies in ways that remain underappreciated.

Suggested Citation

  • Barrett, Christopher B. & Carter, Michael R., 2020. "Finding our balance? Revisiting the randomization revolution in development economics ten years further on," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 127(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:127:y:2020:i:c:s0305750x19304383
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.104789

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Faraz Usmani & Marc Jeuland & Subhrendu K. Pattanayak, 2018. "NGOs and the effectiveness of interventions," WIDER Working Paper Series wp-2018-59, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    2. Carter, Michael R. & Tjernström, Emilia & Toledo, Patricia, 2019. "Heterogeneous impact dynamics of a rural business development program in Nicaragua," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 138(C), pages 77-98.
    3. Oriana Bandiera & Robin Burgess & Narayan Das & Selim Gulesci & Imran Rasul & Munshi Sulaiman, 2017. "Labor Markets and Poverty in Village Economies," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 132(2), pages 811-870.
    4. Abay, Kibrom A. & Abate, Gashaw T. & Barrett, Christopher B. & Bernard, Tanguy, 2019. "Correlated non-classical measurement errors, ‘Second best’ policy inference, and the inverse size-productivity relationship in agriculture," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 171-184.
    5. Christopher B. Barrett & Michael R. Carter, 2010. "The Power and Pitfalls of Experiments in Development Economics: Some Non-random Reflections," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 32(4), pages 515-548.
    6. Faraz Usmani & Marc Jeuland & Subhrendu Pattanayak, 2018. "NGOs and the effectiveness of interventions," WIDER Working Paper Series 59, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    7. Barrett, Christopher B. & Bachke, Maren E. & Bellemare, Marc F. & Michelson, Hope C. & Narayanan, Sudha & Walker, Thomas F., 2012. "Smallholder Participation in Contract Farming: Comparative Evidence from Five Countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 715-730.
    8. Bellemare, Marc F. & Bloem, Jeffrey R., 2018. "Does contract farming improve welfare? A review," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 259-271.
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