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Challenges in using RCTs for evaluation of large-scale public programs with complex designs: Lessons from Peru


  • Escobal, Javier
  • Ponce, Carmen


The use of randomized control trials (RCTs) to evaluate public policies and interventions in developing countries faces several challenges. These include limited budgets to finance sample designs and sample sizes required to evaluate multifaceted interventions, potential small-sample bias arising from such limited samples, and difficulties in random assignment when participants self-exclude from parts of the intervention. In addition, institutional challenges arise when seeking to evaluate large-scale interventions implemented within a state bureaucracy as compared to NGO small pilots’ evaluations. This short article seeks to discuss the practical challenges facing RCTs when used as a public policy and program evaluation mechanism. This discussion is based on the impact evaluation of a public project that offered several productive interventions to rural households who were already receiving conditional cash transfers.

Suggested Citation

  • Escobal, Javier & Ponce, Carmen, 2020. "Challenges in using RCTs for evaluation of large-scale public programs with complex designs: Lessons from Peru," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 127(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:127:y:2020:i:c:s0305750x19304474
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.104798

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hainmueller, Jens, 2012. "Entropy Balancing for Causal Effects: A Multivariate Reweighting Method to Produce Balanced Samples in Observational Studies," Political Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 20(1), pages 25-46, January.
    2. Javier Escobal & Carmen Ponce & Ramón Pajuelo Teves & Mauricio Espinoza, 2012. "Estudio comparativo de intervenciones para el desarrollo rural en la Sierra sur del Perú," Libros, Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE), edition 1, number 2012-3, May.
    3. Deaton, Angus & Cartwright, Nancy, 2018. "Understanding and misunderstanding randomized controlled trials," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 210(C), pages 2-21.
    4. Duflo, Esther & Glennerster, Rachel & Kremer, Michael, 2008. "Using Randomization in Development Economics Research: A Toolkit," Handbook of Development Economics, in: T. Paul Schultz & John A. Strauss (ed.),Handbook of Development Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 61, pages 3895-3962, Elsevier.
    5. Guido W. Imbens & Jeffrey M. Wooldridge, 2009. "Recent Developments in the Econometrics of Program Evaluation," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(1), pages 5-86, March.
    6. Escobal, Javier & Ponce, Carmen, 2016. "Combinando protección social con generación de oportunidades económicas: una evaluación de los avances del programa Haku Wiñay," Libros, Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE), edition 1, number 2016-1, May.
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