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Should the Randomistas (Continue to) Rule?


  • Martin Ravallion

    (Georgetown University)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Ravallion, 2018. "Should the Randomistas (Continue to) Rule?," Working Papers 492, Center for Global Development, revised 17 Jan 2019.
  • Handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:492

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo, 2009. "The Experimental Approach to Development Economics," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 151-178, May.
    2. Stéphane J. Baele, 2013. "The ethics of New Development Economics: is the Experimental Approach to Development Economics morally wrong?," The Journal of Philosophical Economics, Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies, The Journal of Philosophical Economics, vol. 7(1), November.
    3. Arthur Alik‐Lagrange & Martin Ravallion, 2019. "Estimating within‐cluster spillover effects using a cluster randomization with application to knowledge diffusion in rural India," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 34(1), pages 110-128, January.
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    Cited by:

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    2. Charles Yuji Horioka, 2021. "Is the selfish life-cycle model more applicable in Japan and, if so, why? A literature survey," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 19(1), pages 157-187, March.
    3. Juan Andrés Cabral & Florencia Iara Pucci, 2020. "¿Cuál es el alcance de la revolución de la credibilidad?," Asociación Argentina de Economía Política: Working Papers 4318, Asociación Argentina de Economía Política.
    4. Fatoumata Nankoto Cissé, 2022. "How impact evaluation methods influence the outcomes of development projects? Evidence from a meta-analysis on decentralized solar nano projects," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) halshs-03623394, HAL.
    5. Felix Naschold & Christopher B. Barrett, 2020. "A stochastic dominance approach to program evaluation with an application to child nutritional status in Kenya," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 51(6), pages 871-886, November.
    6. Ravallion, Martin, 2020. "Highly prized experiments," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 127(C).
    7. Vikram Tyagi & Sophie Webber, 2021. "A rusting gold standard: Failures in an Indonesian RCT, and the implications for poverty reduction," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 53(5), pages 992-1011, August.
    8. Clotilde Mahé & Philipp Hessel, 2022. "School-age exposure to conditional cash transfers and adult mental health: Evidence from Mexico’s Progresa," Documentos de trabajo 020155, Escuela de Gobierno - Universidad de los Andes.
    9. Hanushek, Eric A., 2021. "Addressing cross-national generalizability in educational impact evaluation," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 80(C).
    10. J. Nicolas Hernandez-Aguilera & Max Mauerman & Alexandra Herrera & Kathryn Vasilaky & Walter Baethgen & Ana Maria Loboguerrero & Rahel Diro & Yohana Tesfamariam Tekeste & Daniel Osgood, 2020. "Games and Fieldwork in Agriculture: A Systematic Review of the 21st Century in Economics and Social Science," Games, MDPI, vol. 11(4), pages 1-22, October.
    11. Fatoumata Nankoto Cissé, 2022. "How impact evaluation methods influence the outcomes of development projects? Evidence from a meta-analysis on decentralized solar nano projects," Documents de travail du Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne 22008, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1), Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne.
    12. Fuchs, Lisa Elena & Orero, Levi & Apondi, Victoria Atieno & Kipkorir, Lang'at, 2021. "How to stop wasting money in international development: Using a structured group selection approach to counter procedural inefficiency," World Development Perspectives, Elsevier, vol. 24(C).

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • O22 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Project Analysis

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