Randomised Controlled Trials: Is this best practice for policy and program evaluation?

Evaluating the impact of programs and policies is an essential task for the public sector, yet one that comes with its own difficulties. Whilst traditional impact evaluations are used regularly by government departments, there has been research to suggest that these methods can often lead to false positive outcomes for programs and policies, later revealed to be having a negative effect.

The leading empirical research across the social sciences in the past 10 years has been increasingly dominated by Randomised Controlled Trials, which are now considered the gold standard for accurately assessing the true impact of programs and policies. As one of the most thorough ways of determining whether a cause-effect relation exists during the evaluation process, the methodology is now revolutionising the way government approaches policies in the key areas of health, education, welfare and poverty alleviation.

Professor Michael J. Hiscox, the Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs in the Department of Government, Harvard University, member of the Behavioural Insights Groups at Harvard’s Center of Public Leadership and Founding Director of BETA in Australia, has worked extensively with Randomised Controlled Trials. He will be returning to Sydney this August to lead the ‘Applying Randomised Controlled Trials for Program & Policy Evaluation Masterclass’.

Professor Hiscox has designed and implemented randomised trials to evaluate a wide range of government policies, company initiatives and programs administered by non-profit organisations in the United States, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire.

The Masterclass, taking place on 27 – 28 August, will provide an extensive introduction to conducting Randomised Controlled Trials, with a discussion around why RCTs are so critical for impact evaluation compared to traditional approaches, as well as some of the practical, political and ethical roadblocks that practitioners can come across.

This timely executive forum is a must attend for evaluation, policy and program practitioners.

Attendees will walk away with a hands-on approach to experiment design that covers ethical issues, sampling, pre-randomised blocking, reporting, communicating findings and much more.

Many governments around the world, including the Australian Government (BETA) and the state governments of NSW and Victoria, have already created behavioral insights teams that regularly conduct RCTs to test the impact of “nudges” designed to improve programs and policies in a range of areas. And with increasing expectations to accurately evaluate programs including elections and political campaigns, economic development, public health, education, employment, social welfare, taxation, gender bias, racial discrimination, criminal justice -RCTs are the next step in best practice for policy and program evaluation.


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