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A group participates in a J-PAL Europe research incubator focused on designing randomized evaluations of humanitarian interventions.

Education and Training


As demand for evidence-informed policymaking is growing, so is the need for professionals equipped with the technical skills to advance this work. 


Over the last five years, J-PAL has joined forces with MITx and MIT's Department of Economics to develop a cadre of exceptional professionals equipped with theoretical knowledge and practical, state-of-the-art tools to tackle poverty alleviation. This mission is carried out through two companion programs in Data, Economics, and Design Policy (DEDP).

The online DEDP MicroMasters program is a suite of seven (soon to be eight) virtual courses in economics and data analysis, with a focus on designing and running randomized evaluations to assess the effectiveness of social programs. Learners who complete five courses earn their credential and become eligible to apply to the residential DEDP master’s program at MIT—the first and currently only master’s program within MIT’s Department of Economics.


A lecturer stands in front of a screen, facing a room filled with students seated at desks.
DEDP Faculty Director Sara Ellison welcomes the 2022 cohort to MIT during the program's orientation session, alongside co-Faculty Directors Abhijit Banerjee and Benjamin A. Olken. Photo credit: Evan Williams, J-PAL

To date, the DEDP MicroMasters program has welcomed more than 50,000 learners from 214 countries and amassed nearly half a million enrollments overall across its courses. Leveraging this robust and diverse pool of DEDP MicroMasters learners, the DEDP master’s program has conferred the Master of Applied Science in Data, Economics, and Design Policy to three remarkably diverse cohorts of 66 master’s students from nontraditional backgrounds. These students perform exceptionally well on campus and have an unparalleled passion and drive for social transformations. Upon graduating from MIT, they have gone on to affect change throughout the world through research, practice, and policy in a number of sectors.

These two programs together offer a new, more equitable model for higher education and contribute to the flourishing movement toward use of data and evidence to inform poverty alleviation policies.


Since its beginning in 2005, the J-PAL training group has grown to deliver hundreds of courses and train over 20,000 people around the world in how to run high-quality randomized evaluations.

Equipping policymakers, practitioners, and researchers with the tools to become better producers and users of evidence, our training offerings have evolved over the years to include:

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Our flagship Evaluating Social Programs course, providing an in-depth introduction to randomized evaluations, offered each year in numerous locations worldwide.

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Customized offerings tailored to support policy and research partners working in specific sectors and regions.

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Multiple online courses in several different languages to make materials accessible to broader audiences worldwide.

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Courses to equip researchers with the technical skills to conceptualize and run randomized evaluations, such as Research Staff Trainings delivered annually in India and the United States in partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action.

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Participants from around the world gathered at J-PAL’s 2022 Research Staff Training in Goa, India. Photo credit: J-PAL South Asia

Looking ahead


In looking to the future, several key goals will strengthen and expand the DEDP programs while improving diversity, equity, and inclusion:

We will focus on supporting our learners in the DEDP MicroMasters program to ensure they have a positive and successful learning experience, and to feel empowered with the knowledge and skills to generate and use evidence to inform policy.

We aim to increase the visibility and accessibility of the DEDP programs by furthering our reach to students from nontraditional backgrounds. These efforts will require close collaboration with J-PAL’s regional offices, whose local presence is critical in partnership-building with governments, universities, and other private and public organizations. 

We plan to expand the scope of the curriculum by developing a US Social Policy track within the MicroMasters and master’s programs that will focus on the most pressing social and economic challenges in the US and other similarly wealthy economies. 

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The DEDP master's students are bright and engaged—just as you would expect from MIT students—but they’re also so earnest and dedicated to making the world a better place. Their optimism and dedication combined with MIT’s deep problem-solving ethic and cutting-edge toolkit is a formidable combination.

— Sara Ellison, DEDP Faculty Director


Looking ahead, we will continue to focus on making our training materials accessible to new audiences to expand the reach and inclusivity of the global evidence-based policymaking and research community. 

This includes adapting courses to new formats, such as continuing to create self-paced versions of our online training courses to allow learners to work on their own schedules. It also encompasses exploring new regional course offerings, such as training events this year in Côte d’Ivoire (led by J-PAL Africa and J-PAL Europe) and Nigeria (led by J-PAL Africa).


Evaluating Social Program participants stand on steps for a group photo
The participants and teaching team pose for a photo at J-PAL Africa’s 2022 Evaluating Social Programs course in Abuja, Nigeria. Photo credit: J-PAL Africa

We will continue to innovate on our training content to meet the demand for new offerings. One focus area for 2023 and beyond is the development of training modules on how to apply and use evidence generated by others, complementing existing modules on how to run randomized evaluations.

Learner voices


These have been some of the best months of my life. I've learned a great deal [in the DEDP master's program] and met very interesting people who are really on the edge of human knowledge when it comes to economics and doing world-class research. 

— Tomas Dulka, DEDP MA Class of 2022


There hasn't been a better experience than this, and I don't think there is another master's degree comparable to this program. 

— Luis Ernesto López de Rivera Muñoz, DEDP MA Class of 2022



[After the MicroMasters] I am in a better position to tackle any role that I’m given, and I think that has really made me a different person who is able to come up with solutions to problems.

— Stephen Shisoka, MicroMasters learner



These [MicroMasters case studies] were experiences that I had not seen before, so learning what they did in those cases and applying [the lessons] in my day-to-day work—it’s empowerment in itself.

— Olive Mutai, MicroMasters learner


Trainee voices


“Through J-PAL’s Evaluating Social Programs course, I’ve gained an in-depth understanding of where randomized evaluation can be most useful. And in such cases, I now understand what steps are necessary to bring a randomized evaluation from an idea to reality.”

— Massey Whorley, participant at J-PAL’s 2019 Evaluating Social Programs course in Cambridge, US

“There are several things I’ll bring back to my organization having taken this course. The first one being around the importance of RCTs… Now knowing that, I’m able to talk to and convince the people that I work with around the world why this is an important way to evaluate. Having the knowledge [and] narrative behind that will be an absolute game-changer for the cities that I work with.” 

— Mariama N’Diaye, participant at J-PAL’s 2019 Evaluating Social Programs course in Cambridge, US


Key priorities for 2023


  • Promote the DEDP programs to underrepresented learners through (though not limited to) expanding partnerships with universities and governments.
  • Fundraise to provide scholarships to DEDP MicroMasters learners and master’s students.
  • Launch the US Social Policy track:
    • Raise funds to support DEDP Fellows (visiting scholars) to expand course offerings. 
    • Bring on additional staff to manage the programs and support students.


  • Support scholarships for policymakers and practitioners to participate in J-PAL’s in-person and online courses on randomized evaluations.
  • Fund the development of new training modules and resources on applying and using evidence to inform decision-making.

Lead photo credit: Matthieu Alexandre