Randomized evaluations are focus of first lecture in new series by Aga Khan Foundation Canada and Global Affairs Canada

February 29, 2016

“The discussion around RCTs is very lively, impassioned, and controversial. Why?” asked Khalil Shariff, Chief Executive Officer of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) during a presentation by Iqbal Dhaliwal, Deputy Director of J-PAL, on the role of randomized evaluations in international development. On February 4, Iqbal delivered the first lecture in a new series titled “Impact, Results, and Performance: Assessing Development Effectiveness.” The event, hosted by the AKFC in partnership with Global Affairs Canada, drew around 130 development practitioners and policymakers.

Iqbal discussed how, over the last decade, randomized evaluations have become increasingly mainstream in international development, shared some challenges of translating research findings into policies, and explored the future of randomized evaluations.

“Randomized evaluations are going where most people thought there was no way to randomize or deal with the complexity [of the issue],” he said, pointing to evaluations on measuring corruption or finding ways to reduce pollution. Randomized evaluations are also innovating in terms of methodology, exploring why and how programs have an impact.

When asked why the growing popularity of randomized evaluations is sometimes controversial, Iqbal responded that their findings can be surprising and challenge intuition or existing ideologies. “For development practitioners, there is a real alternative to saying ‘we don’t know if this works or not’…If we are really interested in understanding the impact of a program, especially one that could impact hundreds of thousands or millions of people, we should be considering RCTs as our first option” he concluded.

For more information on this event, email J-PAL Global Policy Associate Yuen Ho.