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#60 Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT)

May 30, 2011

For all of their affected pseudo-nomadic, disheveled, tattooed, neo-hippie-wannabe bohemianism, deep down most Expat Aid Workers want to be able to somehow prove that they matter.

For all of their number-crunching, “hard evidence”-obsessed, not-quite-really-relevant-in-the-real-world nerdiness, deep down most academic experts on “development” or “foreign aid” want to be Expat Aid Workers.

And thanks in large part to modern economics, few things in the modern era can join together these two worlds in happy union better than Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT).

Randomise THIS, sucka!

As development aid becomes increasingly the domain of wealthy, developed countries, so it becomes increasingly important to articulate key messaging around aid in terms which will resonate with donors in those same wealthy, developed countries (this is all about the donors, after all…).  It is a well-known fact that Western deductive logic is the only logic which makes any real sense (proved by the fact that Western deductive logic is the dominant mode of knowing in all of those wealthy, developed countries). Less well-known, but also fact is that every human behavior or emotion or variable in the context can be reduced to numbers (and if the economist doing the reducing is a real badass, reduced all the way down to 1s and 0s). This means that there is really no reason at all why either the methods, the questions, or the outcomes of aid should ever have to be in any way nebulous or inconclusive.

[Angel choir singing] Enter, RCTs.

Logframes are soooo ’90s. But RCTs give EAWs the ability to account for and control every variable, as well as measure the efficacy of every process and the reality of every outcome. EAWs will never again have to pfaff around with a “qualitative” survey about whether or not fuel-efficient stoves will save the third world from poverty: They’ll just RCT it and find out for sure. Does training actually work as a way to build local capacity? Who the hell even knows? Oh, wait… do an RCT and become an empowered knower. Does anyone besides journalists think early marriage prevention reduces the spread of HIV? No need to get all flustered. Just do an RCT and prove that it does (or doesn’t). Whatever the situation, better do an RCT.

Now, not every EAW is an early-adopter of these awesome RCTs. But be patient. And keep in mind that “wisdom” and “experience” and “contextual knowledge” and “poly-vocality” are all just passive-aggressive EAW ways of excluding those pesky academic researchers from weekend teamhouse parties. Even the late-adopters will eventually understand that RCTs are the wave of the future, precisely because RCTs will enable EAWs to provide those savvy, evidence-based donors with the proof-positive needed in order to feel good about having “made a difference” (forget a picture of the goat that I bought for a family in “Africa” – I want real evidence).

And a happy donor is the very best kind in the whole world.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. c-sez permalink
    May 30, 2011 5:33 am

    I’m pretty sure I found this post enjoyable, but I have to wait until the data from the control group is analyzed before I’ll know for sure.

  2. Duffy permalink
    June 1, 2011 6:33 pm

    @c-sez, forget the control group, I’ll just wait for the J-PAL crew to tell me what to think.

  3. January 2, 2013 9:53 am

    Read my blog about RCTS and other evidence artefacts in The Big Push Forward is inviting EAW stories about the politics of evidence. If you prefer your name not to be published, we will help you edit the story to protect your anonymity.


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