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All that glitters is not gold: the political economy of randomized evaluations in development

Florent Bédécarrats, Isabelle Guérin () and Francois Roubaud ()
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Florent Bédécarrats: AFD - Agence française de développement
Isabelle Guérin: CESSMA UMRD 245 - Centre d'études en sciences sociales sur les mondes africains, américains et asiatiques - IRD - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement - Inalco - Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales - UPD7 - Université Paris Diderot - Paris 7

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Abstract: Randomized control trials (RCTs) have a narrow scope, restricted to basic intervention schemes. Experimental designs also display specific biases and political uses when implemented in the real world. Despite these limitations, the method has been advertised as the gold standard to evaluate development policies. This article adopts a political economy approach to explore this paradox. It argues that the success of RCTs is driven mainly by a new scientific business model based on a mix of simplicity and mathematical rigour, media and donor appeal, and academic and financial returns. This in turn meets current interests and preferences in the academic world and the donor community.

Keywords: Experimental method; Political economy; Development JEL codes: A11; B41; C18; C93; D72; O10; Randomized control trials; methodology; epistemology; Impact evaluation; Randomised control trials (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-exp
Date: 2019
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Published in Development and Change, Wiley, 2019, 50 (3), pp.735-762. ⟨10.1111/dech.12378⟩

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