NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Program Evaluation and Research Designs

John DiNardo, David S. Lee

NBER Working Paper No. 16016
Issued in May 2010
NBER Program(s):   LS   PE

This chapter provides a selective review of some contemporary approaches to program evaluation. One motivation for our review is the recent emergence and increasing use of a particular kind of “program” in applied microeconomic research, the so-called Regression Discontinuity (RD) Design of Thistlethwaite and Campbell (1960).  We organize our discussion of these various research designs by how they secure internal validity:  in this view, the RD design can been seen as a close “cousin” of the randomized experiment. An important distinction which emerges from our discussion of  “heterogeneous treatment effects” is between ex post (descriptive) and ex ante (predictive) evaluations; these two types of evaluations have distinct, but complementary goals.  A second important distinction we make is between statistical statements that are descriptions of our knowledge of the program assignment process and statistical statements that are structural assumptions about individual behavior. Using these distinctions, we examine some commonly employed evaluation strategies, and assess them with a common set of criteria for “internal validity”, the foremost goal of an ex post evaluation.  In some cases, we also provide some concrete illustrations of how internally valid causal estimates can be supplemented with specific structural assumptions to address “external validity”: the estimate from an internally valid "experimental" estimate  can be viewed as a “leading term” in an extrapolation for a parameter of interest in an ex ante evaluation.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16016

Published: “Program Evaluation and Research Designs” with John DiNard o, in Handbook of Labor Economics, Volume 4A , Orley Ashenfelter and David Card, ed., Elsevier B.V., 2011.

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