Experimentation at Scale
This paper makes the case for greater use of randomized experiments “at scale.” We review various critiques of experimental program evaluation in developing countries, and discuss how experimenting at scale along three specific dimensions – the size of the sampling frame, the number of units treated, and the size of the unit of randomization – can help alleviate them. We find that program evaluation randomized controlled trials published in top journals over the last 15 years have typically been “small” in these senses, but also identify a number of examples – including from our own work – demonstrating that experimentation at much larger scales is both feasible and valuable.
We thank David Lagakos, Abhijeet Singh, and the editors - Gordon Hanson, Enrico Moretti, and Timothy Taylor - for helpful discussions and suggestions; special thanks to Sandip Sukhtankar, our co-author on the AP Smartcards evaluation which has shaped many of our ideas on this topic. Sam Krumholz provided excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Karthik Muralidharan & Paul Niehaus, 2017. "Experimentation at Scale," Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol 31(4), pages 103-124. citation courtesy of