Randomised control trials: lessons for Civic Tech

Andrew Westbury

25 Apr 2017, 4:30 p.m.
Room 9

Randomised controlled trials – or RCTs – have dramatically changed the development landscape, casting doubt on the effectiveness of accepted strategies – like microfinance – and identifying the value of previously-unorthodox activities, like unconditional cash transfers.

However, what have these powerful tools taught us about state capacity, government accountability, and responsiveness? Moreover, what does the RCT literature tell us about the use of technology to improve public services and galvanize citizen groups?

Unfortunately, state capacity and government accountability are some of the least-researched areas of international development. The International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) reports that less than 3% of registered impact evaluations focus on governance-related issues.

Moreover, a review of 175 recent RCTs identified only approximately 30 that included a specific tech-focus and few of these evaluated used tech from the “bottom-up” to catalyse community-action, peer-to-peer collaboration, and citizen-led efforts to address civic issues.

The Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) at UC-Berkeley has recently launched a multi-year effort to support randomised evaluations of governance interventions around the world. As a part of this process, CEGA this year published a white paper, surveying over 200 recent impact evaluations on governance issues to identify “what works” and highlight open research questions.