How Can Experiments Play a Greater Role in Public Policy? 12 Proposals from an Economic Model of Scaling

45 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2019

See all articles by Omar Al-Ubaydli

Omar Al-Ubaydli

George Mason University - Department of Economics; Derasat; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Min Sok Lee

University of Chicago - Department of Economics

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Claire Mackevicius

Northwestern University

Dana Suskind

University of Chicago

Date Written: October 1, 2019

Abstract

Policymakers are increasingly turning to insights gained from the experimental method as a means to inform large scale public policies. Critics view this increased usage as premature, pointing to the fact that many experimentally-tested programs fail to deliver their promise at scale. Under this view, the experimental approach drives too much public policy. Yet, if policymakers could be more confident that the original research findings would be delivered at scale, even the staunchest critics would carve out a larger role for experiments to inform policy. Leveraging the economic framework of Al-Ubaydli et al. (2019), we put forward 12 simple proposals, spanning researchers, policymakers, funders, and stakeholders, which together tackle the most vexing scalability threats. The framework highlights that only after we deepen our understanding of the scale up problem will we be on solid ground to argue that scientific experiments should hold a more prominent place in the policymaker’s quiver.

Keywords: field experiments, scaling; policymaking

JEL Classification: C90, C91, C93

Suggested Citation

Al-Ubaydli, Omar and Lee, Min Sok and List, John A. and Mackevicius, Claire and Suskind, Dana, How Can Experiments Play a Greater Role in Public Policy? 12 Proposals from an Economic Model of Scaling (October 1, 2019). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2019-131, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3478066 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3478066

Omar Al-Ubaydli

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Derasat ( email )

Bahrain

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

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Min Sok Lee

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

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John A. List (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Claire Mackevicius

Northwestern University ( email )

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Dana Suskind

University of Chicago ( email )

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