Why Do RCT in ICT4D When You Can A/B Test?
April 11, 2014 Editor 0
Recently, D. Jerome Martin tweeted that he was happy that 50% of USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures grantees were conducting randomized control trials in their interventions. He felt it was a move in the right direction, that big data drives big impact. I disagree.
I think its great we are measuring more of our activities in development – we need to end Oscar Night Syndrome – but I don’ think RCTs are necessarily the best way to go. There many critiques of RCTs (here, here, and here are a few), but my main issue is timing. RCTs take years. In ICT4D, technology changes each quarter, if not faster. An RCT started with BlackBerry phones but not tablets in 2010 and published today? Useless.
What technology can teach us
In web design, we have A/B testing, where you develop two (or more) version of a page and test to see which one has the better response rate. Google is a big fan.
What if interventions were A/B tested? Say the top two ideas were awarded pilot funding and the service that had the best intervention result received full funding to scale? Or if USAID required A/B testing of interventions throughout the program life, and we were all honest about funding the effective one, killing HiPPO’s in the process?
Wouldn’t that make A/B testing a faster, better way to do aid, especially technology infused aid, than randomized control trials?
My point here is not to rule out RCTs in development, only that often we do not have the luxury of years for an RCT experiment to run its course. Not in the timescales of development nor in technology. So let’s not slow down innovation by stifling ICT4D with RCTs.
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