Is a randomized controlled trial right for your NGO?

Data collection in Senegal. Photo by: vredeseilanden / CC BY-NC

SAN FRANCISCO — Last week, Village Enterprise released the results of its randomized controlled trial, which found that its holistic entrepreneurship program — which involved training and mentorship as well as funding — had a greater impact on extreme poverty reduction than cash transfers alone.

In a meeting with Devex in San Francisco, Village Enterprise Chief Executive Officer Dianne Calvi said she wants to set an example in hopes that more nonprofit organizations become evidence based.

But she acknowledged that RCTs are not the right fit for every organization. With growing interest from donors and practitioners in evidence, these randomized evaluations are just one possible tool in the toolkit. So, how do you know whether an RCT is right for your NGO?

How to include a randomized controlled trial in your project proposal

Randomized controlled trials can be an effective way to determine the true impact of interventions. For development projects, they need to be carefully planned and prepared, to ensure they can provide high-quality results that effectively communicate why an intervention does or doesn't work — improving aid and development programs for the future.

Innovations for Poverty Action, or IPA, is a research and policy nonprofit based at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, with a mission to create high-quality evidence and turn that evidence into better programs and policies for the poor, is known for its work on RCTs. Experts from the organization spoke with Devex about what organizations should consider before investing in what is considered the gold standard of impact evaluation design. IPA believes RCTs are just one of several monitoring and evaluation options that organizations have, and it recently launched a new program to help groups find the right fit for them.

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.