Demonstrating How Low-Cost Randomized Controlled Trials
Can Drive Effective Social Spending:

Project Overview and Request for Proposals

Background and Purpose:

In response to the White House and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) call to action for evidence-based reforms across the federal government, the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy is launching a competition for low-cost randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that seek to build valid, actionable evidence about “what works” in U.S. social spending.

This is designed as a high-visibility, three-year initiative, whose purpose is to demonstrate the feasibility and value of low-cost RCTs to a wide policy and philanthropic audience. In its first year, the competition will select and fund three low-cost RCTs that meet the criteria for policy importance and other factors described in the application packet. We will also be co-sponsoring a workshop on low-cost RCTs with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in mid-2014 in Washington DC, aimed at exploring wider government and philanthropic use of such studies with leading researchers, and officials of the White House and OMB, federal agencies, Congress, philanthropic foundations, state/local government, and other organizations that help shape social spending.

This initiative complements – and provides external reinforcement for – recent Executive Branch efforts to advance low-cost RCTs. For example, the concept of low-cost RCTs is prominently featured in the July 2013 White House and OMB guidance to the federal agencies on Next Steps in the Evidence and Innovation Agenda, and in OMB’s May 2012 memo to the agencies on Use of Evidence and Evaluation, which cites the brief we developed on such studies. The concept and brief are also discussed in the President’s FY 2014 budget (here, page 94).

The Coalition is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is unaffiliated with any social programs or program models. This initiative is funded through philanthropic grants to the Coalition from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Download the Application Packet

The packet includes:

  • A brief concept paper on the initiative (three pages)

The Breakthrough: Low-cost RCTs are a recent innovation in policy research that can rapidly build the body of evidence about “what works” to address major social problems.

  • A Request for Proposals (RFP), inviting grant applications for the first of three annual competitions (three pages)

In 2014, we will select and fund three low-cost RCTs in U.S. social policy – up to $100,000 each – that meet the criteria for policy importance and other factors described in the RFP.

  • Please visit our Message Board, an optional resource that seeks to facilitate partnerships among the parties that need to come together to apply for an award – e.g., researcher, social service agency, and data agency, as described in the RFP.
  • Please contact David Anderson, the Coalition’s vice president, with any questions (email, or phone: 202-239-1248).
Coverage of the Low-Cost RCT Competition: