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 has launched a competition to select and fund low-cost randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that seek to build 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.

Linked below is the application packet for the competition’s second year (2015), in which we will select and fund 3-4 low-cost RCTs. The awardees in the competition’s first year (2014) illustrate the type of studies we seek to fund:

  • A large, multi-site RCT of Bottom Line, a program that provides one-on-one guidance to help low-income, first-generation students get into and graduate from college. This study is measuring college enrollment, persistence, and completion outcomes for a sample of nearly 1,400 students over a seven-year period, using administrative data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The total study cost is $159,000, of which we awarded $100,000.
  • A large RCT of Durham Connects, a postnatal nurse home visiting program designed to improve child and mother health and well-being. The study is using hospital administrative records to measure program impacts on families’ emergency department use and related healthcare costs through child age 24-months, for a sample of about 1,100 families in Durham County, North Carolina. The total study cost is $183,000, of which we awarded $96,000.
  • A large, multi-site RCT of workplace health and safety inspections carried out by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). For a sample of about 29,000 business establishments eligible for a randomized inspection, the study is testing whether being randomly chosen for inspection affects establishments’ subsequent injury rates and business outcomes (e.g., sales, business closures) over a multi-year period – all measured through administrative data from OSHA and other sources. The total study cost is $153,000, of which we awarded $96,000.

These and other examples were discussed at a July 2014 conference on low-cost RCTs, co-sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and our organization (see our overview, and White House OSTP summary). The conference builds on other recent Executive Branch efforts to advance low-cost, rigorous evaluations, described in the 2014 Economic Report of the President (chapter 7) and the FY 2015 budget (chapter on performance and management, pp. 65-70).

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

Download the Application Packet, which 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.
  • The Request for Proposals (RFP), inviting grant applications for the second of three annual competitions (three pages). As described in the RFP, we are accepting letters of interest from prospective applicants through February 13, 2015.

Resources:
  • Please contact David Anderson, the Coalition’s vice president, with any questions (email, or phone: 202-239-1248).
  • We are offering a Message Board as 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.
  • We will host an optional webinar for prospective applicants in January, providing an overview of the competition process, an opportunity for Q&A, and practical advice on developing a low-cost RCT from an awardee in last year’s competition. A key goal of the webinar is to attract a diverse group of applicants to the competition, including researchers of color. Webinar details (including the date) will be posted on this webpage in early January.