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How can experiments play a greater role in public policy? Twelve proposals from an economic model of scaling

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2020

Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies, Manama, Bahrain Department of Economics and the Mercatus Center, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA College of Industrial Management, King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia NBER, Cambridge, MA, USA
School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Professor of Surgery and Pediatric, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA Co-Director, TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
E-mail address:


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.

Copyright © The Author(s) 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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