A US-based laboratory is using scientific, randomised trials — more often associated with clinical trials for drugs — to test which interventions are best when it comes to tackling poverty-related issues.
Its efforts have spurred the World Bank to use a similar strategy. In December the bank will choose proposals to fund a three-year US$14.9 million programme using randomised trials to fight poverty.
The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), part of the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology, uses the process to test the effectiveness of programmes aimed at helping development and alleviating poverty.
Rather than set up its own experiments, J-PAL joins forces with groups already working in the field.
Its studies have found that deworming children in Kenya increases school attendance, and hiring local women to help in underperforming schools in India increases test scores. They have also investigated whether insecticide treated bednets should be subsidised, and looked at incentives for picking up HIV test results and taking TB drugs.
But critics warn that policymakers could interpret the results as concrete evidence and apply them too soon, emphasising the benefit of more traditional social science research.