Journal Article

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

Behavioural Public Policy | January 01, 2021
Omar Al-Ubaydli, Min Sok Lee, John A. List, Claire L. Mackevicius, Dana Suskind


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.