Most local governments and nonprofit organizations do not have the expertise or capacity to conduct systematic and rigorous evaluations of their efforts to improve community wellbeing. This is where MDL can help. We work with local partners to identify research projects that meet the needs of our clients. Unlike typical consultants, we utilize randomized experiments to evaluate policy effectiveness and we share the results of our studies so that community stakeholders and policymakers can learn from each other.
Randomized experiments are considered the “gold standard” in policy evaluation. Without a comparison group, it is impossible to adequately measure program impact. It is always possible that any observed difference in outcomes could be attributed to an outside factor that had nothing to do with the program or policy. Randomized experiments address this problem by providing a counterfactual: what would have happened if the policy or program not been initiated?
Randomized experiments do add an additional layer to policy evaluation, and researchers need to take extra care to be sensitive to the concerns of community stakeholders. Before any study begins, MDL will meet with our local partners to discuss potential research questions and whether a randomized experiment is the appropriate evaluation tool. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to adopt an alternative research design (e.g., survey, focus group, quasi-experiment). We work closely with our partners throughout the research study to ensure that the evaluation does not stretch organizational capacity, is respectful of community members, and answers the questions that the partner wants.