What Works in Social Policy?
Findings From Well-Conducted Randomized Controlled Trials
U.S. social programs, set up to address important problems, often fall short by funding specific models/strategies (“interventions”) that are not effective. When evaluated in scientifically-rigorous studies, social interventions in K-12 education, job training, crime prevention, and other areas are frequently found ineffective or marginally effective. Interventions that produce sizable, sustained effects on important life outcomes tend to be the exception. Meanwhile, respected government measures show that the United States has made little progress since the late 1970s in key areas such as reducing poverty1 and increasing K-12 educational achievement.2
To Help Address This Problem:
This site seeks to identify those social interventions shown in rigorous studies to produce sizable, sustained benefits to participants and/or society. We do this by systematically monitoring the literature of all rigorous program evaluations – published and unpublished – across all areas of social policy. The purpose is to enable policy officials to readily distinguish the few interventions that are truly backed by rigorous evidence from the many that claim to be. Although we support many types of research to develop and identify promising interventions, this site’s discussion is limited to the results of well-conducted randomized controlled trials, consistent with the recommendation of a recent National Academy of Sciences report that evidence of effectiveness generally cannot be considered definitive without ultimate confirmation in such trials.
The Interventions We’ve Identified Are Linked Below
Those found through an expert review process to meet the Congressional “Top Tier” evidence standard are denoted “Top Tier”; those found to require only one more step to meet this standard – e.g., replication of their sizeable, sustained effects in an additional well-conducted randomized controlled trial – are denoted “Near Top Tier”. The other listed interventions have been found promising by Coalition staff but have not yet been identified by the expert panel as Top Tier or Near Top Tier – in some cases, because of study limitations (such as only short-term follow-up) that indicate the need for additional testing.3
Click Here for the Full List of Interventions, with Brief Abstracts
Interventions Organized by Policy Area:
1 DeNavas-Walt, Carmen and Bernadette D. Proctor, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-249, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2014. U.S. Census Bureau, Official and National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Based Poverty Rates: 1999 to 2011, 2012. Kathleen Short, U.S. Census Bureau, HHES Division, Estimating Resources for Poverty Measurement, 1993 – 2003, 2005. Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance, National Academy of Sciences, Measuring Poverty: A New Approach, 1995, pp. 31-36. Christopher Wimer, Liana Fox, Irv Garfinkel, Neeraj Kaushal, and Jane Waldfogel, Trends in Poverty with an Anchored Supplemental Poverty Measure, December 2013.
2 The Nation’s Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress 2012, NCES 2013-456, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, 2013.
3 While we strive to ensure that our staff-level summaries are accurate and balanced, readers should note that they have received less scrutiny than those reviewed by the expert panel for Top Tier or Near Top Tier consideration.