What Works in Social Policy?

Programs with credible evidence from well-conducted randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of important effects on people’s lives

The Problem:

Most social programs are, unfortunately, found not to produce the hoped-for effects when rigorously evaluated. Programs that produce important improvements in people’s lives do exist, but tend to be the exception.

To Help Address This Problem:

This site seeks to identify those programs found in rigorous studies to produce sizable, sustained benefits to participants and society. The purpose is to enable policy officials and other readers to readily distinguish these programs from the many others that claim to have such evidence.

Our Process:

We have identified these programs through our systematic monitoring of all rigorous evaluations published or posted online across all areas of social policy, and review of the most promising findings in consultation with outside experts. As a nonprofit philanthropic foundation, we receive no financial benefit from any program, enabling us to serve as an impartial reviewer.

Ratings

Top Tier

Programs shown in well-conducted RCTs, carried out in typical community settings, to produce sizable, sustained effects on important outcomes. Top Tier evidence includes a requirement for replication – specifically, the demonstration of such effects in two or more RCTs conducted in different implementation sites, or, alternatively, in one large multi-site RCT. Such evidence provides confidence that the program would produce important effects if implemented faithfully in settings and populations similar to those in the original studies.

Near Top Tier

Programs shown to meet almost all elements of the Top Tier standard, and which only need one additional step to qualify. This category primarily includes programs that meet all elements of the Top Tier standard in a single study site, but need a replication RCT to confirm the initial findings and establish that they generalize to other sites. This is best viewed as tentative evidence that the program would produce important effects if implemented faithfully in settings and populations similar to those in the original study.

Suggestive Tier

Programs that have been evaluated in one or more well-conducted RCTs (or studies that closely approximate random assignment) and found to produce sizable positive effects, but whose evidence is limited by only short-term follow-up, effects that fall short of statistical significance, or other factors. Such evidence suggests the program may be an especially strong candidate for further research, but does not yet provide confidence that the program would produce important effects if implemented in new settings.

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