Last month, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) held a free, five-day webinar series in place of their annual in-person Evaluating Social Programs Course. The interactive webinar sessions introduced participants to why and how randomized evaluations can be used to rigorously measure program impact. Lectures were guided by senior J-PAL staff with expertise in randomized evaluations as well as J-PAL affiliated researchers.
Throughout the week, 1,918 attendees from 101 different countries participated in the webinar. While a majority of participants came from government, non-profit, and educational institutions, the online format of the webinar allowed organizers to reach audience members from sectors such as technology, banking, and agriculture as well.
The five sessions were structured to build upon one another, starting with a deep dive into theory of change and outcomes measurement and ending with a session on how to apply evidence from one context to another. Lecturers covered real world examples of program evaluation, from a cognitive behavioral therapy intervention in Liberia to a workplace wellness study in the U.S. state of Illinois. Participants had the opportunity to interact during these case studies through interactive polls and a moderated discussion forum.
“The sessions held throughout the week were very interesting,” one participant noted. “As a student who aspires to study development economics, this was a very balanced insight into the subject, along with intriguing bits of experimental economics. The entire week kept me on my toes, and I looked forward to attend[ing] every session.”
Researchers from J-PAL’s network provided insight into the design and implementation of randomized evaluations they conducted. Damon Jones, an associate professor at University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, spoke on his workplace wellness study and explained why, for this study, a randomized evaluation was preferable to other impact evaluation methods.
In addition to hearing from academic researchers, attendees also learned about randomized evaluations from the perspective of an implementing organization. Chasda Martin, director of programs at READI Chicago, spoke alongside J-PAL affiliate Sara Heller and senior research director at UChicago Urban Labs Monica Bhatt about their experience implementing a randomized evaluation of the READI Chicago gun violence prevention program. In reflecting upon this session, a participant mentioned how it was “helpful to hear how research is being used in a real way to support partner organizations.”
Day three of the webinar overlapped with the #ShutDownAcademia movement, a day to pause and learn about eradicating anti-Black racism. J-PAL used this as an opportunity to spread awareness to their worldwide audience about the Black Lives Matter movement and began the lecture with a statement of solidarity before speaking on research ethics.
Toby Chaiken, policy and training manager at J-PAL North America, opened the session, stating: “The topic of research ethics, while distinct from a lecture or learning on racism and racial justice, is closely tied to it. The guiding principles for ethical research, which we will cover today, came in response to the Tuskegee Study in which 600 black men were experimented on without their consent and without consideration of their wellbeing. They were explicitly lied to and caused tremendous harm in the name of science. The harmful legacies of this experiment persist today.” The session called on J-PAL and webinar participants to “examine our own role in systems of oppression, both in the US, and across the globe,” and “take some time to explore inequity in the spaces in which you work and live.”
By the end of the week, participants left with a comprehensive look into the fundamentals of using randomized evaluations to evaluate social programs and policies. An economics PhD student noted that they found the series “so helpful for thinking about how to convey ideas to broader audiences.” Many participants expressed gratitude that the course was made available for free.
Recordings of each webinar session as well as lecture slides can be found on J-PAL’s Evaluating Social Programs Webinar Series web page. Those interested in receiving updates on future courses can visit J-PAL’s Training and Education page.