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Project for Quick-Turnaround Experimental Studies Expands

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy is expanding its initiative to promote faster, less-expensive experimental studies to drive spending decisions.

The coalition opened its second round of requests for proposals for researchers interested in exploring new approaches to the often-expensive and drawn-out randomized controlled trials, such as using existing administrative data or embedding randomization such as lottery assignment into a policy or program as it is implemented.

It plans to award up to four $100,000 grants, including one sponsored by the Overdeck Family Foundation to study early childhood or K-12 education.

The initiative is intended to help bulk up program and policy evaluations as lawmakers grapple with tighter budgets. "Progress in social policy, as in other fields, requires strategic trial and error—i.e., rigorously testing many promising interventions to identify the few that are effective," the coalition noted in its RFP, but added that "of the 90 interventions evaluated in [randomized controlled trials] commissioned by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) since 2002, approximately 90 percent were found to have weak or no positive effects."

Last year the coalition launched the initiative with three grants, including one on education, which was an evaluation of Bottom Line, a mentoring program to improve college attendance and persistence among low-income students.

"In general, we were pleased with the first-year process and the quality of the [randomized controlled trial] projects that were awarded," Jon Baron told me, but the coalition tweaked the competition to specifically encourage researchers who want to replicate interesting prior evaluation findings that were "not yet conclusive" because they had limited sites, follow-up time, or comparison groups that were not fully randomized. The competition would also favor projects evaluating interventions that have been put into "real-world implementation."

The coalition will also give potential applicants more advice and support in designing their studies, via a webinar in January. Researchers can submit letters of interest for this round of grants through Feb.13, 2015—awards will be announced next June—and the coalition plans to hold one more competition in 2016.

Want more research news? Follow @SarahDSparks on Twitter for the latest studies, and join the conversation.

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