As usual, he is wise:
Yes, the randomized evaluation remains the "gold standard" for
important (albeit narrow) questions. Social science, however, has a
much bigger toolbox for a much broader (and often more interesting)
realm of inquiry. If you want to know the effects of small binary
treatments, you are in business. If you find any other question in the
world interesting, you have some more work to do. Dani Rodrik has made
a similar point here.
get me wrong: a large number of my projects are randomized control
trials. They are eminently worth pursuing. But to be honest, uncovering
the causes of effects excites me more than measuring the effects of
causes. An evaluation masters the second, but only hints at the first.
The hardest and most rewarding work is the theoretical and
investigative work that comes with uncovering the underlying rhythms
and rules of human behavior.
…If your goal is to improve the delivery of aid, and truly advance
development, many more skills and knowledge are involved than the
randomized evaluation. See here for
more. But in short: a well-identified causal impact that arrives two
years after the program does not performance management make.
Chris also points us toward a new and excellent blog, Obama in Kenya.