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Evaluating Social Programs

Learn why and when randomized evaluations can be used to rigorously evaluate the impact of social programs and how findings can inform the design of evidence-based policies and programs.

start date
4 weeks
3-5 hours per week

About this course

This course is currently archived. You can view most of the course materials, such as lectures and readings, and many assignments. However, you cannot complete assignments for a grade; you cannot upgrade or earn a certificate; the discussion forums may not be open or actively monitored; and some assignments or links may no longer work.

At a Glance

  • Randomized evaluations can be a valuable tool to measure the impact of social programs. In this course, you will learn why, when, and how to design and implement a randomized evaluation.
  • Free and self-paced - enroll and complete the course at your own pace.
  • Upgrade to the Certificate Track ($99) to be eligible to take the final quiz and receive a certificate of completion from J-PAL and MITx.

More About the Course

This course explores each step in designing a randomized evaluation, from developing a theory of change and conducting the randomization process to navigating design challenges and ethical considerations. Through lectures led by J-PAL affiliated professors and case studies using real-world examples, you will gain an understanding of both technical design aspects and practical considerations for measuring impact with a randomized evaluation. Throughout the course, you will learn how to recognize opportunities for evaluation, how to design a high-quality randomized evaluation, and how to maximize policy impact and assess the generalizability of research findings.

This course is designed for policymakers, program implementers, and practitioners from governments, NGOs, international organizations, foundations, and beyond, as well as students looking for an introduction to randomized evaluations. Join a community of learners from around the world who are interested in learning how rigorous evaluation and evidence can ensure their organizations’ programs have the intended impact.

For researchers looking for more in-depth practical guidance for conducting randomized evaluations, including modules on survey design and data collection and management, we encourage you to enroll J-PAL’s semester-long course on Designing and Running Randomizations which is part of the MITx Data, Economics, and Development Policy MicroMasters Program.

Organizations -- contact the J-PAL Training Team to explore how to enroll your staff as a cohort in our blended learning program.

What you’ll learn

  • Why and when rigorous impact evaluation is needed
  • Common pitfalls of evaluation designs and how randomization can help
  • Key components of a well-designed randomized evaluation
  • How to develop a theory of change and identify data sources
  • How to determine an appropriate sample size and measure outcomes
  • Techniques for incorporating randomization into existing program designs
  • How to guard against threats that may undermine the integrity of results
  • Techniques for analyzing and interpreting results
  • How to use findings to inform evidence-based policymaking


Although not required, prior familiarity with basic statistical concepts is recommended.

Meet your instructors

  • Rachel Glennerster

    Rachel Glennerster is an associate professor of economics in the Division of Social Science at the University of Chicago. She is also an affiliated professor and former Executive Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). She uses randomized trials to study democracy and accountability, health, education, microfinance, and women’s empowerment mainly in West Africa and South Asia. She has also written on strategies to stimulate innovation, promoting more equitable access to vaccines, and the response to Ebola and COVID-19 pandemics.

    To learn more, please click here.

  • Iqbal Dhaliwal

    Iqbal Dhaliwal is the Global Executive Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Based at the economics department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he works with the Board of Directors to develop the organization’s strategic vision, and with the leadership of J-PAL’s regional offices to coordinate research, policy outreach, capacity building, and operations worldwide. He is also the co-director with Esther Duflo of J-PAL’s South Asia office, co-chair with Abhijit Banerjee of the Innovation in Government Initiative, and co-chair with Shawn Cole and Lars Vilhuber of the Innovations in Data and Experiments for Action Initiative.

    To learn more, please click here.

  • Benjamin Olken

    Benjamin A. Olken is the Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics at MIT. His research focuses on the public sector in developing countries, including work on social safety nets, taxation, and governance. He has worked extensively in Indonesia for over 20 years, as well as in other contexts. Olken earned his PhD in 2004 from Harvard University. He is a Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and Scientific Director of J-PAL Southeast Asia and previously served as a Co-Chair of J-PAL's Governance Initiative. He is also the Editor of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics and the Co-Director of the NBER Development Economics Program.

Who can take this course?

Because of U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) restrictions and other U.S. federal regulations, learners residing in one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea and the Crimea, Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic regions of Ukraine.