Ruhr Economic Papers

Ruhr Economic Papers #716

Generalization in the Tropics – Development Policy, Randomized Controlled Trials, and External Validity

by Jörg Peters, Jörg Langbein and Gareth Roberts

RWI, 10/2017, 40 S./p., 8 Euro, ISBN 978-3-86788-835-6 DOI: 10.4419/86788835



When properly implemented, Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT) achieve a high degree of internal validity. Yet, if an RCT is to inform policy, it is critical to establish external validity. This paper systematically reviews all RCTs conducted in developing countries and published in leading economic journals between 2009 and 2014 with respect to how they deal with external validity. Following Duflo, Glennerster, and Kremer (2008), the hazards to external validity we scrutinize are Hawthorne effects, general equilibrium effects, specific sample problems, and special care in treatment provision. Based on a set of objective indicators, we find that the majority of published RCTs does not discuss these hazards and many do not provide the necessary information to assess potential problems. The paper calls for including external validity dimensions in a more systematic reporting on the results of RCTs. This may create incentives to avoid overgeneralizing findings and help policy makers to interpret results appropriately.

JEL-Classification: C83, C93

Keywords: Policy evaluation; systematic review; internal validity; external validity; randomized controlled trials