Don Arthur emails on a topic close to my heart, with a sensible and straightforward proposal that should be extremely appealing to a federal government that has announced its commitment to evidence-based policymaking.
I’m a big fan of your op-eds on randomised control trials. You might be interested to know that Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) is lobbying the government to use a RCT approach for projects funded through the new innovation fund for employment services.
CSSA’s latest submission says:
The innovation fund creates an opportunity for the Department to identify and disseminate information on innovative practices. However, because the impacts of employment programs are typically small, experimental or quasi-experimental methods are needed to accurately measure program impacts.
The Department should ensure that all programs supported by innovation funds are subject to a rigorous impact evaluation. The Department should consider contracting an independent research organisation to evaluate and report on innovative projects. The evaluators should have all necessary access to DEEWR data and other resources. Such an approach would assist comparison of projects under the scheme.
Using the resources of the Department it ought to be possible to conduct randomised control trials with job seekers receiving the ordinary level of service as a control group.
One of the reasons an experimental approach is feasible with employment services is that Centrelink is already referring job seekers to Job Network members on an almost random basis. Unless a job seeker states a preference for a particular provider, Centrelink shares out the referrals among providers with spare capacity.
The counterfactual in innovation experiments would be the regular level of service. That would neatly answer the most pertinent policy question — Is the new approach better than what we’re already doing?
The government is planning to hand out $41m in innovation funding. It would be a tragedy if we never found out whether the innovative approachesÂ actually worked.