Posted on 22 June 2012
Professor David Torgerson, Director of the York Trials Unit in the University’s Department of Health Sciences, is one of the co-authors of a high-profile Cabinet Office publication encouraging the use of trials to test public policy.
The introduction of a randomly assigned control group enables you to compare the effectiveness of new interventions against what would have happened if you had changed nothing
Professor David Torgerson
The paper produced by the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team, Professor Torgerson and Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science, argues that Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) – which are widely used in medicine, international development and internet-based businesses – should be used much more extensively in public policy.
The paper 'Test, Learn, Adapt' sets out nine separate steps required to set up any Randomised Controlled Trial.
Professor Torgerson explained: “Many of these steps will be familiar to anyone putting in place a well-designed policy evaluation – for example, deciding in advance the outcome that we are seeking to achieve. Others are less familiar – for example, randomly allocating the intervention to control or intervention groups.
“The introduction of a randomly assigned control group enables you to compare the effectiveness of new interventions against what would have happened if you had changed nothing. RCTs are the best way of determining whether a policy or intervention is working. We believe that policymakers should begin using them much more systematically.”
Professor Torgerson has a wide interest in randomised trials including those in policy. He has undertaken substantial numbers of clinical trials but also non-medical trials including trials in education, criminal justice and general policy. He has published widely on the methods and methodology of randomised controlled trials.
The paper argues that with the right academic and policy support, RCTs can save money in the long term.
Professor Torgerson said: “RCTs provide a powerful tool to help policymakers and practitioners decide which of several policies is the most cost effective, and also which interventions are not as effective as might have been supposed. It is especially important in times of shrinking public sector budgets to be confident that public money is spent on policies shown to deliver value for money.”