When a genuine state of uncertainty exists about the benefits of an intervention, so that in theory it could be harmful or ineffective, there is an urgent need for it to be critically examined. This state of uncertainty is known as equipoise in the medical literature.

On the other hand, in cases where a programme cannot be implemented across all individuals immediately, randomisation of eligible individuals can in fact be perceived as more ethical and transparent than any other allocation mechanism. While the ethical concerns may sometimes be misplaced or exaggerated for the reasons just described, it is nevertheless critically important to always carefully consider the potential ethical issues that may arise when designing and conducting RCTs.

To summarise, the gaps in knowledge about what works when and where in the rural and agricultural development space (check out the evidence gaps in 3ie’s Evidence Gap Maps) are still immense, and the opportunities to utilise RCT-type impact evaluations to answer effectiveness questions abound.

Marie M.