The hype circle in development

Lant Pritchett’s post in the CGD blog talks about the hype circle – the five stages 

1.Technology trigger

2.Peak of Inflated expectations

3.Trough of disillusionment

4.Slope of Enlightenment

5.Plateau of Productivity

Lant applies it to RCTs, and I think this applies to pretty much any significant so-called innovation:

I think there is little question that randomized techniques were underutilized in development practice and research in 1993.  I also think there is little question that in 2013 RCTs are now in an overvaluation bubble and nearing the Peak of Inflated Expectations.  (Of course one of the true signs of the peak of a bubble is the increasing vehemence with which people who invested their financial and human capital into the bubble deny that it is a bubble).

Easy parallels with the micro-credit industry, which is probably trying to break into the ‘Slope of enlightenment’; on the other hand, unconditional cash transfers are probably beginning their initial climb up towards inflated expectations. Overall, definitely a helpful analytical exercise when approaching ideas in development, given that we encounter them at varying stages of their life. 

Coming back to RCTs, here is Lant’s recommendation for RCTs

The transformation to productivity will have to embed RCT advocacy into:

a)      reasonable “theory of change”—an articulated positive politics of policy formulation—that explains how and why RCT evidence will be incorporated into decision making

b)      a plausible model of how organizations adopt new practices at scale and how RCTs provide the kind of evidence that changes behavior,

c)       a truly scientific approach to external validity that acknowledges the hyper-dimensionality of the design space and the potentially rugged nature of the fitness function

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