No Peeking! In Morocco, an Old-Fashioned Take on Random Assignment
Sometimes, there’s just no substitute for an old-fashioned approach.
A team from Mathematica recently returned from Morocco, where we’re beginning a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) Secondary Education Activity initiative. MCC is funding a package of interventions in about 100 secondary schools in Morocco, including pedagogical reform, infrastructure improvements, and teacher training. A few weeks ago, we assisted in conducting random assignment—choosing which schools would receive the program—in the first region, Tanger-Tétouan.
We put a lot of thought into how we would actually implement random assignment. Up to the very last moment, collaborators from our team, MCC, and the Moroccan Ministry of Education debated several approaches. One decision we had to make was whether to do selection using a computer—the standard and sophisticated approach. A computer would generate a random number for each school and then assign each school to the intervention or control group. In the end, however, we decided that it was important for the selection to be as public and transparent as possible. So we did random assignment the old-fashioned way: by drawing blocks from a bag. Each school was assigned a block and would receive the intervention if its block was picked.
Random assignment of development interventions sometimes gets a bad rap. The very idea of experimenting—leaving it up to chance which people or schools receive an intervention—makes some people uneasy, for obvious reasons. In this instance, however, the process of selecting schools through random assignment was viewed as the most fair, transparent, and participatory process to allocate a scarce and valuable resource. The selection ceremony brought together a wide range of officials, from the minister of education to teachers and students.
Publicly involving stakeholders in this ceremony helped to engage school authorities in what usually would be a boring affair of conducting random assignment. We were encouraged to see that some school officials had their pens out during the event, verifying in their lists that we had marked the correct school to the intervention group when the school’s block was drawn. We hope that in some way this process has made them more committed to the project’s goals.
So here’s to a good start to this project. The harder work is still ahead of us, but we look forward to working closely with MCC and the Moroccan Ministry of Education on this evaluation.