RCTs past, present and future - a personal perspective with Stephen Morris: SRA 40th lecture (Manchester)


Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) have become an increasingly prominent and somewhat controversial feature of the social research and policy evaluation landscapes. In the late 1990s/early 2000s there was a surge of interest arising from the call for ‘evidence-based’ policy making; and again a decade later from the growing interest in ‘behavioural insights’ and the establishment of the What Works Centres. In this free evening lecture, Professor Stephen Morris of Manchester Metropolitan University will discuss some of the factors that drove interest in the use of RCTs in policy evaluation. Drawing on experience in the civil service, independent research institutes and lately in academia, he will offer some personal reflections on the enduring appeal of randomisation, and share some thoughts on contemporary practice and on future prospects for these approaches.

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The discussant is Mike Daly, known as the DWP’s ‘evaluation guru’ in the Central Analysis Division, and the lecture will be chaired by Beverley Bishop, Chief Social Researcher at the Health and Safety Executive.


Stephen Morris has been active in research and evaluation over the past 25 years, and is currently Professor of Evaluation at Manchester Metropolitan University.  In a career spanning the Institute for Employment Studies, The Civil Service (where he contributed to the first edition of the government’s Magenta Book), the Policy Studies Institute, and NatCen Social Research as Head of Evaluation until 2016, Stephen has experience of using a range of different designs and approaches in applied research and policy evaluation.  His current research focuses on the evaluation of school-based interventions to raise attainment, and evaluation of interventions to improve literacy and numeracy among adult learners in prisons.

Mike Daly currently works in the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP’s) Central Analysis Division, with responsibilities largely revolving around external engagement with academia, including taking forward DWP’s engagement with the Administrative Data Research Network. Mike also provides expert support to research and evaluation activity across all areas of DWP. Mike has been a member of the Cross-Government Evaluation Group since 2009, and was part of the working group which developed the 2011 version of the Magenta Book, the government guide to evaluation.

Beverley Bishop represents the Health and Safety Executive on the Government Social Research Board, at the Cross-Government Behavioural Insights Network, and on the Steering Group of the Paris Risk Group, an international network of social scientists working in risk agencies. She is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Sheffield Political Economy Research Centre. Bev’s roles in universities, research consultancy, and government analysis in the UK, New Zealand and Japan have given her extensive experience in analytics and evaluation.

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