Social Experiments Have Subtle Rather Than Direct Effect on Policymaking

Studying the relationship between social experiments and public policy-making

From 1993 to 1996, researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, carried out a study to systematically examine the relationship between social experiments and public policymaking.

Researchers conducted detailed case studies of six social experiments:

  • The RAND Health Insurance Experiment.
  • The Nursing Home Incentive Reimbursement Experiment.
  • The Florida site of the Program for Prepaid Managed Health Care.
  • Income Maintenance Experiments.
  • Welfare-to-Work Experiments.
  • Unemployment Insurance Bonus/Incentive Experiments.

Key Findings

  • Social experiments rarely have direct and decisive effects on policymaking; subtle effects are far more common.

  • Timing, dissemination of results, and policymaker preferences influence the impact of social experiments. The most useful social experiments are those that cover issues that are still important when results become available.