In this opinion piece, we discuss the use of Randomised Control Trials (RCTs, also known as Randomised Controlled Trials) in conservation and environmental management. We review the literature from fields in which RCTs are more widely used, such as medicine, development economics, labour economics, and psychology, and contextualise relevant issues from this for the conservation field. This piece is aimed principally at conservation practitioners interested in evaluating programs using randomised methods, and as such introduces RCTs from scratch and directs interested parties to other, more detailed, literature explaining their implementation. To facilitate this we provide a checklist or flow diagram of seven principal issues relating to RCTs’ advisability, feasibility and quality that we believe are critical for implementers to consider when deciding upon impact evaluation methods. We also, however, intend our piece to serve as a guide for researchers and funding bodies in considering RCT quality. We illustrate these theoretical issues with the example of one of the very few large-scale examples of a socio-ecological RCT of a conservation intervention, the case of Watershared in the Bolivian Andes (Asquith, 2016, Grillos, 2017, and Bottazzi et al., 2018).
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Asquith, N.M. 2016. Watershared: Adaptation, mitigation, watershed protection and economic development in Latin America. London: Climate & Development Knowledge Network.
Grillos T. 2017. Economic vs non-material incentives for participation in an in-kind payments for ecosystem services program in Bolivia. Ecological Economics 131:178–190.
Bottazzi P., Wiik E., Crespo D., Jones JPG. 2018. Payment for Environmental “Self-Service”: Exploring the Links Between Farmers’ Motivation and Additionality in a Conservation Incentive Programme in the Bolivian Andes. Ecological Economics 150:11–23.