This paper sets out to synthesize key lessons from studies using alternative methodologies to impact assessment. Drawing on Sen’s capability approach as a conceptual framework, it analyses two pairs of impact assessments which were carried out in West Bengal and Sindh around the same time and within close proximity to each other. Each pair consisted of a randomized control trial and a qualitative assessment of attempts to pilot BRAC’s approach to transferring assets to women in extreme poverty. The paper reports on the findings of these studies, their strategies for establishing their claims about causality and the information base they drew on to establish these claims.
It finds that not only did the RCTs fail to meet their own criteria for establishing causality, but they also provided very limited explanation for the patterns of outcomes observed. Such information formed the substance of the qualitative studies. The paper concludes that greater use of mixed methods could help to offset some of limitations of RCTs and to place their findings on much firmer ground.