Randomistas help change our world
The Chronicle, 20 March 2018
Some years ago, the British Government was trying to figure out how to encourage people to sign up for the organ donor registry.
Rather than go with their gut, the government’s ‘Nudge Unit’ randomly trialled various messages. One was a picture of smiling people and the words: ‘Every day thousands of people who see this page decide to register.’ Another had no photo, just the text: ‘If you needed an organ transplant, would you have one? If so, please help others.’
Many thought the former would work best.
But it took a randomised trial to prove that the ‘would you have one?’ message produced 100,000 more organ donors a year.
In my new book, Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Changed Our World, I argue that randomised experiments are proliferating in business, medicine and social policy.
Here in Canberra, Dick Telford and his colleagues have run randomised trials showing that quality after-school sports programs can boost fitness and academic outcomes. Working with the ACT Government, John Braithwaite and his coauthors find that restorative justice cuts crime and assists victims. And CSIRO teams have run fire simulation randomised experiments in the Yarralumla Pyrotron that help fight bushfires.
All around us, randomised trials are shaping the world - one coin toss at a time.
Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fenner.