The Experimenter’s Inventory: A catalogue of experiments for decision-makers and professionals
From the thousands of experiments conducted by Thomas Edison to create the first lightbulb, through to trials in medicine, or the long-running field experiments than underpin modern agriculture, trying ideas out in practice is a cornerstone of scientific and technological discovery. Experiments are now critical to sectors where innovation and optimisation are routine, like web development.
However, in government experimentation remains relatively rare. Genuine experimentation is about committing to rigorous evaluation and evidence — not just freewheeling “trying stuff out”. It’s about putting in place a structure to learn from trying things out in the world. It is not about just doing things differently — and expecting to succeed. And this is what we urgently need to improve the impact of prevention programmes.
What is experimentation in policy or practice? And why is an experiment worth investing in? What can an experiment tell you? And when or where might it fall short?
Answers to these questions are often complicated and unclear. This inventory provides an antidote: a catalogue of experiments of different shapes and sizes, and simple advice on the pros and cons of different designs.