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An experimental design will offer the best evidence that your program is responsible for changes in outcomes. It is used most often by researchers in the physical sciences because they can control their lab environments, repeat experiments, and determine causality. For obvious reasons, it is much more difficult to implement valid experimental designs in human services settings.

Often, ethical concerns render experimental evaluation of human services unfeasible. Some human service administrators may be unwilling to allow participants to be randomly assigned to experimental and control groups, as they believe it denies treatment to individuals who need it (although wait-list control groups can remedy this issue).

For some agencies, the main constraint may be the higher cost, as experimental designs require tracking an extra study group through a period of time in which they may not be receiving the benefit of an intervention.

However, an experimental design is worth considering if your resources and circumstances allow it. As evaluation has become more common in the social services arena, especially in light of the trend towards evidence-based programming, many agency directors are willing to work with an evaluator to implement experimental design because they know it is the best way to determine whether the program to which they are committing resources is achieving its intended outcomes.

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