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The goal of Cityscape is to bring high-quality original research on housing and community development issues to scholars, government officials, and practitioners. Cityscape is open to all relevant disciplines, including architecture, consumer research, demography, economics, engineering, ethnography, finance, geography, law, planning, political science, public policy, regional science, sociology, statistics, and urban studies.

Cityscape is published three times a year by the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • The Family Options Study
  • Volume 19, Number 3
  • Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
  • Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga

Lessons for Conducting Experimental Evaluations in Complex Field Studies: Family Options Study

Michelle Wood
Abt Associates

Anne Fletcher
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the official positions or policies of the Office of Policy Development and Research, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the U.S. government.

This article examines lessons learned from the implementation of the Family Options Study, a multisite randomized controlled trial designed to measure the relative impacts of various housing and services interventions for homeless families. The study team addressed several challenges in executing the experimental design adopted for the study, including identifying interventions for study, selecting study sites, addressing ethical considerations, and implementing random assignment. The article highlights four key lessons that emerged as the study team addressed these challenges that can inform future experimental research. First, the study illustrates the importance of flexibility in research design when studying existing assistance models rather than testing a demonstration program in which the interventions are uniformly executed. Second, site selection can be a lengthy iterative process that requires creativity and adaptations to local constraints. Third, the Family Option Study shows that ethical considerations can and must drive experimental research design decisions, particularly when studying programs that serve vulnerable programs. Finally, the study design demonstrates that participant intake and random assignment can be adjusted to account for varying program rules, while still allowing for rigorous impact analysis.

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