How Consistently Do 13 Clearinghouses Identify Social and Behavioral Development Programs as “Evidence-Based”?

Jingwen Zheng, Mansi Wadhwa, Thomas D. Cook*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Clearinghouses develop scientific criteria that they then use to vet existing research studies on a program to reach a verdict about how evidence-based it is. This verdict is then recorded on a website in hopes that stakeholders in science, public policy, the media, and even the general public, will consult it. This paper (1) compares the causal design and analysis preferences of 13 clearinghouses that assess the effectiveness of social and behavioral development programs, (2) estimates how consistently these clearinghouses rank the same program, and then (3) uses case studies to probe why their conclusions differ. Most clearinghouses place their highest value on randomized control trials, but they differ in how they treat program implementation, quasi-experiments, and whether their highest program ratings require effects of a given size that independently replicate or that temporally persist. Of the 2525 social and behavioral development programs sampled over clearinghouses, 82% (n = 2069) were rated by a single clearinghouse. Of the 297 programs rated by two clearinghouses, agreement about program effectiveness was obtained for about 55% (n = 164), but the clearinghouses agreed much more on program ineffectiveness than effectiveness. Most of the inconsistency is due to clearinghouses’ differences in requiring independently replicated and/or temporally sustained effects. Without scientific consensus about matters like these, “evidence-based” will remain more of an aspiration than achievement in the social and behavioral sciences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1343-1358
Number of pages16
JournalPrevention Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Clearinghouse
  • Evidence-based
  • Social and behavioral development programs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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