Published November 2000
Economic evaluation has an important role in helping to make decisions about the use of scarce resources in an explicit and rational manner, yet economic evaluation is not well-developed in many areas of social welfare. This paper looks at the reasons for this, focusing on what economists could do to redress the situation. It argues that standard approaches to economic evaluation may not always be appropriate, because of the nature of many social welfare interventions and because evaluators need to be able to address a broader set of evaluation questions. Economists could usefully contribute more to the debates that have concerned mainstream evaluators from other disciplines and modify their approach to evaluation accordingly. The paper concludes that in many areas of social welfare, economists should probably be less ambitious in terms of what they set out to achieve in terms of economic evaluation, but more ambitious in terms of the types of programme they can usefully help to evaluate and in terms of the range of techniques they are prepared to use, and give credence to, as part of an economic evaluation.