In partial response to Mark’s question below about anthropology, I’d like to suggest that our policy-oriented readers take a look at Robin Rogers-Dillon’s fine book, The Welfare Experiments: Politics and Policy Evaluation. Robin is an ethnographically oriented sociologist (that is, she’s kind of at the end of the discipline where it starts to morph into anthro) who was a part of the MDRC team that evaluated Florida’s 2 year time limited welfare program. In an innovation for MDRC, Robin was hired to do ethnographic work on the evaluation, which cashed out to doing a lot of hanging out in welfare offices. To make a long story short, Robin found out that the program on the ground was very different than the program on the books. For example, there was supposed to be a work program at the end of 2 years for all “compliant” clients. Well, the number of people in the work program was zero. Why? They were all administratively declared non-compliant. There was supposed to be an appeals process for the non-compliant, but it was staffed by local citizens who, it turned out, really don’t like exercising state power, so they acted primarily as a cheering squad, telling women who were cut off that “you can do it!”
To put it in technical terms, ethnographical methods (and this would certainly include anthropology) are essential, where there is any ambiguity as to what the “treatment” is in a particular policy experiment. In some cases, ethnographic methods are also valuable in helping to figure out the mechanisms that connect treatments to effects, which is highly relevant if you want to figure out how to replicate the program under other conditions. This is another case (I could list others) where well-designed policy analysis requires multiple, quite different methods in order to be serious and complete.