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What are the distinctive features of Lab in the Field Experiments? Insights from Colombian Experimentalists

Gutiérrez Ruan María, Université de Lausanne

The use of the so-called lab in the field experiments (LFEs) within experimental economics has exploded in the last two decades. From 2013 to 2022 more than 1,428 academic articles have been published containing the terms "lab in the field experiment" somewhere in the text. However, the differences between LFEs and other types of experiments in economics, such as laboratory experiments, artefactual field experiments (AFEs) and framed field experiments (FFEs)-initially defined in the taxonomy proposed by Harrison and List (2004)-remain blurred. LFEs are often misidentified them with Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) even though the two methods have stark methodological and historical differences (Nagatsu and Favereau, 2021). This paper aims to extend the understanding of LFEs through semi structured interviews with lab-in-the-field experimentalists who have worked in Colombia. The Colombian case because, one, the Colombian researcher Juan Camilo Cárdenas is one of the three pioneers (along with Abigail Barr and Joe Henrich) in the use of LFEs and has carried out a large part of the LFEs in Colombian territory since the 1990s. Two, there is a vibrant community of lab-in-the-field experimentalists in Colombia of at least 20 researchers who are scattered in different universities and fields such as Economics, Management and Rural Studies. Based on preliminary findings (inter alia Cárdenas, 2003; Cárdenas et al., 2013; Candelo-Londoño and Eckel, 2021; Cárdenas and Carpenter, 2005, 2008), I hypothesise that the LFEs differ from other field experiments methodologies in economics in two main ways. Firstly, LFEs often involve interdisciplinary fieldwork in which experimental economists work with other social scientists, notably anthropologists, sociologists and professionals of rural and agricultural studies (e.g. Maya and Ramos, 2005). Secondly, as suggested by Cárdenas et al. (2013) and Candelo-Londoño and Eckel (2021), there is a dialogue that might imply that both participants and researchers learn from the experiment and from each other. Furthermore, results from a first round of interviews will shed light on how other social sciences (e.g., anthropology and sociology) played a role in the emergence of LFEs; identify differences and similarities between LFEs and other experimental methodologies in economics and further uncover the relationship between the researcher and the "subjects" participating in the experiment. To what extent do the "research subjects" participate in the different stages of the experiment's development (e.g. analysis and discussion of results, policy recommendations)? Ultimately, my aim with these conversations with experimentalists is to make visible features of LFEs that remain unseen in a literature review and an analysis of their publications.

Area: Eshet Conference

Keywords: Experimental economics, Field experiments, semi structured interviews, Colombia, Oral history of Economics

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