Field experiments in international relations: Call for research designs

A call for research designs that came in over the wires. This is an exceptional opportunity for researchers at the early phase of a project to strengthen their design:

Call for Research Designs

Conference on Field Experiments in International Relations

Experiments provide the best method for identifying causal effects in social science, but they have been undersupplied in international relations. To help fill this gap, we are convening a conference of interested scholars to discuss research designs for field experiments in transnational affairs. The conference will be held in Park City, Utah September 21-22, 2012. After the conference, scholars will revise the designs, execute the experiments, and then present their findings and receive feedback at a follow up meeting to be held at Princeton University in the fall of 2013.


Individuals, firms, non-governmental organizations, and international bureaucrats play vital roles in the modern world. But unlike nation states – which are difficult to manipulate either practically or ethically – scholars can employ experiments with these non-state actors as subjects.

Experiments’ strong internal validity makes them an especially attractive research method for causal inference. Randomization permits the precise estimation of causal effects because in expectation it balances not only the observable factors that might confound results, but it also neutralizes all unobservable confounds. This is a significant advantage over observational research, which can never establish with certainty that the model employed is properly specified.

Field experiments add an additional improvement by addressing concerns over external validity. The day-to-day international actions of non-state actors and the effects of their behavior on global outcomes are worthy of close study. Field experiments in IR – where non-state actors as subjects represent the actual units of interest – likely can be better defended as externally valid while retaining many of the internal-validity advantages of lab experiments. Convening a significant group of scholars focused on brainstorming research designs, refining plans, and analyzing results should help international relations take an important step toward uncovering causal effects in global affairs.


Helen Milner of Princeton University, along with Michael Findley and Daniel Nielson of Brigham Young University, are organizing the conference. Princeton’s Robert Keohane, Columbia’s Donald Green, Stanford’s Michael Tomz and Jeremy Weinstein, Yale’s Susan Hyde, and Harvard’s Dustin Tingley are also planning to attend. Interested scholars should submit an abstract no longer than 500 words by March 15, 2012 to BYU’s Political Economy and Development Lab at

The initial conference will focus on research designs, not finished papers. The abstracts should therefore articulate the research question, hypotheses, and causal mechanisms along with the anticipated subject pool, experimental conditions, outcome measures, and data analysis strategy. Both collaborative and sole-authored projects are encouraged.

Topics covering the full range of international and transnational relations – including but not limited to political economy, security, environment, and human rights – are welcome. Abstracts should address some aspect of transboundary interactions and should be field experiments rather than survey or laboratory studies, meaning that the subjects are the actual objects of inquiry rather than proxies, the outcome of interest is behavioral (not attitudinal), and the subjects’ actions are observed in a natural setting.

Princeton and BYU have made funds available to sponsor some – but not all – of the conference participants. Please provide contact information with your abstract, and also indicate whether or not your home institution can pay for your airfare and lodging. Meals and ground transportation are provided. Examples of field experiment designs in international relations are available upon request.