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Intent to treat

This is based on:
Habyarimana and Jack (2011). Heckle and Chide: Results of a randomized road safety
intervention in Kenya. Journal of Public Economics 95 (11-12), 1438-1446.
HJ 2011 speak of an “intent-to-treat” estimator. In this case, this means that they are
estimating the effect of a matatu being selected to carry safety stickers on insurance
claims. This is different from the effect of a matatu having safety stickers. So, the
treatment group are the matatus that to authors intended to have stickers and the
control group are the matatus that they authors did not intend to have safety
stickers. This implies that matatus selected to carry safety stickers, but NOT actually
carrying them were still in the treatment group, and that matatus selected NOT to
carry safety stickers, but actually carrying them were still in the control group.
The reasoning behind this is as follows:
In HJ’s experiment, there was a degree of choice on the part of matatu drivers as to
whether to take up (or remove) safety stickers. Estimating the effect of having safety
stickers may lead to biased results if particularly unsafe drivers (while selected to be
in the treatment group by the researchers) peeled off their stickers, or if particularly
safe drivers (while selected to be in the control group by the researchers) put
stickers in their matatus anyway. In this case, intrinsically safe drivers self-select to
be in the treatment group and intrinsically unsafe drivers self-select to be in the
control group, biasing the estimate of the effect of the stickers upward. Estimating
the effect of a matatu being selected to carry safety stickers, the selection being
random, is not subject to this bias.