Benefits of Prospective Registration

Curt Carnemark / World Bank Aisha Faquir / World Bank Arne Hoel / World Bank HUMA / World Bank

In a prospective registry, researchers record specific information about their evaluation plan up front, before data are collected or the impacts of the program are assessed. This information can include outcomes to be measured, hypotheses to be tested, main and subgroup analysis, and specifications to be used. It is expected that researchers are more likely to report all their findings, significant and interesting or not, if their initial design was posted to a registry.

A prospective registry can increase transparency in the performance and reporting of research, minimizing concerns over several well-known types of bias in research or reporting. These include post hoc data mining or specification searches, whereby researchers use the results to decide what outcomes to report or specifications to use, usually with the aim of being able to report results that are statistically significant, "interesting," or in accordance with preconceived ideas. They also include publication bias, whereby journals are more likely to publish studies showing such results, so that the published record presents a distorted picture of which interventions work and which do not, as well as what share of the time they work.

Prospective registration therefore benefits researchers by enhancing the credibility of their findings and benefits policy making in low- and middle-income countries by leading to overall improvements in the quality, integrity, and comprehensiveness of impact evaluation evidence.

Prospective (and public) registration can also benefit researchers in a completely different way: they can "lay claim" to innovations — in terms of study design, sampling, estimation techniques, or the testing of theory-based hypotheses — by making public these aspects of their work well ahead of study completion and eventual journal publication.

Finally, by collecting information on all planned, ongoing, and published or unpublished impact evaluations, a prospective registry allows researchers, funders, and policymakers to find out what interventions are being or will be evaluated in a given country or topical domain. This will serve to avoid undesirable duplication of efforts as well as to indicate where information gaps are largest — both of which are also crucial in light of resource constraints for programs in developing countries.

With this in mind, read on if you are still wondering:    Should I Register My Study?