Alberto P. Martini

Alberto P. Martini has been involved in advancing the cause of rigorous program evaluation since the start of his professional career almost 30 years ago.

After earning his Italian Law degree from the Università di Torino, in 1983 he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to receive formal training in economics and econometrics. While at UW, he also gained valuable early exposure to policy analysis at the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), where he worked intensively with data from the very first waves of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Quickly becoming a nation-wide expert on how to access SIPP data (an early example of Big Data), he ran a help-desk for researchers from across the US seeking to use SIPP for their own projects. This experience resulted in his Ph.D. dissertation being the first ever to use SIPP data.

In 1988, Martini joined Mathematica Policy Research, where he was most notably involved in the design and analysis of the Food Stamp “cash-out” demonstrations (1). In 1993, he joined the Urban Institute to work primarily on domestic welfare issues (2) as well as USAID-sponsored projects to redesign the social safety net in Eastern Europe. For the World Bank, he led the transition in Belarus from the Soviet-style family budget survey to a western-style income and expenditure survey (3).

From the mid-nineties onwards, he started working more frequently in Italy. In 1996, Martini wrote the first Italian book on the topic of policy analysis in the U.S., Aiutare lo stato a pensare (e il pubblico a capire): Helping government think (and the public to understand) (4). In 1997, alongside Luigi Bobbio, he helped create the first Italian graduate program in policy analysis (Master in Analisi delle Politiche Pubbliche). Also in 1997, he established what would become a long-term relationship with some of the newly instituted foundations of “banking origin,” assisting them in the use of program evaluation tools to focus their grant-making, again inspired by his experience in the U.S.5

In 1998, Martini returned definitively to Italy to accept an academic position at the Università del Piemonte Orientale. That same year, and with the support of two philanthropic foundations, he founded ASVAPP - Progetto Valutazione (“The Evaluation Project”). ASVAPP was conceived as a small think tank with an ambitious mission: to induce a paradigm shift away from the confusing array of indicators that make up the “accountability approach” touted by the Italian evaluation establishment, and to adopt a counterfactual-based approach to impact evaluation instead.

Martini’s 2001-2002 tenure as President of the Italian Evaluation Association (AIV) laid bare the rift between his own vision of policy evaluation, as inspired by the US experience, and that inspired by EU evaluation guidelines. To advance his commitment to evidence-based policy, Martini took his advocacy directly to Brussels, primarily by writing and disseminating a pamphlet with the title “How Counterfactuals Got Lost on the Way to Brussels.”(6) Surprisingly, the piece was well received, to such an extent that in 2009 the Directorate–General for Regional Policy asked Martini to compose the section on counterfactual impact evaluation in EVALSED, the on-line evaluation guide of the European Commission. The following year, Martini and his group received a grant from the Directorate–General for Regional Policy to evaluate the effectiveness of investment subsidies to Italian private enterprises located in economically distressed areas. By exploiting the presence of firms who had applied and been declared eligible but who were then denied subsidies due to a shortage of funds, the impact of the policy on several outcomes could be identified.

As an advocate for evidence-based policy, Martini has taught counterfactual impact evaluation methods in a variety of settings across Europe, and has also written extensively about it, both in Italian and in English. In 2002, Martini founded a summer school on “The Counterfactual Approach to Impact Evaluation,” in which more than 500 students from all over Europe have taken part since its inception.

Also in 2002, Martini helped found CAPIRe. (7) Meaning literally “to understand,” the acronym stands for “Oversight of the Legislatures on the Implementation of Regional Policies”. CAPIRe is an active, ongoing project sponsored by the Italian Conference of Regional Legislatures. It has promoted various innovations such as the use of evaluation clauses in the laws and the so-called “evaluation probes” launched on the initiative of a committee or by a quorum of regional counselors. Thanks to CAPIRe, many regional legislators have gained an awareness of the meaning of “evidence-based policy” and program evaluation has been promoted as part of recent efforts to reform the Italian Constitution.

From 2007 to 2011, Martini co-chaired a Blue-Ribbon Commission on Impact Evaluation with Ugo Trivellato. The final product of the commission was a jointly authored book by Martini and Trivellato, Sono soldi ben spesi? Perché e come valutare l'efficacia delle politiche pubbliche, written in easy-to-understand terms on how to think about and approach the assessment of public policy (8).

In 2009, he coauthored with his long-time colleague Marco Sisti, Valutare il successo delle politiche pubbliche (Evaluating the success of public policies) (9) a textbook which has been adopted by most Italian universities offering courses in program evaluation.

To maintain credibility when promoting high standards for causal inference, Martini continues to be involved in applied research, especially recently, as more resources are being earmarked for social experiments. He served as principal investigator of Lavoro & Psiche, likely the first randomized control trial ever conducted in Italy outside of a clinical setting (10). The objective was to increase employment among severely mentally ill patients by offering them a structured job search experience led by a job coach.

ASVAPP has been awarded two grants under the European Commission’s PROGRESS program: in 2014, for Project ACHAB (Affording College with the Help of Asset Building), a randomized controlled trial designed to evaluate the effects of subsidizing savings on college entry and progress toward a degree, and, in 2016, for project TSUNAMI (Traineeship as a Springboard out of UNemployment for those Affected by Mental Illness), a randomized controlled trial to test whether the timely offer of a traineeship to mentally ill patients is effective in abbreviating the duration of their joblessness because of the positive signal that a completed traineeship sends to prospective employers.

A complete list of Martini’s publications can be found at


(1) “The Effect of Food Stamp Cashout on Food Expenditures: An Assessment of the Findings from Four Demonstrations,” with Thomas M. Fraker, Alberto P. Martini and James C. Ohls, The Journal of Human Resources  30, no. 4 (Autumn 1995):  633-649.

“The Effects of Cashing-out Food Stamps on Household Food Use and the Cost of Issuing Benefits,” with Thomas M. Fraker, James C. Ohls and Michael Ponza, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 14, no. 3 (1995): 372-392.

(2) “Explaining the Recent Decline in Welfare Caseload: Is the Council of Economic Advisers Right?” with Michael Wiseman, Challenge 40, no. 6 (November/December 1997): 6-20.

(3) “The Income and Expenditure Survey of Belarus: Design and Implementation,” with Anna Ivanova and Svetlana Novosyolova, Statistics in Transition 2, no.7 (December 1996).

(4) Aiutare lo stato a pensare (e il pubblico a capire): l’esperienza americana della policy analysis (Torino, Italy: Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, 1996),

(5) “Venture Capitalfor Social Change: Le fondazioni americane e la ricerca di soluzioni innovative ai problemi sociali (Torino, Italy: Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, 1999), and “Quale valutazione per le fondazioni grant-making?” with Barbara Romano, in Turati G., Piacenza M., Segre G. (eds.) Le fondazioni: solo un patrimonio alla ricerca di uno scopo? Un percorso di lettura in chiave economica (Torino, Italy: Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, 2008).

(6) “How counterfactuals got lost on the way to Brussels,” (Proceedings of the Symposium Policy and Program Evaluation in Europe, Strasbourg, July 3-4, 2008),


(8) Sono soldi ben spesi? Perché e come valutare l'efficacia delle politiche pubbliche withUgo Trivellato, (Venezia, Italy: Marsilio, 2011),

(9) Valutare il successo delle Politiche Pubbliche (Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 2009).

(10) The Impact of Traineeships on the Employment of the Mentally Ill: The Role of Partial Compliance with Gianpaolo Barbetta and Enrico Rettore (Bonn, Germany: IZA, 2017).