Ethics Beyond a Code of Ethics

Ethics Beyond a Code of Ethics

The evaluation standards and guidelines described earlier are, in our judgment, singularly useful in improving the practice of evaluation. We urge anyone aspir- ing to do high-quality evaluation to become intimately familiar with those stan- dards and guidelines and to apply them diligently. At the same time, mere adherence to ethical standards, however sound, does not ensure ethical behavior. As Peter Dahler-Larsen has written in regard to the broader issue of codifying evaluation practices, these codes serve “at best, as aids to a competent judgment in evaluation, not substitutions for it” (2006, p. 154). Mabry (1999) reminds us that codes of ethics don’t remove the subjectivity that is inherent in evaluation and in every human endeavor. She argues that standards and guide- lines for ethical conduct cannot anticipate the wide range of particularities that are present in any evaluation. Thus, evaluators’ personal standards and judg- ment inevitably play a role in how they apply these codes of conduct to the eval- uations they carry out.

Perhaps Sieber still states it best:

A code of ethics specifically for program evaluators . . . would be a minimum stan- dard; it would only state what the profession expects of every evaluator in the way of honesty, competence, and decency in relation to those ethical problems that are clearly defined at present.

Chapter 3 • Political, Interpersonal, and Ethical Issues in Evaluation 105

In contrast, being ethical is a broad, evolving personal process. . . . Ethical problems in program evaluation are problems having to do with unanticipated conflicts of obligation and interest and with unintended harmful side effects of evaluation. To be ethical is to evolve an ability to anticipate and circumvent such problems. It is an acquired ability. . . . As one undertakes new and different kinds of evaluation and as society changes, one’s ability to be ethical must grow to meet new challenges. Thus, being ethical in program evaluation is a process of growth in understanding, perception, and creative problem-solving ability that respects the interests of individuals and of society. (1980, p. 53)

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