What types of ethical violations do you think would occur most commonly in organizations with which you are familiar?

What types of ethical violations do you think would occur most commonly in organizations with which you are familiar?

Major Concepts and Theories

1. Good evaluation practice involves much more than methodological skills. Evalua- tors must have the skills to work well in a sometimes highly political environment, must be able to communicate well with clients and other stakeholder groups, and must know the ethical problems evaluators can encounter and the ethical expectations for good evaluation practice.

2. Evaluations are an inherently political activity because they are concerned with guid- ing or influencing public policies, because their results can have powerful implications for individuals and stakeholder groups competing for power, and because they concern human beings, organizations, and judgments about programs.

3. Evaluators need to have skills to work in a political environment both to increase the likelihood that the evaluation will be used and to prevent political actions that may bias the results. These skills include learning about the political environment and the po- sitions of the stakeholders in it, considering and including other stakeholders and the public in the evaluation as appropriate, and working to maintain the credibility of the evaluation.

4. Evaluators should foster good communication with stakeholders by listening to their concerns and learning about their experiences with evaluation, educating stake- holders on the different purposes evaluation can serve, meeting frequently with the client and other appropriate stakeholders, and involving them in the decisions made concern- ing the evaluation.

5. The Program Evaluation Standards and the American Evaluation Association’s Guiding Principles provide guidance for the conduct of good and ethical evaluations. Evaluators should be knowledgeable about the standards and principles for their coun- try and use them to inform clients and other stakeholders of the expectations for them as a professional.

6. Protecting the rights of those who provide data for the study is essential to good, ethical evaluation. Such rights include having a free choice to participate without threat of losing services, understanding the nature of the evaluation and the data collection and its potential risks and benefits, being informed about confidentiality and its limitations, and being treated with respect and dignity. Evaluators should seek the input or approval of Institutional Review Boards or others informed on the ethics of data collection to ensure that appropriate precautions are taken.

106 Part I • Introduction to Evaluation

7. Evaluations can be biased by the personal views and experiences of the evalua- tor; by his or her views and relationships with program staff, administrators, and clients; or by financial or organizational pressures. The evaluator should be conscious of these sources of bias and seek to avoid relationships that would unduly threaten the perceived neutrality of the evaluation findings. The evaluator should work to gain cultural competence in the setting of the evaluation and consider the cultural views of others.

8. Ethical practice requires evaluators not only to become familiar with the Standards and the Guiding Principles and to acquaint clients with these professional expectations, but also to carefully consider decisions throughout the evaluation in terms of potential ethical concerns. Professional codes can be one source for resolution of ethical problems, but con- tinued personal growth, reading, reflection, and discussion with others are essential.

Discussion Questions

1. What are the good elements of evaluation studies taking place in a political envi- ronment? The bad elements? How does politics enter into evaluations that you know about?

2. Which of the three positions described by Vestman and Conner for evaluators to take in a political environment do you feel are most appropriate? Why?

3. Why is there a need for explicit ethical standards in evaluation? What benefits accrue to the evaluator and client by adhering to these standards?

4. What types of ethical violations do you think would occur most commonly in or- ganizations with which you are familiar? How might these violations be prevented?

Application Exercises

For exercises 1 to 3, consider an evaluation in which you were a participant or the evaluator.

1. How did politics enter into this evaluation? Did the politics introduce bias or prob- lems? How did the evaluator attend to the political context?

2. How did the evaluator or the evaluation team communicate with you and other key stakeholders? On what issues did they seek your input? Do you think the relation- ships the evaluator established with you and other stakeholders in the evaluation led to bias, or did it improve the evaluation?

3. Consider this evaluation in reference to the Program Evaluation Standards and the AEA Guiding Principles. What were the ethical strengths and weaknesses of the evaluation?

4. Now consider a program that you are familiar with—perhaps one in your organiza- tion. If you had to evaluate that program, what biases would you bring? Do you think you would be an appropriate person to evaluate it? Who (person or organization) might be the best alternative? Why?

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