Why consider ethics when evaluating?

It is important to anticipate, and account for, any ethical issues that may arise during your program and evaluation. Evaluations should be designed and conducted to respect and protect the rights and welfare of participants. When conducting evaluations it is important to ensure your participants dignity and worth are maintained in your interactions, that confidentiality is maintained unless otherwise specified, and that participants are not threatened or harmed during the evaluation process. Depending on the stakeholders of your program, you may also need formal review and approval from an ethics committee.

Maintaining confidentiality

During the course of the evaluation, the results and other findings should be held as confidential, and in accordance with any consent arrangements made with participants. This should extend to the storage, use and disposal of all information collected. Consent should capture any information about how you will release or publish any of the evaluation data, which may include provision for release of information for administrative and marketing purposes. It is important participants are aware how their data is intended to be used.

Free & informed consent

Before the program evaluation starts it is important to obtain necessary permissions. Participants should not feel pressured into providing consent or participating in the evaluation. Free and informed consent of those directly providing information should be obtained – preferably in writing. Prior to providing consent participants should be made aware of what information will be sought, how the information will be recorded and used, and any likely risks and benefits arising from their participation in the evaluation. When working with children, or other dependents, informed consent can be provided by parents or guardians on the child's behalf.

Assessing risk & possible harm

Many programs address complex social issues, often with marginalised and/or vulnerable individuals or communities. Evaluations, particularly those involving interviews or focus groups on sensitive topics such as crime, sexual violence and family dysfunction, risk awakening or re-awakening trauma for both the participants and sometimes the evaluators. In program evaluation engaging with these concepts at times is unavoidable as many programs are directly engaging with these issues. When this is the case, mechanisms need to be implemented to ensure that support and/or counselling is made available to all involved (both program staff and participants) if required.

Legal obligations

When your programs are engaging with sensitive topics, at risk populations and/or marginalised groups, it is important to anticipate the risk, and develop processes and protocols for identifying and reporting them. These responsibilities may at times conflict with, and often extend beyond, the evaluator's abilities. In programs where duty of care concerns apply, the project team, including interviewers, need to understand their legal obligations and how to respond should the need arise.

Helpful evaluation Guidelines

More information on good-practice guidelines that apply to specific research areas can be found by following the links below. Click on the focus area to reveal commonly used guidelines and frameworks relevant to that area of evaluation.