Ethics in Evaluation: 20 Reflection Questions to Ask in Evaluation Planning

Although many professions have codes of ethics (e.g. medicine, civil engineering, accounting), the topic of ethics in the field of international development has received relatively little attention. International development attracts a wide variety of professions, yet the development community lacks a unifying code of ethics. Over the past four years at CITE, the topic of ethics has become a central part of the planning and realization of product evaluations.

Based on my experience working with CITE for the past three years and reflection upon my own professional practice, I have compiled a list of 20 ethical reflection questions to consider as part of an evaluation. I hope these will contribute to better evaluations, and I look forward to hearing about any additional questions you consider when conducting evaluations in the comments below.

20 Reflection Questions to Ask in Evaluation Planning

  1. Will this evaluation respect the desires, fears, hopes, and wishes of the community, end users of a product, or a product manufacturer?
  2. What is my attitude toward the population that might use the products under evaluation? Am I in being-a-savior-mode, where I am imposing my own ideas and values on others or allowing my values to shape the evaluation results?
  3. Does the community want to participate in what the evaluation has to offer?
  4. Would community members feel coerced into participation because of my relationship with a local partner?
  5. What unbalanced power dynamics does the evaluation create, due to my own nationality, education, race, gender, income, etc.?
  6. How can I mitigate or rebalance the power dynamics among participants in the evaluation? 
  7. Do I have a deep understanding of the context in which the product will be used and the social implications that its adoption during the course of the evaluation might have?
  8. Will the evaluation harm anyone or create losers? Is it fair?
  9. Who will the ‘winners’ be if the products in the evaluation are adopted? And the ‘losers’? How does my evaluation treat the potential winners and losers?
  10. Will the evaluation respect the time and resources of the local participants?
  11. Does my data collection plan protect the identity, confidentiality, and privacy of the human subjects that participate in the evaluation?
  12. Am I collecting non-essential data and thereby wasting the time of the human subjects in my evaluation?
  13. Am I providing fair compensation for the people that participate in my evaluation? If not, what are the other benefits that a participant might receive?
  14. Will participating in the evaluation be beneficial and meaningful for my local partner organization?
  15. Am I creating a reasonable and responsible set of expectations for the organizations and individuals that will share information with me regarding their products?
  16. Have I clearly communicated the costs and the benefits to participating in the evaluation to potential participants (e.g. interviewees, product manufacturers, etc.)?
  17. How will I disseminate the results of the evaluation with the people that participated in the evaluation?
  18. Have I completed all of the requirements for research involving human subjects established by my country or organization’s institutional review board or ethics committee?
  19. If my team evaluation team is composed of members from various organizations, disciplines, and/or regions, have I built an awareness of the ethical considerations regarding the evaluation into the team’s activities and discussions?
  20. If any member of my evaluation team or I were a participant in the evaluation, would we feel treated with honesty, dignity, and respect?

What additional ethical questions do you consider when conducting an evaluation? Share your ideas in the comments.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Brittany N. Montgomery, Ph.D. Student, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning
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