Today, I want to highlight The Guiding Principles for Evaluators created by the American Evaluation Association because I believe they represent a solid base for evaluation practice. I think the principles incorporate both the learned expertise and essential human characteristics needed to succeed as an evaluator. There are five overarching areas into which the principles fall. (Full explanations of each of the principles are available here.) It is important to note that the order of the principles is not intended to imply priority. Rather, priority is dependent on the context of the evaluation situation and the role of the evaluator.
- Systematic Inquiry: Evaluators conduct systematic, data-based inquires.
- Competence: Evaluators provide competent performance to stakeholders.
- Integrity/Honesty: Evaluators display honesty and integrity in their own behavior, and attempt to ensure the honesty and integrity of the entire evaluation process.
- Respect for People: Evaluators respect the security, dignity, and self-worth of respondents, program participants, clients, and other evaluation stakeholders.
- Responsibilities for General and Public Welfare: Evaluators articulate and take into account the diversity of general and public interests and values that may be related to the evaluation.
A Task Force, appointed by the AEA Board in 1994, presented the original principles. The most recent version of the principles reflects revisions made over the course of 2002 and 2003 and were ratified in July of 2004. However, AEA encourages its member to continually revisit and examine the principles for possible revisions on a regular basis.
I am talking about these principles because I think it’s important to remind evaluators of their ethical responsibilities and to ensure that our clients know what to expect when they work with an evaluation professional. It seems that you can generalize the main points into the expert side of evaluation (systematic inquiry, competence) and the humanistic side of evaluation (integrity, respect, responsibility). Further, it seems that systematic inquiry and competence can be generally attained through formal education and on-the-job training. Conversely, the principles of integrity, respect, and responsibility really cannot be taught in the classroom. Rather, the individual evaluator is responsible for incorporating these principles into their identity as an evaluator.
While we usually concentrate on methods and competence as evaluators, I think it’s also important to continually examine ourselves in how we conduct our craft in a professional and ethical manner. We must keep in mind that our work can (and usually does) directly impact the lives of various groups associated with the programs we evaluate (e.g., program recipients, program staff, program creators). I believe these guiding principles provide evaluators with a strong base for evaluation practice.