One resource that I have started to draw on are the websites and particularly blogs of others doing similar work in the fields of evaluation and community practice. Among the useful sites I have found are Chris Lysy’s EvalCentral which brings together several dozen blogs (including this one) that have a common interest in evaluation, the American Evaluation Association’s Tip a Day blog (which will feature a post from yours truly next Wednesday), and the Community Psychology Practice blog, administered through the Practice Council of the Society for Community Research and Action. As a new independent consultant who is still working to build local connections and community, these sites have been invaluable in introducing me to new resources and prompting reflection on my practice.
A recent post from Emery Evaluation (via Eval Central) asks which of five standards from the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation is “most essential, relevant, and central to your everyday work as an evaluator”. Before reading this article I wasn’t familiar with these specific standards, but they look to be a good starting point for discussion. Of course there are many standards and values, even within this one field: for example, the American Evaluation Association and the Canadian Evaluation Society have their own values / ethics statements. Deciding on one (or several) statements to declare adherence to is an interesting point for future debate, but for today’s reflection I’ll stay with those brought forward by Ann Emery.
My first thought when reviewing the list is that it’s hard to pick just one as the “most” important. These standards work together: for example, the Utility of evaluation findings will obviously be diminished if its Accuracy is in question. Conversely, there will be tension among values or standards – spending time on meta-evaluative activities (Accountability) can take resources away from the actual evaluation and thus can decrease Feasibility – so perhaps there is some benefit in choosing one to help provide guidance when they clash.
I was originally leaning towards Utilty. After all, my thinking went, evaluation cannot be done for its own sake, there has to be some purpose in telling the story of what happened to provide guidance for current development or future work. Before doing anything with that conclusion, I then read a blog post from Community Psychology Practice on the impact of “Big Data” for our practice. That post suggests that community psychology practioners can make use of their training as social scientists to help interpret the huge amounts of data being generated in our world while connecting with and respecting the unique experiences of individuals and communities, an idea that resonates strongly with my past work and future aspirations.
So, I think the most important value for me, the first among equals, is what JCSEE labelled as “Propriety” but may be better referred to as “Ethics” or simply “Respect”. For me, evaluation has to recognize the rights of those affected by the research – program participants/clients, staff, partners, organizations, communities – and be responsive to their needs. Another way to view this approach is ensuring that the whole evaluation enterprise with its data, models, and theories continues to reflects the human scale and has a positive impact on the ground level. As with any set of values, there will inevitably be tensions and the need to seek balance between competing demands, but this basic value of respect and understanding is one that I want to keep first and foremost in my mind when working in the community.