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Ethics and research methods

In this step you will learn the idea of ethical evaluation.
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Many of the Evaluation Principles you encountered in Week 1 are based on the idea of doing ethical evaluation. 

The idea of doing evaluation ethically may initially seem obvious (‘shouldn’t everything be ethical?’) or unnecessary (‘there are so many areas where ethics is more important than where we’re just trying to understand how a cultural activity went’).

What unethical evaluation looks like

The importance of ethical evaluation becomes clearer when we think about what unethical evaluation would look like and its potential consequences:

  • Participants would feel ignored, disrespected, exploited and/or misrepresented.
  • Artists and cultural organisations would feel their work had been damaged by the process or misinterpreted, their own learning neglected, their reputation damaged, their capacity to work effectively and to help people reduced.
  • Funders would feel that the results were untrustworthy, that they may be supporting the wrong things and not being effective either.

These are all negative outcomes that we would want to avoid. Indeed, ethics are particularly important in the context of evaluation precisely because at its heart, evaluation is about putting value on things, as we saw at the beginning of the course. Which values, and whose are prioritised, as well as the effects of that process, can result in significant ethical issues.

Ethical considerations

All of the Evaluation Principles offer several things to think about that should encourage and enable ethical evaluation. But, in particular, the one focused on being ethical highlights the need to:

  • Not be exploitative (eg re the time/money of participants).​
  • Ensure the evaluation provides benefits as defined by all major stakeholders (especially participants).​
  • Deliver the evaluation with integrity, aligned with your own principles.​
  • Meet relevant ethical and professional standards (for example, university ethics guidelines, Market Research Society guidelines, standards set by the programme being evaluated)​.

The ethical and professional standards listed can be particularly helpful, even if you are not part of a university or professional association. Looking at the areas they cover, or the process they go through (for example, considering the ethical implications of research activity against a set of criteria before you start) can be helpful to ensure that your evaluation is done ethically.

Discuss

  • Apart from the examples provided above, what other issues do you see resulting from unethical evaluation practice?
Share and discuss your thoughts with other learners in the Comments section
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Evaluation for Arts, Culture, and Heritage: Principles and Practice

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