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DOVP Week: June Gothberg on Involving Vulnerable Populations in Evaluation and Research

Greetings, I am June Gothberg, incoming Director of the Michigan Transition Outcomes Project and past co-chair of the Disabilities and Other Vulnerable Populations topical interest group at AEA.  I hope you’ve enjoyed a great week of information specific to projects involving these populations.  As a wrap up I thought I’d end with broad information on involving vulnerable populations in your evaluation and research projects.

Lessons Learned: Definition of “vulnerable population”

  • The TIGs big ah-ha.  When I came in as TIG co-chair, I conducted a content analysis of the presentations of our TIG for the past 25 years.  We had a big ah-ha when we realized what and who is identified as “vulnerable populations”.  The list included:
    • Abused
    • Abusers
    • Chronically ill
    • Culturally different
    • Economically disadvantaged
    • Educationally disadvantaged
    • Elderly
    • Foster care
    • Homeless
    • Illiterate
    • Indigenous
    • Mentally ill
    • Migrants
    • Minorities
    • People with disabilities
    • Prisoners
    • Second language
    • Veterans – “wounded warriors”
  • Determining vulnerability.  The University of South Florida provides the following to determine vulnerability in research:
    • Any individual that due to conditions, either acute or chronic, who has his/her ability to make fully informed decisions for him/herself diminished can be considered vulnerable.
    • Any population that due to circumstances, may be vulnerable to coercion or undue influence to participate in research projects.


Hot Tips:  Considerations for including vulnerable populations.

  • Procedures.  Use procedures to protect and honor participant rights.
  • Protection.  Use procedures to minimize the possibility of participant coercion or undue influence.
  • Accommodation.  Prior to start, make sure to determine and disseminate how participants will be accommodated in regards to recruitment, informed consent, protocols and questions asked, retention, and research procedures including those with literacy, communication, and second language needs.
  • Risk.  Minimize any unnecessary risk to participation.

Hot Tips:  When your study is targeted at vulnerable populations.

  • Use members of targeted group to recruit and retain subjects.
  • Collaborate with community programs and gatekeepers to share resources and information.
  • Know the formal and informal community.
  • Examine cultural beliefs, norms, and values.
  • Disseminate materials and results in an appropriate manner for the participant population.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the Disabilities and Other Vulnerable Populations TIG (DOVP) Week. The contributions all week come from DOVP members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluator.

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