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Data Ethics Week: Don’t Forget to Take a Break! by Johnny Du

Greetings and welcome to the final post of Data Ethics Week! I’m Johnny Du (he/him), a Writer/Editor with Informing Change. My colleagues and our collaborators have told you all week about the importance of considering data ethics when conducting research and evaluation, having developed a Guidebook and Toolkit to help with decision-making.

Having strong data ethics practices involves an ongoing series of optimal, sound, and rational decisions. It is difficult to engage in this kind of thoughtful decision-making well if you consistently feel depleted or rushed. Therefore, our team wanted to share a simple reminder for ethical decision-making and considerations: don’t forget to give yourself permission to take a break and rest!

It’s a straightforward line of advice that can get easily overlooked or disregarded when one finds themselves in the weeds of a project or with a deadline looming. Allowing burnout and exhaustion to set in, both in and out of workplace environments, can lead to decision fatigue, defined here as the “impaired ability to make decisions and control behavior as a consequence of repeated acts of decision-making.”

It’s one thing when a poor choice only affects you – I, for one, can attest to making regrettable decisions to have a late-night meal due to being on little sleep. But consider the adverse impacts and trickle-down effects that suboptimal decisions can have on other individuals participating in your research, such as the time burden of data collection, the implicit trust offered in sharing potentially sensitive information in the strictest of confidence, and the expectation their stories will not be used out-of-context when disseminating findings. The ripple effects can also negatively affect other members of your team, your working relationship(s) with those commissioning your work, and even your own reputation in the field.

Grappling with complex data ethics issues requires nuanced discussions and careful considerations. There isn’t always a clear right or wrong choice. Having a sound decision-making process to navigate these gray areas starts with being in the right headspace. So if you’re feeling like you’re fading or hitting a mental roadblock, do NOT try to power through. Instead, take a step back, disconnect from the project, and recharge those mental batteries.

Hot Tip

Install an app on your phone or extension on your computer (such as Break Timer) that can remind you to take regularly scheduled breaks. Even several short breaks over the course of a day can have a cumulative positive effect on your thinking, while also providing a respite from eye strain or repetitive motions.

Rad Resources

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Data Ethics Week.Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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