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Data Ethics Week: Our Data Ethics Journey by Andrea Lozano

Photo of the blog's author, Andrea Lozano

Greetings AEA community,

I am Andrea Lozano, Evaluation and Learning Officer at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. At the Packard Foundation we work with people and communities to create enduring solutions for just societies and a healthy, resilient natural world. In this blog, I would like to share how we are rethinking our approach to ethics in our evaluation and learning practice.

Where we started

Starting in 2010, we provided staff with guidance on human subjects’ protections that focused on minimizing risks of harm in evaluations. However, we realized that this guidance was falling behind the times and did not reflect the Foundation’s commitment to equity and justice nor its desire to more fully embrace Equitable Evaluation. We knew we wanted our new guidance to explore how harm can show up in our work – and how issues related to power, equity, and ethics can intersect and inadvertently reinforce extractive patterns. We also felt it was important to acknowledge our own situatedness as a funder and what that meant in terms of unique responsibilities and points of view. We also knew we were not alone, as other funders we talked to were grappling with similar issues.

Rad Resource

To address these concerns, we developed a Data Ethics Guidebook and Toolkit in partnership with Informing Change, intended primarily for audiences who commission evaluations. By sharing this open resource with the field, we hope to play a part in filling what we see as an important gap among funders. Since many of the evaluations we fund are low risk and occur outside of academia or government, we do not undergo a lengthy ethical review process. While this is a welcome development and has enabled nonprofits and funders alike to become nimbler and more effective, this can also lead to ethical issues being overlooked if funders are not aware of what to look out for.

Where we are now

At the Foundation, we are exploring the best ways to strengthen awareness of data ethics. Relying on the guidebook, our aim is to move towards cultivating a data ethics mindset, rather than just asking staff to apply a checklist and move on. Our new guidance advances our thinking in three major ways:

  • Mindsets not checklists: while it is tempting to develop do’s and don’ts, ethical questions are often not binary and require contextual and situational awareness to navigate effectively.
  • Do no harm, but also add value: As a funder, we should aim to go beyond avoiding harm and add value to the communities we serve. Informing Change introduces a “do no harm – add value continuum” tool that illustrates what that may look like in very practical ways. One way in which funders can move towards adding value is by establishing compensation practices to acknowledge and respect the time and contribution of people who choose to inform or participate in your study. The guidebook offers real examples of modes of compensation that consider issues like the timing when it’s offered, what is an appropriate amount, how is it delivered, or the relative power standing of who is providing, and who is receiving, the compensation. 
  • Work in progress: throughout this project, we became aware of how much, and how fast, the field of data ethics is evolving. This guidance is a living document that should continue to evolve to stay relevant.  

Thank you for taking the time to read about our journey towards better data ethics in evaluation and learning practice.

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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