Data Ethics Week: Thinking Ethically and Thinking Equitably by Caitlin Stanton

Hello! Welcome to day 4 of Data Ethics Week at the AEA365. My name is Caitlin Stanton, a Senior Associate at Informing Change, and I am one of the authors of the Data Ethics Guidebook and Toolkit we produced and made available to our field.

I started out studying theatre, and, to this day, I love to use stories and storytelling in evaluation and learning work. That’s why one of my favorite resources in the Toolkit is the collection of stories we gathered about real-world experiences of trying to do evaluation ethically.

A venn diagram that illustrates the overlap of ethics issues in evaluation and equity issues in evaluation

While we were developing the Guidebook, a question kept coming up in the stories we heard: what’s the difference between an ethical approach and an equitable approach to data and evaluation?

As philanthropy and other fields within the United States contend with their own processes that perpetuate systems of inequity, centering equity in evaluation is vital. Taking steps to practice data ethics has some overlap with taking steps to center equity. For example, both engage with questions of power dynamics and both encourage transparency around the purpose and use of evaluation.

That said, data ethics practices are not a substitute for practices that center on equity and vice versa.

Hot Tip

Consider both equity principles and ethical data practices in evaluation design and implementation.

What does it look like to engage with both ethical and equitable thinking about evaluation? Here’s what it looks like for me at this moment in time. Right now, my team is planning a focus group with administrators of a school district to assess a strategy to support early literacy, as well as focus groups with literacy tutors and families in the district.

Our equity lens leads us to talk with people who have power over the relevant mechanisms of change (administrators, funders), as well as people directly impacted (families, tutors, teachers). It informs our thinking about whom we talk to and what questions are asked. It means we approach the focus groups from the stance of a learner and as a co-generator of knowledge together with those participating in the groups.

With ethical practices for our data in place, we’re focused on ensuring free, prior, and informed consent and offering compensation for participants’ time. We have provided interview transcripts to the individuals we interviewed for the school project for their own records and to give them more ownership over the data they created and provided. At the intersection of ethics and equity, we, together with the commissioner of the evaluation, are thinking about how this data will be used. We’re asking: how can any knowledge generated be used in service of equity and be used in a way that treats the co-creators of that knowledge with respect and consideration? We continue to learn.

Rad Resource

Finally, if you came to this blog with interest in the “thinking equitably” part alongside “thinking ethically”, I want to share one additional resource on equity in evaluation that our team finds useful and that we apply alongside ethical practice: The Culturally Responsive & Equitable Evaluation Learning Series Hosted by Expanding the Bench

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 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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.