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.

3 thoughts on “DOVP Week: June Gothberg on Involving Vulnerable Populations in Evaluation and Research”

  1. As a graduate student in the Queen’s University Professional Master of Education (Aboriginal Education) program and novice program evaluator, this article resonated with me as it challenges my assumptions of which portions of a populace are considered ‘vulnerable persons’ for evaluative purposes. I was surprised and perplexed at the definition provided in the ‘determining vulnerability’ section, as I cross referenced that with the list of who is considered within the scope of ‘vulnerable’ populations. I realized that I, as a person of mixed ancestry (Indigenous (Nakota) and European); is a Royal Canadian Air Force veteran who was medically released for military service related injuries (veteran and ‘wounded warrior’); and is considered partially physically disabled, was labelled as ‘vulnerable’. This realization has me asking the questions: How does this perceived vulnerability affect my abilities to conduct an unbiased program evaluation engaging other members of the vulnerable sector? Should we be labelling (generalizing) these populations as ‘vulnerable’ without reaching out to the individual stakeholders engaging with our specific program evaluation? Are we marginalizing individuals within these communities when we classify them as ‘vulnerable persons’?

  2. Pingback: Mary Crave, Kerry Zaleski and Tererai Trent on Participatory Methods for Engaging Vulnerable and Under-Represented Persons in M&E · AEA365

  3. Persons interested in learning more about evaluation methods for vulnerable populations may be interested in the Evaluation 2013 Professional Development workshop: (05)Participatory Methods for Engaging Vulnerable and Under-represented Persons in Monitoring and Evaluation (October 14-15, 2013: 9am-4pm)

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