AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



IC TIG Week: Gail Vallance Barrington on Living Your Ethics

Hello. My name is Gail Vallance Barrington. I have owned and managed Barrington Research Group, Inc. for the past 25 years. Evaluation is what I do. I am currently completing my upcoming book, Consulting Start-up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers, to be published by SAGE in Fall 2011.

As Mike Morris (2008) has said, conducting social science research in the politically-charged environment of most organizations provides “myriad opportunities for ethical difficulties to arise.” For the independent consultant, having an ethical stance presents several dilemmas. First of all, it is easy to feel overpowered when you are an ‘n’ of one in a room of 20. Secondly, we want to be consultative, please our client, and do a good job so we will be hired again. And thirdly, let’s face it, we want to get paid. So how do we live our ethics? My solution is two-fold.

Hot Tip: The wisdom in the AEA’s Guiding Principles for Evaluators (2004) and the Program Evaluation Standards (3rd edition, 2010) is essential learning for us. When a dilemma arises that calls our values into play, we won’t have time to weigh pros and cons, look for advice, or consult with colleagues or mentors. Ethical issues emerge suddenly and often require a knee-jerk response. Consultation is a luxury we cannot afford. So we need to know these great resources so well that they are part of our DNA. They simply surface as needed.

Hot Tip: Secondly, learn to say “No” to a client and feel good about it. Here’s how I do it. In any client-consultant relationship or at any committee table, I remember that the evaluation community and my evaluation colleagues are actually my stakeholder group. There is strength in numbers even when these supporters are not actually present in the room. This perspective allows me to begin a “No” statement by saying, “As a member of the evaluation community, I agree with my colleagues that X or Y is not appropriate because…(state the reason).. and I will not be able to do that.” Hearing the choir singing behind me is a welcome sound indeed when I am in a tough or lonely spot. This allows me to say, “No, I will not release the data until the funder has reviewed it.” “No, I will not suppress the negative (or positive) findings.” “No, I will not write your thesis/chapter/article under your name.” And “No, I will not continue to work for you if you pressure me in this way.” Independent does not have to mean alone.

I look forward to Evaluation 2011 because the theme of values and valuing will give us lots to consider together.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Independent Consultants (IC) TIG Week with our colleagues in the IC AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IC  TIG 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 evaluators.

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1 comment

  • Dawn Smart · April 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks, Gail. Sentiments I often ponder. It is so good to hear that others feel the strength of the evaluator collective! dhs


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