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Susan Eliot on a Code of Conduct

I’m Susan Eliot, owner and principal of Eliot & Associates, a qualitative research and evaluation firm located in Portland Oregon. I also write a qualitative blog.

I’ve been an evaluator for over 20 years now. The longer I do this work, the more I appreciate the correlation between quality evaluations and two core elements: (1) conducting the evaluation with integrity; and (2) honoring the dignity of all those involved in the evaluation. A recent TV story validated my thinking.

Jim Lehrer, anchor of the NewsHour on PBS, will step down from his post on June 6 after 36 years in the position. On a recent Newshour segment, Robert MacNeil, his former co-anchor and co-founder, revealed the personal code of conduct by which Lehrer has lived his life and done his work. Listening to MacNeil pay tribute to his friend and colleague, I could not help but consider how relevant Lehrer’s code of conduct is for us as evaluators.

Rad Resource: Here is Jim Lehrer’s code of conduct in its entirety. Just substitute the word “evaluation” for the word “story” and “client” for “viewer” to see if it applies to your evaluation practice.

  1. Do nothing I cannot defend.
  2. Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
  3. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
  4. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.
  5. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
  6. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
  7. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight stories. And clearly label everything.
  8. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes, except on rare and monumental occasions.
  9. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
  10. And . . . finally . . . I am not in the entertainment business!


Hot Tip: Unlike journalists, evaluators depend heavily on anonymity to uncover the truth. Of course, this only gives us more reason to be explicit in our methods, accurate in our data collection, and careful to “separate opinion and analysis from straight stories.”

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