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.”

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.

1 thought on “Susan Eliot on a Code of Conduct”


    Hi Susan,
    I have a question for you related to the code of conduct/standards. I am beginning to work on a Master of Education focusing on Inquiry at Queen’s University and one of my first courses is Program Inquiry and Evaluation. In our course readings we have touched on many aspects of Evaluation such as theory, developing an evaluation, evaluation use/misuse and the standards or codes of conduct. In one of the readings by Shulha and Cousins (1997) they broach how McTaggart (1991) altered his evaluation report at the last moment. However, it became clear that the teacher had rescinded her statements due to pressure imposed by the principal. In addition, during the evaluation process he noticed a shift in how knowledge of the programs was being presented. This particular case was used to highlight misuse in evaluation. Yet, I struggle with this. In my readings, it mentions using independent checks, methodological reviews and consulting the codes of ethics.

    McTaggart was attempting to ‘[honor] the dignity of all those involved in the evaluation” Eliot (2011) and ‘conducting the evaluation with integrity’ (Eliot 2011). I am perplexed as to how he could have turned this situation around? I understand as an outside evaluator you want to have good quality work which enables you to get more work. Yet, in a situation like this, where the knowledge of the program is changing, due to the power of position of the principal, how do you continue? How do you maintain integrity of yourself and your evaluation? Does the code of conduct/standards allow for morality?

    Works cited:
    Eliot, S (2011, May 25). AEA365 A Tip-a-Day by and For Evaluators, Susan Eliot on a Code of Conduct[Blog post]. Retrieved from

    Shulha, L., & Cousins, B. (1997). Evaluation use: Theory, research and practice since 1986. Evaluation Practice, 18, 195-208.

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