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Valuing Evaluation

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Volume: 66 Issue: 2 Dated: September 2002 Pages: 10-13
Felicia G. Cohn Ph.D.
Date Published
September 2002
4 pages
This article explores what is meant by "values" and discusses evaluation as fundamentally an ethical enterprise that must distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, and degrees of goodness and badness.
Ethics is a discipline that is concerned with questions about what "should" be done in a given situation. Evaluation is an ethics issue in attempting to provide answers to questions about what should be done with regard to specific programs. The questions about what to evaluate and even whether to evaluate suggest three levels of ethical inquiry. First, on what values is evaluation founded? Second, what values does evaluation reveal? Third, does evaluation fulfill those values? Evaluation examines the value of a program, a determination based in not only whether a program is implemented as planned, but whether the program achieves the values framed in specified program goals. These issues are illustrated in this article by examining a 1998 evaluation in which the U.S. Congress directed the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering to examine the training needs of health professionals to respond to family violence in order to develop a social action strategy. This involved assessing existing training programs and efforts to foster knowledge among health professionals. The author advises that for evaluation to be valuable, an accounting of its limitations is necessary. The article makes and explains a series of statements about the ethical limits of evaluation. They are as follows: the need for evaluation suggests but does not define value; evaluation, or lack thereof, may reveal priorities; methodological limitations of evaluation can affect its value; the results of evaluation can create misleading value claims; even "good" evaluation may not tell you what you need to know to improve the social condition; and good intentions, experience, and consensus opinion can be as powerful as good evaluation. 5 references