The Evaluation Process
“By looking closely at the word evaluation, you will see the word value embedded in it (Russ-Eft & Preskill, 2001).” The noun "value" comes from the Latin “valere” meaning to be strong, or of value. The word has carried the meaning of "worth" of someone or something for centuries. Today the word "value" conveys the "worth" of something in an economic sense. The very nature of evaluation is a value statement. This begs the next question, who’s values do we use? The best form of evaluation will find its roots in grey thinking where one does not form and opinioin about an important matter until one has heard all the relevent facts and arguments (Sample, 2002 p.7). Value is like perspective.
There was this little child; he was so excited that he had pulled a cornstalk out by its roots. When his father congratulated him, he beamed. "And just think," he said, "the whole world had hold of the other end of it.
Perspective is how one look at things and what one sees when looking. Ideally the values used will be an outgrowth of the data obtained with the core understanding that strategy and operations will move based on what is best for the organization, what is legal, what is socially acceptable, and in the case of a Christian ministry, what is theologically sound. However, those purveyors of research must be cognizant that most are trapped by what Sample calls binary, good bad, right wrong thinking. Added to the good bad, right wrong thinking trap are the trappings of politics.
Politics palys a role in most decisions in any organization. Performing and backstaging are commonplace but must be done a climate of high moral values and personal conviction. Pettigrow (2001) reflects that a fine line exists between acting in a politically astute manner and acting unethically (Brannick, 2005). What complicates this entire process is that working as a change agent cannot always be done with openness, honesty, and transparency. This paradox of ethical behavior done without openness, honesty, and transparency places pressure on the leader and his or her superiors. Russ-Eft gives sound guidance for the evaluation process (2001) when he quotes Patton’s (1977) suggestions for evaluators: (1) consider your own intentions and moral groundings, (2) exercise ethical care in selecting projects to work on and stakeholders to work with, and (3) be clear about whose interests are being represented or not represented in the evaluation.
The leader knows where ethical convictions begin to diverge from pure, cold self-interest (Sample, 2002). One must avoid cold self-interests at all cost. If we learn anything from the Bernard Madoff scandal is that cold self-interest takes no prisoners.
Can the researcher or should the researcher avoid politics; of course not. Politics places an economic value on the evaluations being done. If people begin to bargain and negotiate based on a particular action research project, one can deduce that significant rewards are attached to the outcome of the evaluation/research. Politics is woven into the fabric of evaluation. Conversely, Russ-Eft & Preskill describe several conditions that would qualify an evaluation for a politics free zone. The conditions are as follows (2001):
No one cares about the program
No one knows about the program
No money is at stake
No power or authority is at stake
And no one in the program, making decisions about the program, or otherwise involved in knowledgeable about or attached is sexually active.
The inference is that all evaluations are political. The implication of this anonymous statement is codified by the ancient writer James. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed (Biblesoft, 1995, James 1:14). In any form politics can be ugly business.
Ethics involve not only not deceiving or doing harm, but being true to the process (Brannick, 2005). Walter and Haslett (2002) write, “‘there is no simple or single answer.’ ‘In action research, the researcher has the role of creating the context and conditions for the conduct of the study (p.526).’” Remaining true to the process like all facets of organizational success is built on leadership. The ethical researcher/evaluator must be supported by ethical leadership. Without proper support the researcher could be caught in a conundrum of relying on personal values and convictions while disobeying orders from upper level management. The researcher must come to the belief that during research it is better to stay true to one’s convictions even at the expense of resigning a position. Or as illustrated earlier, one can justify unethical behavior for the sake of personal gain. Ethical leadership requires the leader choose one set of moral values over all others, and then take full responsibility for his actions based on those values (Sample, 2002, p.119).
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