I was asked about the need for an evaluation plan to be reviewed by the institutional review board (IRB) office. In pausing to answer, the atrocities that have occurred and are occurring throughout the world registered once again with me…the Inquisition, the Crusades, Cortes, Auschwitz, Nuremberg trials, Sudan, to name only a few. Now, although I know there is little or no evaluation in most of these situations, humans were abused in the guise of finding the truth. (I won’t capitalize truth, although some would argue that Truth was the impetus for these acts.)
So what responsibility DO evaluators have for protecting individuals who participate in the inquiry we call evaluation? The American Evaluation Association has developed and endorsed for all evaluators a set of Guiding Principals. There are five principals–Systematic Inquiry, Competence, Integrity/Honesty, Respect for People, and Responsibilities for the General and Public Welfare. An evaluator must perform the systematic inquiry competently with integrity, respecting the individuals participating and recognizing diversity of public interests and values. This isn’t a mandated code; there are no evaluation police; an evaluator will not be sanctioned if these principals are not followed (the evaluator may not get repeat work, though). These guiding principals were established to “guide” the evaluator to do the best work possible within the limitations of the job.
The IRB is there to protect the participant first and foremost; then the investigator and the institution. So although there is not a direct congruence with the IRB principals of voluntary participation, confidentiality, and minimal risk, to me, evaluators following the guiding principals will be able to assure participants that they will be respected and that the inquiry will be conducted with integrity. No easy task…and a lot of work.
I think evaluators have a responsibility embedded in the guiding principals to assure individuals participating in evaluations that participants engage voluntarily, that they provide information that will remain confidential, and that what is expected of them involves minimal risk. Securing IRB approval will assure participants that this is so.
Although two different monitoring systems (one federal; one professional), I think it is important meet both sets of expectations.