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Ethical Issues of Conducting a Program Evaluation

Several ethical issues confront anyone conducting a program evaluation. They arise out of the actual process of doing the evaluation. They can also arise from mistakes of the evaluator. Lastly, there are some issues, which are intrinsic to the context of the research. The paper presents the ethical issues expected when evaluating the education behind-bars program. The program’s success of depends on the way its evaluation. It also depends on how much value the stakeholders of the education behind-bars initiative attached to the variables measured in the evaluation.

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Ethical Issues from the Evaluation Report

During the reporting stage of the program, there might have been instances where the evaluator omits negative findings so that overall there appears to be more success that is actually realized on the ground. The omission may be deliberate or due to the evaluation’s internal validity aspects. The rationality of decisions made due to the finding of a study depends on the accuracy and judiciousness of the research.

Therefore, it is very important to observe all limitations that might render the findings irrelevant. Moreover, public programs depend on budgets that cover annual operations, thus they need to be straightforward and without room for contention to ensure a timely implementation of recommendation. The end implementation would normally follow a successful evaluation. However, the emergence of ethical concerns only delays the implementation. When they become chronic, the evaluators may be forced to call for the abandonment of the program, which translates into a loss of time and money for the program’s stakeholders (Posavac, 2011).

The negation of negative finding during evaluation would come from one of the following validity reasons. Other factors other than the education behind-bars program also affected offenders after their release from prison. Thus, their behavior and the question of whether they go back to commit a crime, do not entirely rely on how much they learn while behind bars. Note that the evaluator could have neglected this aspect.

For example, the process of remanding and releasing offenders takes time, which allows them to contemplate their action relative to the crimes they committed. If the reason of their crimes were not satisfied, the offenders would have the inclination to go back, and commit the same crime. Here, the education program should change the offender’s mind about the offence. However, if the program fails to do that, and the evaluator misses the point when reporting their findings, then this becomes an ethical issue of leaving out negative findings (Morris, 2008).

In relation to negation, the evaluator could also exaggerate successes of the study. Various external factors influence the findings of a social research. First, there are events that happen before a person gets behinds bars and after their release. Other events end or start during the period of evaluation and affect the outcomes of the evaluation. Some of the historical events affecting the findings from the evaluation include a spending cut or increase by the government, towards the prison system (Posavac, 2011). Budget cuts would lead to the deprivation of other resources within correction centers, which includes the number of staffs looking after prisoners.

A low number of staffs leads to laxity in the implementation of the education program and this would affect the results obtain. The opposite effect is achievable with a high number of staffs and other resources to aid prisoners’ learning. During evaluation, the effects external to the program may have led to the declaration of success after the examination of pretest and posttest findings.

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The opposite of the above ethical issue could also happen. Instead of exaggerating the findings from the research, the evaluators may have suppressed the findings altogether. Reasons for suppression would occur if the evaluator were part of the stakeholders that benefit from the education behind-bars program. The evaluation on the reason for the rotational door inmates showed that the issue occurred because of a lack of remedial training. Doubtful reasoning may arise on whether the subsequent evaluations might suppress contrary findings to prevent the withdrawal from the program in prison systems. It is difficult to deal with the suppression of findings, as only the evaluator knows it.

Another ethical issue arising out of the process is whether the findings were released too late, after they cease to serve their intended purpose. The evaluations of the study have a time constraint because of events occurring before, and after the program. Stakeholders need the information when they still have an opportunity to react to the program to make it have the intended change to the community. This dilemma would only occur where decisions made of the evaluations depend on other external dealings. For example, if the evaluation was done to affect necessary changes to a council’s approach to fund the correctional system, then the evaluation should come before the various council committees sit and deliberate on the issue. Otherwise, the report would become useless for the specific city.

Instead of delaying the release of the evaluation report, the evaluator could also prerelease it to the public. This would happen if the evaluator wants to elicit public sentiments on the findings for his or her own benefit. Here, the study gains from the effect of regression. Releasing negative findings to the public and then presenting them to a committee has the effect of causing the committee to relax their tone towards the report. It is possible for evaluators to play decision makers against one another using the above method. The method would be effective when there are subsequent grants for research pegged on a specific interpretation of the evaluation. Such a conduct would be unethical for the program evaluator.

The last ethical issue arising from the reporting of evaluation concerns the oversimplification of results. The evaluator could try to play down the study effects on participants, or amplify them by crossing out specific details that are necessary for a congruent understanding (Loi & McDermott, 2010). On the other hand, the evaluator may try to prevent a replication of the study, which may reveal malpractice and omissions. Sometimes oversimplifying occurs innocently due to attrition problems during the research. Not all inmates joining the study would finish and the evaluator might have failed to pretest the group. Therefore, the result will erroneously refer to the total group from the program start instead of only those who finished. Over simplification would also happen because not all limitations that should be measured were actually measured. For example, changes in instrumentation affect the findings and failure to account for them is a generalization of the evaluation.

Issues Arising From the Evaluator and the Context

The following section looks at the ethical issues that occur during the actual process of doing the evaluation and those that depend on the evaluator. During the appraisal of the correction program, an otherwise strong evaluation becomes frail because stakeholders advocate the use of feeble measures. Failure to monitor inmates before they are evaluated could open loopholes for them to behave according to the expected results.

The past inmates would then return to crime after the evaluation period expires. The education program only measured the crime rate of former inmates. This could be a low standard for the education program. It might be better to include extra limitations such as the types of positive economic and social activities that the inmates undertake. The supplemental measures would raise the standard of the program evaluation.

Besides the previously mentioned virtuous matters, there could also be cases of withholding, hiding it or distorting information to suit the desired results from the study. Often the above cases occur when the information from the evaluation serves as ammunition among stakeholders as alluded previously. Sometimes, the process may not tamper with the validity of the result; however, they would be unethical when the evaluator breaks the confidentiality of the stakeholder and that of the participants. This would happen through an unauthorized release of private data. Moreover, the evaluation could also be amoral if it employs any kind of deceit to get resources and participants. The evaluator might have influenced the results from the research by colluding with inmates and influencing their behavior after their release from prison, and before the process of evaluation (Morris, 2008).

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Most ethical dilemmas of a program evaluation will occur when the assessor has a personal or financial interest in the findings. Other reasons would be that they lack the necessary skills or are ignorant of relevant methods of evaluation. For example, nearly all human service professionals have a limited understanding of the inherent advantages of experimental approaches. Therefore, the majority of them will forgo their use.

The neglect of the local values and traditions of the area of study and its people would be an ethical violation (Morris, 2008). The evaluators of the education behind-bars program my fail to incorporate the values within the correction system in their experimental design and other methodologies. Their findings would then be morally inconsistent with their area of study. The same issue could also arise when the evaluator holds different ideological positions from those held by the stakeholders of the program (Royse, Thyer, & Padgett, 2010). Here, the evaluator would present biased findings, unless there is a check system for the error.

The ideological position could be induced by the propensity to deliver the expected evaluation so that one retains their job. This is most likely to happen if the correction program pays the evaluator. Alternatively, the evaluator might have made promises prior to the exercise thus pressurizing themselves to deliver according to what was promised. He or she would raise additional ethical issues by failing to involve the appropriate stakeholders. For example, the findings that justify the combination of career and technical education might be a result of the including the inmates’ literacy levels when that might not be the case as discussed and approved by stakeholders.


Loi, C. A., & McDermott, R. J. (2010). Conducting program evaluation with Hispanics in rural settings: ethical issues and evaluation challenges. American Journal of Health Education, 41(4), 252-262. Web.

Morris, M. (Ed.). (2008). Evaluation ethics for best practice: cases and commentaries. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Posavac, E. J. (2011). Program evaluation: Methods and case studies (8th ed.). New York, NY: Prentice Hall.

Royse, D., Thyer, B. A., & Padgett, D. K. (2010). Program evaluation, an introduction (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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