Ethical considerations

It is imperative that ethical issues are considered during the formulation of the evaluation plan. Ethical considerations during evaluation include:

  • Informed consent
  • Voluntary participation
  • Do no harm
  • Confidentiality
  • Anonymity
  • Only assess relevant components.

Informed consent

Informed consent means that the person participating in the evaluation is fully informed about the evaluation being conducted. Participants need to be made aware of the purpose of the project, who or what group is funding it, how the findings will be used, if there are any potential adverse impacts of their participation and who will have access to the findings. The main purpose of informed consent is that the participant is able to make an informed decision as to whether they will participate in the evaluation or not. Additional information should also be provided in the event that the participant becomes distressed in any way during their participation.1,2

Voluntary participation

Voluntary participation means that people participate in the evaluation free from coercion. Participants are free to withdraw their participation at any time without negatively impacting on their involvement in future services or the current program2 and relationships with any of the researchers or research bodies involved. It can be challenging to encourage high risk youth to become engaged in a program and it is therefore difficult when participants choose not to continue in a program. It is the right of participants to leave a program of this nature at any time, therefore no pressure should be placed on those who choose not to continue. Explanations are also not required.

Do no harm

Harm can be both physical and/or psychological and therefore can be in the form of: stress, pain, anxiety, diminishing self-esteem or an invasion of privacy.2 It is imperative that the evaluation process does not in any way harm (unintended or otherwise) participants.


Confidentiality means that any identifying information is not made available to, or accessed by anyone but the program coordinator.2 Confidentiality also ensures such identifying information is excluded from any reports or published documents. Given that there are often small numbers in peer based programs, it is very important to consider how reports are worded to ensure that there is no opportunity for people to be identified even though names are not used.


Anonymity is a stricter form of privacy than confidentiality, as the identity of the participant remains unknown to the research team.2 This is more difficult to achieve than confidentiality as participants in the context of social research are usually known to the program coordinator.1

Only assess relevant components

Only assess those components that are of relevance to the program/initiative being conducted. High risk populations are sometimes being used as guinea pigs or a captive audience to ask all sorts of questions in evaluations that are of interest to groups conducting the program/initiative but not relevant to the program nor will be to the group who are involved in the program. It is important to keep evaluations as simple as possible and to remain focused on the intention of the evaluation and what the data gathered will be used for.


  1. South Australian Community Health Research Unit n.d. c
  2. Trochim 2006