Source: International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Volume 23, Issue 4
(July 2010), pages 463 – 478.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
Responsive qualitative evaluators confronted with diverse stakeholders are likely to face multiple ethical dilemmas. These may involve competing principles, and their resolutions are challenging. This article is a critical retrospective account of the decisions made by a team of evaluators contracted to assess a week-long leadership program for high school youth.
The goal of the program was to prepare diverse young people for the democratic promotion of religious liberty in the local communities where they resided in the USA.
The responsive evaluation team was composed of the two coauthors and a male doctoral student, all of them European American, who shared data collection in the field.
A Program is Born
The program planners' were 18 adults from different organizations and from different parts of the USA who came together for four days in December 2005 to develop a week-long leadership program. The adults included retired college professors and other retired professionals, middle-aged leadership program leaders for youth, young camp and recreational leaders, and young social justice advocates. New to the group were two curriculum consultants, both retired teachers from a private high school, contracted to turn this group's dream into a reality, and the University of Georgia evaluation team. Everyone was European American except for two African-American women and three individuals of Indian or Middle Eastern origins.
For three-and-a-half 14-hour days, the group listened and responded to overviews by the curriculum consultants, planned and piloted parts of the curriculum on 13 youth consultants who joined the participants for a day and a half, and developed task groups to work on issues as needed.
The program planners all sought to prepare community youth leaders to foster the freedom of religion, but they varied in how they believed this ought to be achieved.
The August Program
Several months later the program, located in a camp in the southern Appalachian Mountains, was ready. Twenty-nine 14-17-year-olds arrived to the camp. The youth represented 10 faith traditions, five ethnic and racial groups, five regions of the USA, and five different school types.
For six days, the youth participated in planned and unplanned activities, academic and recreational. The curriculum asked the students to analyze and discuss the historical and current state of religious liberty in the USA. The youth also engaged in intense formal and informal encounters with one another about their own religious faiths and their views on religious freedom.
The ethical dilemmas discussed in this article focus on the authors' choices of engagement or non-engagement as they strove to understand different stakeholders' perspectives, while also witnessing events that challenged their own perspectives of the program and the stakeholders implementing it.
For this discussion, the authors asked themselves these questions:
What are the responsibilities of responsive evaluators?
How should responsive evaluators intervene when people are trying to collaborate, when they are floundering, and when the evaluators believe in them and their goals?
Evaluation should be more integrated with program development than the authors were able to achieve. As evaluators, the authors should intervened more directly. The authors should have allowed themselves to voice their disagreements more emphatically.
The authors disagreed with the school adults. The camp adults and the evaluators took more transformational views; the authors were more open to input from the youth; the authors believed that knowledge is more powerful if constructed together. The school adults wanted to remake the world the way they wanted it to be. They were training community youth leaders to defend religious freedom, and they were truly frightened by the prospect of a US society ruled by Christian religious conservatives who would undo the religious liberties developed over the past 200 years. But by intervening more strongly, perhaps the authors would have tried to indoctrinate school adults to a particular view.
The authors believe that the program could have been more effective, with consequences that could have been even more far-reaching, but as of this writing, the project lives on and pursues the dream of preparing leaders to support religious freedoms.