2.8. Ethical considerations

All evaluations should take into account appropriate ethical considerations. Program managers should undertake an assessment on ethical risk against guidelines such as those produced by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), to determine if formal ethics review processes are required. The Australasian Evaluation Society has produced Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Evaluation which members are obliged to abide by.

Specific information on ethical conduct for evaluation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander settings can be found in the Productivity Commission’s A Guide to Evaluation Under the Indigenous Evaluation Strategy, BetterEvaluation’s Ethical Protocol for evaluation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander settings and NHMRC’s Ethical conduct in research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities: Guidelines for researchers and stakeholders. Other relevant Territory Government resources include Northern Territory Health’s Aboriginal Cultural Security Framework and the Remote Engagement and Coordination Strategy.

It is important to consider the appropriate timeframes and budget required, acknowledging that there are often additional resource implications associated with evaluations that have specific ethical and cultural requirements.

Key ethical questions to consider[1]

Conduct of the evaluators:

  • Do evaluators possess the appropriate knowledge, abilities and skills to undertake the proposed tasks?
  • Have evaluators disclosed any potential conflicts of interest?
  • Are all evaluators fully informed of what is expected in terms of their ethical and cultural safety responsibilities and adherence to protocols?

Integrity of the evaluation process:

  • Does the evaluation design ensure data is valid, reliable and appropriate?
  • Have the limitations and strengths of the evaluation been identified?
  • How will the source of evaluative judgements be identified and presented?
  • How will results be reported and communicated in a way that all stakeholders can easily understand?
  • How will the evaluation findings be utilised and how will they impact implementation?

Respect and protection of participants:

  • How will participants be engaged throughout the evaluation process?
  • How will participants’ contributions of information, knowledge and time be respectfully recognised?
  • Are there potential effects of inequalities related to race, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical or intellectual ability, religion, socioeconomic or ethnic background that need to be taken into account when analysing the data?
  • How will participants’ informed consent be obtained?
  • What confidentiality arrangements have been put in place?
  • Will the evaluation involve interviews or focus groups that may raise potential trauma?

When is external ethics review required?

NHMRC identifies triggers for ethical review, including:

  • comparison of cohorts where the activity potentially infringes the privacy or professional reputation of participants, providers or organisations
  • secondary use of data – using data or analysis from quality assurance (QA) or evaluation activities for another purpose
  • gathering information about the participant/s beyond that collected routinely. Information may include biospecimens or additional investigations
  • testing of non-standard (innovative) protocols or equipment
  • comparison of cohorts
  • randomisation or the use of control groups or placebos
  • targeted analysis of data involving minority/vulnerable groups whose data is to be separated out of data collected or analysed as part of the main QA/evaluation activity.

“Where one or more of the triggers above apply, the guidance provided in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, 2007 (National Statement) should be followed.”[1]

[1] NHMRC: Ethical considerations in quality assurance and evaluation activities

Last updated: 23 February 2022

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