Social Surveys Director Dr Tara Polzer Ngwato, with Caitlin Blaser Mapitsa from Wits University, argues that evaluations must be ethical, and that the nature and meaning of ethics must be contextual. Writing in the American Journal of Evaluation, the authors note that, as global discussions of evaluation standards become more contextually nuanced, culturally responsive conceptions of ethics have not been sufficiently discussed. In academic social research, ethical clearance processes have been designed to protect vulnerable people from harm related to participation in a research project. This article expands the ambit of ethical protection thinking and proposes a relational ethics approach for evaluation practitioners. This centers an analysis of power relations among and within all the different stakeholder groups in order to establish, in a context-specific manner, which stakeholders are vulnerable and in need of protection. The approach also contextualizes the nature of “the public good,” as part of an ethical consideration of interest trade-offs during evaluations. The discussion is informed by our experiences in African contexts and speaks to the “Made in Africa” research agenda but is also relevant to other global contexts where alternatives to “developed country” ontological assumptions about the roles of researchers and participations and the nature of vulnerability are being reconsidered.

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