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Data Ethics Guidebook


The David and Lucile Packard Foundation invited Informing Change to partner with them in the development of an updated Data Ethics Guidebook. In doing so, we considered the evolving ecosystem of values, players, and circumstances in which evaluation is now happening in philanthropy.

While appreciating the insights evaluation work can yield, we acknowledge the ways evaluation can do harm. First, this Guidebook establishes baseline practices for reducing the risk of causing harm through unethical approaches. It also offers more equity-oriented, participatory approaches beyond this baseline to add care or increase the value of participation to communities sharing their data.

This Data Ethics Guidebook is a planning tool and go-to resource for evaluators, Foundation staff, and other social sector commissioners of evaluation. It is concerned with ‘data ethics’—the potential ways in which data-related activities can adversely impact people and society. It offers practical guidance to assess and respond to ethical issues that show up in applied research and evaluation activities. Throughout the Guidebook, Stories from the Field capture the real-world experiences of practitioners grappling with how to do evaluation more ethically.

We also produced a Data Ethics Toolkit as a companion to the Guidebook, which can be accessed here.

Read more about the Data Ethics Project here.

A Note on Language Conventions
The evaluation community at-large is always contemplating and reassessing what data ethics should mean in evaluation and applied research, but it is doing so now more intensively than ever. One topic of ongoing debate – not explicitly discussed in the Guidebook or Toolkit – is the best language with which to be inclusive, representative, and uplifting of the identities and communities being discussed in any given research project.

Like many in the field, we find the American Psychological Association’s Inclusive Language Guidelines to be an invaluable resource. However, we acknowledge our personal implicit biases and lived experiences leave us open to inadvertently using language and phrasing that may be harmful, including in the Guidebook and Toolkit.

We consider the Guidebook and Toolkit to be living documents and welcome feedback on these and any other issues for future iterations. To share feedback, please email us at