What cannot be counted: Ethics, innovation, and evaluation in the delivery of public services

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The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal


Eleanor Glor






For the past 20 years, outcome evaluation has been one of the most significant innovations in the delivery of public services and the management of nonprofit organizations. Theoretically evaluation is meant to provide an engine to innovate existing programs and organizations by providing actionable information. Much of the existing research has primarily been focused on compliance with mandated program performance evaluations with little consideration to the implications of these mandates. In the nonprofit setting, administrators often must choose between spending money on achieving the mission or contracting out to acquire the expertise necessary to adequately measure performance toward achieving that mission. The irony is that accountability requirements can affect the organization‟s ability to achieve its mission because it can hinder a nonprofit employees‟ capacity to provide services to clients. This generates an ethical dilemma for individuals within these agencies when they are forced to choose between a client‟s needs and organizational performance demands. This paper analyzes the inherent dilemmas that stem from accountability systems implemented by nonprofits providing direct services. The research employs the Right-versus-Right construct developed by Rushworth Kidder (2005) and examines the moral dilemma surrounding the mandates of performance evaluation and the impact on ethical decision-making and management. These theoretical constructs aid in the identification of ethical and management dilemmas as they relate to performance evaluation and the impact on an organization‟s mission, management, and values. This assessment is especially timely given the recent economic crisis, which has created an increased demand for services with fewer resources to meet additional service demands.


Accountability; Ethics; Evaluation; Nonprofit organizations – Evaluation; Performance; Responsibility


Other Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Other Sociology | Race and Ethnicity | Urban Studies and Planning




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