Understanding Norms, Principles, Standards and Values

by May 18, 2018

I am very aware of the ethical dimension inherent to the evaluation practice, so I try to read and understand what the evaluation community’s collective experience has come to agree in forms of Codes of Conduct, and Standards and Norms where Values and Principles are prescribed.

But have you ever wondered what is the difference between Values, Principles, Norms and Standards? What is the relationship or hierarchy among them? Realizing that was probably an unfruitful exercise, I tried to make sense of them, as usual, understanding the concepts first and then playing visually with them to try to reach a new conclusion or insight that I cannot get through just words.

In this case, I dragged in the attempt two colleagues, Jennifer Ward and Elizabeth AlFayad from the University of Rochester. Together, we shared sketches and ideas for several iterations.

So, I started analyzing the definitions (Jennifer did the literature review on concepts). The first thing that stands out is how each of them include the other terms within its definition! (except Principles):

From their definitions, they would all seem interconnected:

But… What is the relationship among them?

Are those 4 concepts similar?

Are they at similar levels?

Or do they have some kind of a hierarchy?


From their description, it can be interpreted as if Norms and Standards have a practical note, and Values and Principles are at a higher level.

But is it? Or is any of them inclusive of the other ones?



For example, Norms making part of Sets of Standards, and Values at the bottom?

Or, on the contrary. are Values at a higher level, that translate into Principles, that materialize into Standards that gather Norms?

Or are Values at a personal level, which collectively build into Principles, that again materialize into Norms gathered in Standards?


Jennifer Ward has another take on it: values lead to norms, which lead to the formation of principles and standards, which ultimately result in established norms, either new or reinforced. Principles are more broad, less defined, while standards are clear benchmarks to be used for assessing effectiveness (Gill, Kuwahara, & Wilce, 2016). Standards are also an attempt to operationalize values and re-establish norms, to make them consistent across the board, so that they reflect shared values. While values appear to be the foundation, and standards and norms are ultimately produced, the concepts do not always follow a linear narrative. Additionally, standards and principles are sometimes created in an effort to produce an established set of norms: an agreed upon set. Overall, the concepts move from theoretical (values and norms)à operational (principles and standards).


Well, not sure these are valid claims, but we tried.

If anyone wants to take this work further or share their own interpretation, reach out!



  1. Gill, S., Kuwahara, R., & Wilce, M. (2016). Through a culturally competent lens: Why the program evaluation standards matter. Health Promotion Practice, 17(1), 5-8. 10.1177/1524839915616364
  2. Newcomer, K. E., Hatry, H. P., & Wholey, J. S. (2015). Handbook of practical program evaluation (Fourth ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints, Wiley.
  3. Schwandt, T. (2013). American evaluation association: Guiding principles for evaluators. American Journal of Evaluation, 34(4), 463-464. 10.1177/1098214013502939
  4. Taut, S. (2000). Cross-Cultural Transferability of The Program Evaluation Standards. 5-7. Retrieved from http://www.seval.ch/documents/unterlagen-standards/diskussion/d12_russon_2000_program.pdf.
  5. UNEG. (2016). Norms and Standards for Evaluation. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/JWard1/Downloads/UNEG%20Norms%20&%20Standards%20for%20Evaluation_English-2017.pdf.

New posts coming up:

(published every two weeks-ish 🙂 )

  • ToCs series
  • Visual summary of impact designs
  • Visual summaries of other criteria designs
  • Ideas to make Bibliographies more informative
  • Ways of mapping beneficiaries
  • My favorite pre-attentive features
  • Ideas for reports (series)
  • Some day: iterations with the Periodic Table of Evaluation

And more!

Stay tuned! 🙂

You want to see more Visuals?