How to make an impact in animal advocacy, a survey.
Charity Entrepreneurship conducted a survey of 30 leaders and researchers in the animal advocacy movement to try to get a sense of what cause areas have been working well, and, more specifically, what areas might be most promising for founding new organizations. The individuals were selected by speaking to EA-involved animal advocacy activists and by then working outwards based on their recommendations of who to speak to.
Interviews lasted between 30 and 120 minutes and most experts were asked fairly similar questions. The two numbers beside each intervention are average rating and weighted weighting. Average rating is just a straightforward average of what each leader thought: a score of 1 was considered low promisingness, 2 mid-promisingness, 3 high promisingness, and 4 highest promisingness. The weighted results depend on how many years of animal advocacy experience someone had, how utilitarian/EA their mindset was, and their depth of knowledge in comparing different, broad topics. For example, someone who knew a lot, but only about one area, would get a lower weighting than someone who had deep knowledge of several areas. The range in views represents how controversial an issue was among leaders.
These are the results I am most confident in, as I was able to ask almost all interviewees about most broad areas. For the more detailed sub-areas, I was not able to ask about all 100+ interventions. I was only able to ask “in the broad area of Events, what might be the best/worst things”, and update the interventions in that area based on the person’s response. For example, if someone gave Events an overall score of 2 (mid promisingness), but mentioned one intervention they felt was less promising and one intervention they thought was more promising, those two scores would be adjusted (e.g. respectively to a 1 and 3), but the other unmentioned interventions would be given the ranking they have in the broad area (in this case a 2). This could lead to ideas that are less well-known receiving ratings closer to the area-average due to people mentioning it less.
The safest way, therefore, to interpret data on individual interventions is to limit it to comparisons within a sub-area. For example, you might be confident that conferences are more promising than veg-fests. I do think some judgements can also be made across areas, although they should be made with lower confidence.
The numbers tell us a lot, but it’s hard to get everything across with them. Therefore, the following paragraphs summarize what I learned or found surprising within each broad area.
Corporate outreach was generally agreed upon as a historically successful cause area. Some people thought that now was the time to start planning for the next campaigns to be conducted (e.g. on fish). Others thought it would be better to continue focusing on the current egg/chicken campaigns to guarantee follow through and expansion to international level. There was some concern that this cause area was fairly full, with strong organizations already working on it, while others argued that very high impact gaps were yet to be filled.
Research, although it had a high average, was more divisive, with many people thinking it was the most important thing to work on, while others believed that research did not generally affect animal advocacy organizations and activist actions. Opinions differed on what research is highest impact: movement building, fundamental crucial considerations, and practical interventions each had strong supporters. People mentioned ensuring that research has a clear path to making an impact, as it seems easy to get lost in abstraction. Many people were concerned that, even if research was well conducted, it would not influence organizations unless it first influenced funders who then influenced organizations via their granting choices.
Akin to research, the average score ended up being high with a lot of mixed views thrown in. Many people saw it as the most promising area, with the potential to shock the whole industry. However, expected timelines and market share estimates varied widely between experts, leading to very different optimism/pessimism levels. Opinions were also fairly split on whether plant based or clean meat was the more promising sub-area. People seemed to agree, however, that overall the area has lots of funding and talent pouring in and, hence, is less neglected. Some argued that the right amount of attention had been paid to the area already, while others suggested that too many activists were joining the cause and that non-activist, pay-motivated actors would probably jump on the opportunity if there appeared a promising one.
The consensus was that this is an area with a lot of gaps and neglect. Some thought this was due to pragmatic concerns. For example, it will always be hard to compete with high budget animal agriculture lobbies. Others thought it was more due to the momentum of the movement and the lack of expertise of current animal advocacy activists. Views on how to act were mixed but generally people thought that focusing on the small scale (e.g. state or city) and on countries other than the US might be more promising. At the very least, there is room for research to identify the most promising interventions in this area, as it currently proves to be a very low information space.
Welfare Condition Improvements
Somewhat like political outreach, this was a lower information space. People thought some work could be done, particularly when paired with other interventions. For example, inventing a better process for stunning fish and then lobbying companies to apply it. Some of the more far-fetched ideas seemed promising to people initially, although few people were well-informed enough to have strong views on, for instance, GMO animals. Most people were fairly neutral and unsure about this class of interventions.
Wild Animal Suffering
Wild animal suffering was the most controversial issue on this list, with many people suggesting that although it was an important consideration, it was just too early for serious work on the issue. Others pointed out the very high numbers of individuals affected vs the very low number of people currently in the area. Almost everyone agreed that research had to be conducted and interventions, if applied, had to be very carefully executed. Nearly everyone seemed to be against interventions that would come into major conflict with different value systems. Generally, the people who thought this cause was promising believed also that much more research needed to be done before interventions could be effectively applied.
A related issue that people were generally more positive about was intervening on behalf of insects (e.g. lobbying against silk or for humane insecticide). Nevertheless, concerns about it being too early to focus on such issues were also prevalent.
Improving Existing NGOs
Views varied about the opportunities in this area. Coordination and talent gap improvement were mentioned by a lot of people, with marketing, applied research, and diversity being mentioned by some. Overall, even the people who thought this area had promise had major concerns about its tractability. One activist worded it as follows: “Many of the leaders in animal advocacy where promoted due to dedication to their ideals and stubbornness; those are hard minds to change”. Others found the idea great in principle, while remaining unsure on how to realise it. The one large exception that many people were excited about was the possibility of increasing the talent pool in the animal advocacy movement on the whole, particularly in countries like India and China, who currently have a less established movement. Generally, this area seemed tricky to do well, but if the talent gap problem could be reduced it could be of very high impact. Working on teaching animal activists to be more effective and then pairing them with organizations in need could be one possible approach.
Events were generally seen as mildly positive but low on cost-effectiveness. Many people thought there was room for more and/or improved conferences. Some mentioned events which focused on retention. Event categories like protests raised many people’s concerns over being net negative, while others thought protests were promising but neglected.
Individual Vegan Outreach
At the bottom of the rankings was vegan outreach. It was once seen as the most promising way forward, but many people have obtained quite negative views on it now. Generally, people thought just the right amount or too many resources were being invested into this area. Many people were more positive about long form and in-depth media (e.g. documentaries and humane education) than they were about short form outreach (e.g. flyers and online ads). People thought focusing on countries outside of the EU and the US could be somewhat promising, given that these markets are generally less saturated.
Sadly, I was not able to get enough people’s views on the interventions that fell outside of these broad categories and thus, it’s ranked at an average score of middle effectiveness.
Although there are lots of different views in the animal advocacy movement, there are some shared views across many in the movement. The views listed here will help direct future Charity Entrepreneurship research and eventually help lead to some recommended charities that the animal advocacy movement might want to start. If you want to keep up with other Charity Entrepreneurship research or might be interested in founding an animal advocacy charity in the future more details can be found at the CE website.