Faunalytics’ Areas Of Improvement
Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? At Faunalytics we have a number of new and continuing areas we are working to improve in 2018. By getting better all the time, we hope to help you keep improving your effectiveness for animals.
Faunalytics has always been committed to transparency. Since our beginning in 2000, we have made the full results and methods of our independent studies freely available. We also encourage all of our partner organizations to share the details of collaborative research projects. Inspired by the effective altruism movement, we’ve increased our transparency even more in the past couple of years.
For example, last year we became a GuideStar “Platinum” nonprofit, which is the watchdog organization’s highest level of recognition and transparency. We also participated in the review process with Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE), first in 2015 and again in 2017. Following those reviews, Faunalytics was named and then reconfirmed as an ACE “Standout Charity.”
In their review, ACE also identified a few areas of potential improvement. We largely agree with ACE’s observations and are working on new and better approaches in these areas. We wanted to share these issues to let you know how we will continue to adapt and refine our approach to best serve you, the movement, and the animals.
The first issue ACE raised was topic selection, which we address in more detail below. Their team also helpfully pointed out the need for a policy against harassment and discrimination. Last November, we created such a policy and we expect all board members, advisors, employees, contractors, and volunteers to abide by all elements of the policy.
The other improvements mostly related to our choice of research methods and presentation of results when it comes to one or two major studies. The general steps we’re taking include the following:
- Faunalytics is striving to conduct more independent studies, with fewer and more selective partner projects, to give us more control over topic selection and methods.
- We are involving our new research director, social psychologist Dr. Jo Anderson, in all projects to improve our methodologies, analysis, and presentation of results.
- Faunalytics is implementing pre-registration and (informal) peer review for all major independent studies and will continue to make results publicly available.
- We are establishing clearer writing guidelines and editorial policies for all of the content (study summaries, blogs, etc.) that we include in our research library.
- We will continue to share the limitations of the findings from our independent studies and strive to communicate appropriate caution on their use, as warranted.
Those are just a few of the actions that Faunalytics is taking to improve the quality of our work and our transparency. Below we delve further into why we cover a broad range of animal-related research and acknowledge a few lessons learned over the years.
Topic Selection: Focused But Diverse
In their review, ACE suggested that Faunalytics’ impact could be increased if we were to focus exclusively on the issues that impact the most animals. That is, focusing solely on animals used for food, or possibly wild animals. They wrote, “(Faunalytics works) on many topics—especially with their client work and library maintenance—that are focused on a relatively small number of animals, which make the gains from research likely much smaller.”
At Faunalytics, we agree with focusing our efforts on areas that can have the most impact. As mentioned in our comments to ACE, it is for this reason that we allocate about 60-70% of organizational resources to helping animals used for food; this is a numbers-driven decision. We are also influenced by tractability (how “winnable” an issue is), which is why we have not had a similar focus on wild animals. However, we think ignoring other issue areas is potentially a mistake.
The other 30-40% of Faunalytics’ resources are committed to “meta” research on animal advocacy (i.e., not issue-specific) and a diverse range of other issues. For instance, for meta research we track things like opinions about the animal advocacy movement and the amount of discussion of animal topics. We’ve also examined donor behavior and created detailed outlines of what social psychology tells us about attitude change, behavior change, and attitude-behavior consistency.
But we also think it’s important not to ignore other specific animal protection topics. As most of our readers know, there are many animal advocates who choose to focus their efforts on companion animals and animals used in research. Some of these people may never take action for farmed animals or wildlife, but their work can still have a substantial impact to reduce suffering. For these people, Faunalytics is their main resource for research on effective strategies. We think helping these advocates increase their impact is a worthy goal.
This is why some of our work at Faunalytics (e.g., our research library) addresses a very diverse range of animal-related topics, while our independent projects are mostly focused on animals used for food. We spend a majority of our resources on the issues that matter to the greatest number of animals, but still take time to identify and share the most actionable research for advocates working on other issues. This approach also enables us to introduce advocates to other important topics.
A Few Lessons We’ve Learned
Like any organization, Faunalytics occasionally pursues initiatives that don’t go as well as we hoped. Fortunately, we think that’s only happened a handful of times in our long history. We share examples not only in the spirit of transparency but also in hopes of helping other organizations.
- Historically, Faunalytics has set ambitious goals. Occasionally those goals were overly ambitious and resulted in us taking on too many projects at once. This led to a few studies and resources being delayed by up to several months. We have also occasionally taken on too many volunteers, without the capacity to manage them optimally and give them all meaningful work.
- In 2007, we built our first research library. Since then, we’ve written thousands of summaries of research studies about animals. We’ve also written hundreds of blogs and added dozens more guest blogs. With so much content, occasional errors are inevitable and we’ve made a few. Faunalytics seeks to mitigate these errors by continually improving our editorial process and responding quickly to correct any inaccuracies.
- In 2008, we launched the Faunalytics Animal Tracker, an annual survey dedicated to tracking key animal-related attitudes and behaviors. It’s a very useful tool and dataset for both animal advocates and scholars examining animal issues. With a decade more experience, we do feel some of the questions might have been designed differently.
- In 2011, we invested substantial time and limited money in Humane Trends, a project to “score” the United States on several animal-related metrics. We launched the study in 2011, including a website and full report, but upon reflection felt it was a lot of work for relatively little value to advocates. The scores were also based on limited data and ended up being more subjective than we intended, so we shifted resources to higher-impact projects.
- In 2014, Faunalytics released our study of lapsed vegetarians and vegans. For the first time ever, the movement had a solid estimate of how many veg*ns revert back to consuming meat or other animal products: 84%. This statistic was used by some media outlets to disparage vegetarianism and veganism. We may have been able to foresee this and take steps to mitigate it. We also could have been clearer in our messaging that the study was only about dietary veganism and not the other aspects of veganism.