Faunalytics’ Research Priorities For 2020 And Beyond
Faunalytics’ mission is to help animals by helping advocates be as effective as possible. To that end, we strive to produce research that is maximally impactful for animals and actionable by advocates. Our process for determining which studies meet those criteria has become more formalized over time, and we are now able to share it with you.
We cover the new studies first, but if you’re interested in the process or full set of research questions Faunalytics is interested in, it’s below.
Upcoming Research at Faunalytics
The research projects we propose to undertake in 2020 and beyond were chosen, with input from the community, for their high potential impact on animals and the animal advocacy movement. Several build on existing programs of research at Faunalytics, while others represent new areas of inquiry.
Decreasing the Suffering of Small Animals
Larger farmed animals like cows and pigs often get the most attention but those with small bodies (namely, chickens and fishes) are killed in far greater numbers. Chickens and fish are the most farmed vertebrates in the U.S. and worldwide, with over 50 billion farmed fish and over 66 billion chickens killed each year worldwide.
Faunalytics is starting a program of research dedicated to reducing the suffering of chickens and fish. It will begin with a study investigating how specific negative beliefs about chickens and fish predict reaction to an appeal to reduce or eliminate consumption of these species. This will allow us to identify the biggest barriers to reduction. Subsequent studies will test methods of producing positive behavior changes and more positive attitudes. With billions of animals per year affected, even small changes in public perceptions could have a very large impact.
Relative Effectiveness of Different Approaches to Advocacy
One of the most important and frequently-asked questions is whether some types of advocacy are better than others, especially in the long-term. Many people have strong opinions but the existing research is not enough to make strong claims. Little has been done to directly compare different types of advocacy (e.g., seeing graphic material with and without consent, receiving a leaflet, etc.) and we know that approaches that produce negative reactions in the short-term could still be effective over time, and vice versa.
In this study, we will examine attitudes and pro-animal behaviors, then ask about which types of advocacy people have been previously exposed to. We will statistically analyze how current attitudes and behavior are predicted by a wide range of past experiences with advocacy, which will provide an estimate of each strategy’s unique impact over the long-term. The results will provide crucial information to guide new groups, independent advocates, and prospective funders toward effective strategies.
Can Welfare Reform Change Public Attitudes or Intentions?
Corporate welfare reforms produce positive incremental change for farmed animals on a large scale, and recent Faunalytics research showed that corporate pledges to move toward cage-free egg suppliers are generally well-perceived by the public. This next study will go a step further in order to look at public reaction to existing and possible future reforms, looking for campaigns with the potential to make people more or less likely to buy animal products. It will enable us to increase the impact of corporate campaigns by steering the conversation toward options with public support or positive effects on consumers’ behavior.
Cultural Barriers and Supports to the Reduction of Animal Product Consumption
When considering animal suffering from a global perspective, it is clear that current resources are disproportionately allocated to Western countries, yet production and consumption are on the rise elsewhere. In partnership and consultation with local animal advocacy groups, we would like to conduct foundational research in a region such as China, India, or Taiwan to learn about the barriers and supports for specific advocacy methods. By working directly with local advocates, we will ensure that the results of this study can be put to immediate use, slowing the growth of animal abuse worldwide.
Effective, Comparable Measurement: A Farmed Animal Attitudes Scale
Just as good tools are essential to building a house, strong measurement tools are essential to evaluating impact. With a series of small studies, we will create a brief measure of attitudes towards farmed animals that will be validated against important and objective outcomes such as observed diet and behavior. Once its predictive ability is established, this scale can be used by small organizations as a simple and valid way to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of their programs. This project has significant potential to increase movement effectiveness by making it easier to measure.
Evoking Emotion to Increase Support
Faunalytics’ program of research on bringing new donors to animal causes is now well-established. We are producing a series of studies aimed at building movement capacity through donation. As a low-effort way for new people to get involved in the movement, we believe that targeting appeals to new donors represents an invaluable on-boarding tool!
Our study of donor characteristics and preferences provides crucial baseline data about current donors to animal causes, while our first study of different types of appeals will be out soon. This next experiment will investigate which emotions are most effective in increasing the number and size of donations to animal causes, and whether the specific cause (e.g., farmed vs. companion animals) affects it. We will also determine which imagery (happy animal, sad animal, graphic image) works best.
We’d love it if you would donate to support our research!
For more details on each proposed project and to track any changes to our priorities, see our Potential Projects page.
The Research Prioritization Process
Identifying Research Questions
There is no shortage of important questions in the animal advocacy movement! To start our prioritization process, we drew from several sources: questions raised by our previous research, suggestions from the Faunalytics community, and materials put together by other groups (special thanks to the Good Food Institute, Animal Charity Evaluators, and the Humane League Labs!). From all of these sources, we created a list of questions. It wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of all research questions important to the movement, but rather a reasonable starting point with an emphasis on areas and questions that match Faunalytics’ mission: to maximize movement effectiveness by empowering advocates.
The full list of research questions is available here. We encourage other researchers to draw from it for their own studies. We only ask that if you do so, you let us know so that we can coordinate our efforts instead of retreading the same ground!
Creating a Shortlist
We sent the full list of research questions to advocates from Faunalytics’ community: People with a range of approaches and backgrounds, but all of whom share our goal of increasing movement effectiveness. We used the comments and ratings from these advocates to determine which research questions to carry forward to the next stage of prioritization.
Questions related to increasing movement capacity were generally considered high-priority by our raters, and as an organization focused on capacity-building, we put substantial emphasis on this area. Important subtopics include expanding the movement’s donor base, maintaining progress in advocate capacity, creating new advocates, and quantifying the value of movement-building.
We also carried forward questions from the high-priority areas of evaluating and maximizing the effectiveness of current major farmed animal initiatives (e.g., corporate/institutional campaigns), and advocacy in low- and middle-income countries.
One notable absence from our shortlist was research related to plant-based and cultivated meat. We (and the community) consider it a high-priority research area. However, it is not a neglected topic compared to some of the others on the list, nor is it as uniquely suited to Faunalytics as some of the others. There is great work on plant-based and cultivated meat being done by the Good Food Institute, other advocacy organizations, and academics, so we chose not to include it on our priority list at the present time. But this may change in the future!
Research on wild animal suffering is also absent from our shortlist. There were two camps among our raters: Those who considered it a high (or highest) priority, and those who considered it among the lowest priorities. As research director, I have also seen mixed evidence and opinions about what type of wild animal research is needed or wanted right now. I feel too inexpert to make a valid decision at this point and was unable to get enough weigh-in from others to include it in this round of prioritization. But this too may change in the future!
Finally, research on individual appeals—diet and donation—were considered lower-priority by many of our survey respondents. This did not surprise us, given the current emphasis on corporate and institutional welfare campaigns. We took these ratings into account when making our decisions, but we do not believe that the existing evidence supports a move away from individual advocacy, only a diversification of methods. We view individual-level advocacy as the base on which our movement is built, from which we can advocate using a wider variety of approaches for high-priority causes. Therefore, you will see individual appeal research among the proposals listed below, in support of key causes like movement-building and reducing the suffering of small-bodied animals.
Selecting Particular Studies
In the final phase of review, the research team wrote brief descriptions of specific studies that could be conducted to provide an initial answer to each of the research questions carried forward from the triage phase. There were 16 ideas on this short list.
The research team (Tom and I) pre-rated aspects of each study where we have particular expertise: The feasibility of the design, how good previous research is for answering the question, whether the research is foundational (meant to guide and support other research), and approximate cost, not including staff time.
The entire Faunalytics team (staff and board) then rated three impact criteria: Potential impact for animals, number of groups likely to use the findings, and interest/visibility of the findings.
All seven criteria were rated on 5-pont scales ranging from 0 to 4, where 0 reflects the least valuable score (whether difficulty, utility, or cost-effectiveness) and 4 the most valuable. Thus, with individuals’ ratings averaged and all seven scores added together, each study received a total score between 0 and 28. We selected the highest-scoring study ideas for our final list below, and also combined several into a single program of research for small-bodied animals.
We are very pleased with how this process went and the final list of new studies! However, we welcome feedback from other advocates and researchers, as we want to continually refine our selection process. We also took notes on how to improve and make this process more rigorous the next time around.