The Impact Of Leaflets: A Controlled Study
Leafleting is a popular way to inform people about animal issues and influence them to make ethical dietary choices, but it is difficult to measure its effect. Indeed, there are many factors that can influence a person to choose a veg*n diet. How can we be certain what acted as the tipping point for this choice? The current study from the University of Illinois looks at this very question. The study author evaluates the impact of two leaflets: one focusing on the “hows” of going vegetarian and one on the “whys.” The author notes that leafleting is a key outreach strategy for animal advocates and that there is a growing body of research – in many cases conducted by the groups themselves – on the effectiveness of their work.
This study is noteworthy in part because it is a randomized controlled trial (RCT), which is one of the most rigorous ways to determine cause-effect relationships. In an RCT, individuals in the study are randomly assigned to two (or more) groups: an experimental group that participates in an intervention (e.g., provided a leaflet) and a control group that does not participate in the intervention. Researchers can determine the impact of the intervention because one group experienced the intervention and one did not. In this study, the experimental group received the leaflets and the control group did not. The baseline sample size was about 700 students.
Concentrated in a single university setting, the study used original leaflets rather than those designed by an animal advocacy organization. The author conducted both baseline and follow-up surveys. The original survey was done in the university quad, while the follow-up was conducted three weeks later to “allow for a direct link between treatment and dietary changes.” The resulting data shows, interestingly, that the impact of leaflets on peoples’ dietary choices was insignificant and that more people in the control group chose a vegetarian diet than in the experimental group. Thus, the leaflets seemed to have “little to no impact” on consumption of animal products or on “the belief in the importance of treating animals humanely, knowledge about where to find vegetarian meals, or whether the participant would say they are less likely to go vegetarian.”
Though these are not encouraging results for advocates who use leafleting as an outreach strategy, the author notes that they are consistent with those of leafleting surveys carried out by Humane League Labs and others. The author also points out that the results are hard to reconcile with so much anecdotal evidence showing that leafleting prompts change. In fact, even this study generated anecdotal evidence that leafleting had a bigger impact than might be suggested by the data. The author recommends that advocacy groups and researchers work together to conduct unbiased and academically rigorous evaluations of advocacy leaflets. Fortunately, more and more advocates and organizations (like Faunalytics) are doing just that.