Research Gains A Seat At The Table: A Ten-Year Retrospective Of Faunalytics
Ten years ago, when we founded Faunalytics, some animal advocates were skeptical when we made the case for investing in strategic research… How things have changed over the last decade! No longer is research an afterthought in animal advocacy; it now occupies its own seat at the table as the animal protection movement has realized research’s vital role in campaign planning and execution.
A decade ago we had to “sell” research to our fellow advocates. Faunalytics operated in constant education mode, evangelizing the benefits of research to any organization that would listen. However, not all of our evangelizing sessions fell on deaf ears. One client, in particular, seemed to “get it” from the start: The Fund for Animals. The Fund’s leadership intuitively grasped that it’s OK to return to the “drawing board,” even in the middle of a campaign. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers isn’t a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a hallmark of a good campaign management. In this case, The Fund recognized that its anti-fur efforts were flagging. After years of gains on the issue, fur seemed to be making a comeback in the marketplace. Furthermore, vexing new issues such as fur trim and foreign imports emerged as thorns in the movement’s side.
So nearly a decade ago, Faunalytics began working with The Fund to analyze public opinion regarding the fur issue. What did we know about the consumer’s behavior and decision-making process? What ultimately compels someone to purchase a fur garment? Most importantly, what kinds of tactics and messages are effective in dissuading a prospective buyer from purchasing fur? These were the types of questions we felt The Fund needed to answer in order to reinvigorate its anti-fur effort. Faunalytics designed and executed a comprehensive quantitative and qualitative study of attitudes toward fur in New York and Washington, DC. This research yielded an unprecedented look inside the mind of the fur consumer and it is strongly recommended for anyone involved in anti-fur campaigns.
Since 2003, Faunalytics has also worked closely with the National Council for Animal Protection (NCAP), a coalition of 25 national animal protection groups. Thanks largely to funding from the ASPCA (one of Faunalytics’ regular clients and another organization that “gets” research), we’ve conducted several projects for NCAP, including a multi-phase study of people’s opinions regarding animal advocates and their tactics. We employed several methods to collect data, including an initial round of secondary research followed by both qualitative and quantitative primary research. Much like the Fund’s fur study, we used the quantitative component to gain an understanding of public perception (representative of all adults) and qualitative research to more deeply explore how people think about the movement.
So what did we learn? The NCAP research demonstrated that the public has a generally favorable impression of animal protection organizations and strong support for the protection of animals in nearly all situations. Although we have realized significant progress in recent decades, however, the study confirmed that animal protection issues are clearly not “top-of-mind” for most people. General awareness of animal protection organizations and their impact on public policy is also relatively low. In the end, the NCAP study served to remind animal advocates that people care deeply about animals, but also that advocates have a lot more work to do in the public policy arena.
The NCAP research represents an important turning point in Faunalytics’ history. This unique study was instrumental in bringing together a consortium of animal protection partners to work in collaboration; everyone at the table had access to the same research and analysis. Perhaps for the first time, this project relied on shared knowledge to bring together a diverse range of animal protection organizations.
Our early relationship with The Fund for Animals blossomed during and after the group’s merger with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Over the years, we’ve conducted a wide array of research with the HSUS on everything from membership surveys to animal fighting issues. In 2001 we worked with HSUS to launch the Humane Index, which sought to determine the overall humaneness of the U.S.’s largest cities. We measured 12 factors such as percentage of pet stores selling puppies and the ratio of wildlife watchers to hunters. Upon final analysis, San Francisco took top honors for overall humaneness, while Seattle, Portland, Washington DC, and San Diego rounded out the top five cities.
Of course, Faunalytics’ research is intended to be practical, and we design projects to directly benefit specific animal protection campaigns. One case study makes this point particularly well. In 2005, on behalf of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), Faunalytics conducted a survey of U.S. adults to evaluate public opinion regarding the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research. Our goal was to help understand public opinion and identify “leverage points” to mobilize support for eliminating chimpanzee research, as part of NEAVS’s “Project R&R” campaign. Like those at The Fund, the NEAVS management had a good understanding of research from the beginning.
The NEAVS study began with a review of all secondary data available on chimpanzee experimentation. Faunalytics then conducted a national public opinion survey to identify the specific conditions under which people would support a ban on chimpanzee research. These results indicated that many people are concerned about the use of chimpanzees in research and they strongly support limiting experimentation on these animals. NEAVS also learned that consumer segmentation and other research techniques provide practical insight for message development and strategy. By quantifying the extent to which people support or oppose animal protection, advocates are more likely to find a message that resonates with their target audience.
Also in 2005, Faunalytics’ Executive Director authored a chapter in the HSUS publication, State of the Animals. The article analyzed the state of research within the movement, concluding that significant gaps exist. For example, there is generally very little attitudinal research relative to the overall importance of consumer behavior and its impact on animals. The State of the Animals article was also Faunalytics’ first time making the case for prioritizing different kinds of research. We argued that research priorities for the animal protection movement must be not only utilitarian, but also focused on data that support achievable goals. For example, efforts to ban relatively infrequent types of animal abuse, such as cockfighting or canned hunts, have been successful in many states and generally have strong public support. Research into winnable issues can help marginalize the most egregious types of animal abuse while generating momentum toward larger goals.
In 2007, Faunalytics launched our library, which provides qualified animal advocates with free access to the world’s largest database of public opinion research relating to animals. Our work to prioritize research for the animal protection movement showed us that very little had been done to aggregate and analyze the research conducted by various organizations, opponents, and neutral parties. The library serves this function and now offers more than 1,300 research citations covering animal protection issues and provides access to many of the full research reports. The library was a significant piece of the puzzle for Faunalytics, allowing us to deliver information to individual advocates as well as the organizations we already serve as clients.
By the summer of 2008, Faunalytics had made much progress in our mission to encourage the use of research throughout the animal protection movement. More organizations had started budgeting for strategic research; polls and focus groups were gaining acceptance as a vital step in the strategy and message development process. But there still existed significant gaps in our understanding of public opinion dynamics. For example, we had no real benchmark regarding how people’s attitudes and behaviors toward animal issues are changing over time. Indeed, widespread consideration of animals in public discourse and policy will take a long time; animal advocates must take a similarly long-term view by making it a priority to collect and analyze longitudinal data to identify important changes and trends.
In many cases, where advocates are essentially starting from scratch, this means first identifying the most important measures of long-term success for organizations and the overall movement. Enter: Faunalytics’ Animal Tracker study, a series of annual surveys providing a comprehensive view of what people think about animal issues. Much like the earlier NCAP research, the first annual Animal Tracker was sponsored by a consortium of animal protection organizations, which is a model introduced by Faunalytics to share both the costs and results of new research. We recently fielded the third annual Animal Tracker survey and results will be available soon in our library.
We’ve come a long way in the last decade, and Faunalytics is proud to have played a role in both coordinating and centralizing much of the movement’s strategic research. In recent years, animal protection organizations (and some individual advocates) have made major investments in “social marketing research” for the benefit of animals. We expect this trend to continue as more advocates realize the benefit of such research for campaign planning, execution, and evaluation.
Thank you to all of Faunalytics’ clients, advisors, volunteers, and supporters for believing in research and for helping us achieve so much during the past ten years. With your continued support, all of us at Faunalytics look forward to many more years of working to help maximize the effectiveness of animal advocates.