At Animal Charity Evaluators, we consider animal advocacy research a fundamental element of an impactful and sustainable animal advocacy movement. A great deal of work is still needed to improve our understanding of how to most effectively help animals, ensuring that advocates and organizations focus their resources where they are most urgently needed.
This blog post outlines the importance of strategic animal advocacy research, some examples of such research in practice, advice on how to conduct such research, and some of the ongoing limitations around such research.
Why Is Animal Advocacy Research Important?
As set out in our August 2021 research brief, animal advocacy research can significantly shape the work of animal advocacy organizations. For example, it can steer organizations toward focusing on:
- the animal groups that are likely to suffer in the greatest numbers;
- the geographic regions that are likely to be the highest priority in terms of scale, tractability, and neglectedness; and,
- the types of interventions that are likely to be most effective for their particular focus area, and carrying these interventions out in the most effective way.
How Can Research Be Used for Advocacy?
Over the longer term, advocacy research can consist of establishing or growing entire research fields. For example, Recommended Charity Wild Animal Initiative seeks to advance the field of wild animal welfare science, building on existing fields such as animal welfare science, ecology, and cognitive science (see more below). By conducting their own original research and supporting scientists in the field through grants and career services, they seek to establish a community of academics working to answer the most critical questions about wild animal welfare.
Animal advocacy research also appears to be relatively neglected. A 2021 survey by Farmed Animal Funders found that of the approximate $200 million in funding going toward improving the lives of animals each year, only about 3% ($6.5 million) is spent on research, measurement, and evaluation. This seems like a very small proportion, given the significant impact that research can have on the effectiveness of the animal advocacy movement.
We outline some caveats and possible counterarguments to the effectiveness of animal advocacy research in the section “What are some limitations of animal advocacy research?” below. In the next section, we explore specific examples of animal advocacy research that we believe could be particularly impactful.
What Are Some Examples of Impactful Animal Advocacy Research?
Research conducted by some of our current recommended charities
Faunalytics connects animal advocates with information relevant to advocacy. Their work mainly involves conducting and publishing independent research, working directly with partner organizations on various research projects, and promoting existing research and data for animal advocates through their website’s research library.
In 2022, Faunalytics conducted an original study investigating the relative effectiveness of different advocacy tactics in both the short and long term. Although the animal advocacy movement has yet to find clear answers about the effectiveness of different tactics in different contexts, we view studies like this as vital for guiding us toward those answers; this knowledge, in turn, will encourage advocates to use the tactics that will help the greatest number of animals.
Wild Animal Initiative works to improve our understanding of wild animals’ lives by advancing the field of wild animal welfare science. By conducting their own research and supporting other wild animal researchers, Wild Animal Initiative aims to increase academic interest in wild animal welfare and identify evidence-based solutions to improving wild animals’ wellbeing.
In 2022, Wild Animal Initiative held a public call for research proposals to engage numerous researchers in studies to develop methods and proofs of concept for wild animal welfare interventions. Key focus areas included: (i) innovative methods for measuring and monitoring welfare; (ii) how population regulation processes, such as disease and predation, affect individual animal welfare as well as population size; and (iii) the long-term impact of wildlife conservation efforts on wild animals’ welfare. Research in these areas can help us gain a better understanding of how to effectively help the trillions of wild animals living in the wild while also raising the profile of wild animal welfare science by identifying effective, feasible solutions to an incredibly complex and underexplored problem.
The Good Food Institute (GFI) works to increase the availability of animal-free products by supporting the development and marketing of plant-based and cell-cultured alternatives to animal products. They achieve this in part by supporting research on alternative proteins.
GFI runs a Research Grant Program that funds open-access alternative protein research. Recent work that they have funded includes a project to create and test computer models of new bioreactor designs to improve their efficiency, potentially lowering the cost of lab-grown meat production, and a startup developing sustainable, tasty, and nutritious plant-based protein using red seaweed. We view alternative proteins as an important part of an effective portfolio of actions to help animals, with open-access research around key questions such as these playing a vital role in accelerating the field.
Research conducted by other organizations
There are many organizations and advocates carrying out highly impactful research. For example:
- Animal Ask was specifically set up to support organizations with in-depth research to help them carry out their activities as effectively as possible. For example, in 2023, they published a report exploring variations in meat consumption and production trends in developing countries to see which policies might play the greatest role in slowing or reversing that trend.
- The formation of Animal Ask was informed by research conducted by the charity incubator Charity Entrepreneurship, which studies particularly effective charities so that it can help launch more of them.
- Rethink Priorities supports animal advocacy organizations and grantmakers by studying areas such as the cost-effectiveness of different interventions and new opportunities for interventions. Their 2023 report on Welfare Range Estimates informed ACE’s own prioritization of animal groups, helping us conduct a more robust comparison of charities working to help different types of animals.
Research conducted by ACE
ACE is itself a research organization (which we recognize may bias us toward being particularly optimistic about animal advocacy research). Research activities that we carry out include:
- Research to identify the animal advocacy charities where we believe additional donations will do the most good for animals. This includes research to identify the interventions, animal groups, and countries that are likely to be high priority, as well as research into the charities’ key achievements, room for more funding, and organizational health.
- Curating resources in our Research Library to help provide fellow advocates and other audiences with a better understanding of animal advocacy, and sharing those resources with our supporters through the “Research Recap” section of our monthly newsletter and through our more comprehensive research newsletter.
- Conducting and sourcing research reports and shorter research briefs to help bridge gaps in our own knowledge and that of the broader movement.1 These cover topics such as the state of evidence around farmed insect sentience, the most numerous animal groups and species, and the number of animals affected by our dietary choices.
When Should You Focus on Advocacy Research?
Research should be an ongoing process for all organizations, but there are specific instances when it is especially valuable. These include:
- Strategic Planning: When organizations are developing or revising their strategic plans (for instance, when planning their next campaign), research can inform their decision-making process. This includes identifying which animal groups, geographic regions, and intervention strategies to prioritize. Some animal advocacy organizations, such as The Humane League, Mercy For Animals, and Compassion in World Farming, have their own research teams to support their campaigning activities. However, for organizations lacking the capacity to do their own research, there are specialized organizations like Animal Ask (see above) that offer guidance on prioritizing campaign choices.
- Evaluating Impact: Research is essential for assessing the impact of advocacy efforts. Organizations should conduct research regularly to gauge the effectiveness of their interventions and make necessary adjustments. A notable example of an organization evaluating its impact through research and then taking action is Anima International, which suspended a campaign to end live fish sales in Poland after discovering that it may lead to more animals suffering as carp consumption is replaced by carnivorous salmon.
- Emerging Issues: In response to emerging issues affecting animals, advocacy research can provide timely insights to address these challenges effectively. Recent issues that have led to new areas of research include how the COVID-19 pandemic may impact animal welfare, the emergence of artificial intelligence technology on animal welfare, and research on farmed insect sentience in light of the growing farmed insect industry.
How Can You Engage in Impactful Animal Advocacy Research?
Whatever your current academic and research background, there are several avenues to engage with animal advocacy research.
- Apply for a Position at a Research Organization: Consider applying for a job or internship at prominent research organizations like Faunalytics, Wild Animal Initiative, ACE, Charity Entrepreneurship, or Rethink Priorities.
- Join an Advocacy Organization with In-House Research: Seek a research role within advocacy organizations that directly implement interventions, such as The Humane League, Mercy For Animals, or Compassion in World Farming. While prioritizing charities that focus on high-priority cause areas is ideal, conducting high-quality research in any cause area can still enhance evidence-based decision-making.
- Pursue Academic Research in Animal Welfare: Explore academic research positions in animal welfare or related fields that contribute to animal advocacy. Effective Thesis has a variety of useful resources for conducting impactful research, including a list of research topics relevant to animal welfare.
- Undertake Independent Research: If you prefer more autonomy, embark on independent research projects and share your findings with the animal advocacy community through platforms like the EA Forum or a personal blog. Independent researchers can often secure funding for specific projects. ACE’s Movement Grants program and the EA Animal Welfare Fund regularly fund independent research.
- Specialize in Alternative Protein Research: If you have a science and technology background, consider a high-impact career path in alternative protein research (e.g., GFI’s Research Grant Program).
- Learn more about Animal Advocacy Research: Some organizations offer research training programs, such as Charity Entrepreneurship or New York University’s Wild Animal Welfare Program. Other free courses for animal advocates may be useful in expanding your knowledge of the animal advocacy space more generally.
Each option offers unique advantages and disadvantages:
- Academia offers greater research freedom, access to university resources, and higher publication prestige. Academic research benefits from the peer review process, whereas publications outside of academia are often not peer-reviewed, and it’s more challenging to ensure that methods and publications are of high quality. However, research in academia may be less directly impactful for animals without guidance from advocacy organizations. One way of avoiding this is using Effective Thesis’s recommended research topics, each with the potential to significantly improve the world. With the freedom to spend many years researching a topic, you may waste valuable resources, including your own time, delving further into topics with little additional value.
- Specialized research organizations are more likely to focus on topics that directly benefit animals due to their connections with advocacy groups and funders. Colleagues with research experience can provide valuable support.
- Advocacy organizations will allow you to see quicker implementation of your research outcomes. However, your work is likely to be more resource-constrained, and the focus of your research is more likely to be biased by commitments to existing campaigns and influence from funders.
- Independent research provides the freedom to explore topics you believe could benefit animals. However, you may be constrained by your own resources.
Consider your strengths, interests, and desired level of autonomy when choosing your path to engage with animal advocacy research.
Types of Research
There are various types of research methodologies, each with its own set of goals, techniques, and applicable scenarios. Understanding these research types can help in designing more effective and accurate studies or in interpreting existing research.
- Basic Research: Seeks to expand knowledge and understanding of fundamental principles. Example: Conducting a review of invertebrate sentience and pain perception.
- Applied Research: Aims to solve specific, practical problems or address real-world issues. Example: Evaluating the real-world benefits and challenges of providing environmental enrichment to improve farmed animals’ welfare.
- Quantitative Research: Involves collecting and analyzing numerical data using statistical methods. Example: Exploring how the demand for plant-based milk and dairy milk has changed over time and whether those trends are connected.
- Qualitative Research: Focuses on exploring and understanding human behaviors, experiences, and perspectives using non-numerical data. Example: Reviewing animal agriculture trade publications to examine how the industry responds and reacts to advocacy tactics.
- Experimental Research: Conducts controlled experiments to test hypotheses and establish causal relationships. Example: Carrying out Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) to evaluate the effects of a documentary on viewers’ consumption of meat and animal products.
- Non-Experimental Research: Involves observational and correlational studies to examine relationships between variables. Example: Observing and assessing the welfare of free-roaming wild animals during their normal day-to-day lives without intervening or manipulating any variables.
- Case Study Research: Investigates a single subject, event, or phenomenon in detail to gain an in-depth understanding. Example: Investigating the British antislavery movement and drawing out implications for the animal advocacy movement.
- Meta-Analysis: Synthesizing or interpreting existing research rather than collecting new, primary data. Example: Conducting a meta-review of studies that examine interventions that influence animal product consumption.
Sources for Advocacy Research Data
Uncovering reliable data is essential for conducting meaningful research in animal advocacy. The sources below provide non-exhaustive examples of where researchers might look for data. The accuracy and reliability of data can vary significantly. It’s essential to verify the credibility and authenticity of the data provided.
- Internet: Use online resources, including websites, databases, and publicly available information. Examples of useful websites are provided throughout this blog. However, sourcing data from the internet carries inherent risks regarding reliability and accuracy.
- Research Libraries: Research libraries, such as those from ACE and Faunalytics, house published research and data sets, serving as a good starting point for advocacy research.
- Governmental and intergovernmental agencies: One source for public data is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. When information is not publicly available, freedom-of-information legislation can be useful; for example, the report “The Enforcement Problem” relied heavily on freedom-of-information requests.
- Legal Documents: Court cases, legislation, and legal documents provide insights into legal frameworks and precedents. For example, the Coller Animal Law Forum (CALF) has published a database of better-practice laws and policies for farmed animals.
- Industry Resources: Industry-specific trade associations, trade journals, and conferences can provide industry trends, market data, and expert insights. For example, Meatingplace is an online and print publication aimed specifically at the meat processing industry.
What Are Some Limitations of Animal Advocacy Research?
Animal advocacy research faces various challenges and limitations. Understanding these limitations is essential for conducting effective and credible research. Even when high-quality research is available, we do not always have strong evidence of whether, how, or when advocates use research output in their work.
- Lack of Data: Researchers often grapple with the limited availability of comprehensive and reliable data, making it challenging to draw definitive conclusions. Because foundational information is commonly unavailable, animal advocacy research is often caveated with wide confidence intervals, making it harder to use such research to make decisions. For example, the number of fish caught from the wild or farmed has to be estimated with large ranges because available records only reflect the weight of fish caught or farmed, not the number of individuals.
- Quality Control: The quality of research varies depending on factors such as whether the research is conducted under peer review. Some published research is not supported by the methodology or results—this can be misleading to readers, especially if they are not researchers themselves.
- Funding: Animal advocacy research is often underfunded compared to other research areas. A significant portion of resources in the animal welfare movement is put toward direct interventions, leaving limited funding for research. This constraint can hinder the scope and depth of research projects. The highest quality research methodologies, such as RCTs, are particularly expensive and time-consuming.
- Objectivity: Bias, whether intentional or unintentional, can impact the objectivity of research findings. Researchers may have personal or organizational biases that influence their research design, data interpretation, or reporting. Earlier, we provided the example of industry data as a useful source of data for researchers; however, industry-backed research, such as that funded by the egg industry or even the plant-based food industry, might be motivated to design studies or interpret the results in a way that presents their products in a more favorable light.
- Time: Many advocacy interventions aim for long-term outcomes, such as policy change or shifts in public attitudes toward animals. Measuring these long-term impacts can be challenging, as they may take years or even decades to materialize fully.
- Measurability: Measurability bias can affect decision-making within animal advocacy. When interventions are prioritized based on easily quantifiable metrics, less measurable but equally effective interventions may be overlooked. This bias can lead to suboptimal strategies and resource allocation.
- Applicability: There is a separation between dedicated research organizations, such as Faunalytics and Wild Animal Initiative, and campaign organizations that implement research through campaigns. This divide can lead to challenges in translating research findings into actionable advocacy strategies and potentially also hinder focusing on the research questions that actually matter the most to advocates.
We at ACE recognize that animal advocacy research has limitations. However, we firmly believe that it plays a pivotal role in optimizing resource allocation, helping organizations advance their strategies and measure their impact, and providing new insights into animal sentience, welfare, and interventions. By focusing on high-priority topics, using evidence-driven methods and reliable tools, and seeking actionable findings, you can have a positive impact on animal wellbeing through research.
Want to support effective research within the animal advocacy movement? So do we. A donation to ACE fuels our efforts to identify and direct resources toward organizations that are seeking ways to help the most animals. Find ways to give here.