Effective Animal Activism’s [now Animal Charity Evaluators] current candidates for top interventions in reducing animal suffering all share a focus on public outreach to spread awareness and concern for the conditions and lives of farmed animals. We believe that there is a good chance that funding some form of this outreach is the most cost-effective way for individual donors to reduce suffering today — but these interventions have not been thoroughly studied, and so their effectiveness cannot yet be accurately estimated. EAA hopes to improve the situation with two studies launching this fall. This post is about one of those studies, the Leafleting Study. The Humane Education Study will be discussed in a future post.
Many animal activism organizations, including EAA’s current top recommended charities Vegan Outreach and The Humane League, engage in leafleting outreach. Most commonly, volunteers simply bring literature to college campuses or other public places and offer it to anyone who passes by. Leafleting is also EAA’s current best volunteering opportunity, since it is high impact without requiring a large time commitment.
With leafleting such a highly recommended intervention at this time, it is vital that we strive to accurately assess its impact. Our current estimates of leafleting’s effectiveness are based largely on a study conducted last fall by Farm Sanctuary and The Humane League. While this study was a great step towards quantifying what these groups already suspected about the impact of leafleting, it had some flaws when it comes to gauging the absolute impact of leafleting. Most importantly, there was no control group, and students taking the survey knew that it was related to the leaflets that they had reported receiving. Although the authors of the study attempted to correct for these and other issues in their analysis of the data, we consider it important to attempt a study which does have a control group and which attempts to reduce bias in responses by the design of the survey administered.
What We’re Measuring
We intend to measure any difference in students’ diets approximately two months after receiving a leaflet that is based on whether they received a leaflet promoting veganism or a leaflet sympathetic to animals but not related to diet or farmed animals. In particular, we are concerned with the rates at which students report having switched to a vegetarian or vegan diet in the past three months. We do not believe that two months is the ideal length of time to learn about long term dietary change. However, it is a time period that allows us a good possibility of surveying people who were offered and took leaflets in relatively high rates. We do believe that it is a long enough period to avoid measuring extremely short term change and priming from students seeing the leaflet and the survey too close together.
This fall’s Leafleting Study coordinated by EAA will take place in two phases. The first phase, distributing flyers and leaflets, has already begun. Teams from Vegan Outreach, Compassionate Action for Animals, Mercy For Animals, The Humane League, and EAA will distribute three kinds of leaflets at ten schools around the US and Canada. Two of the leaflets will be common designs from Vegan Outreach, and the third will be a leaflet from the Humane Society of the United States documenting the abuses in puppy mills.
The second phase of the study will take place approximately two months later at each school. A survey team will visit the same location used by the leafleters at the same time and day of the week, to maximize repeat traffic by students traveling between consistently visited locations like classes. Without identifying themselves as related to the leaflet team or any animal group, they will ask passing students to take a short survey in exchange for a small incentive, such as a piece of candy. The survey will be a general dietary survey. After answering the dietary questions, the respondent will be asked to identify any leaflets they received in the past semester, including the leaflets distributed earlier by the leafleting team. This question will determine whether a respondent is treated as part of the intervention group (if they received a Vegan Outreach leaflet), the control group (if they received a Humane Society leaflet), or neither group (if they did not report receiving either leaflet).
Finally, after both phases are complete at all schools, a team will analyze the data, looking to see if more students report becoming vegetarian after receiving the Vegan Outreach leaflets than after receiving the control leaflet. The results will then be posted to the research section of EAA’s website and used to adjust our estimates of the effectiveness of leafleting as an intervention.
For more information on the methodology of this study, including links to the specific materials we are using, please visit the study page in our research section.