Since we published our post on charities ACE staff would like to see, we’ve been considering a related question: are there additional or new interventions we’d like to see the animal advocacy movement attempt? To distinguish this post from the previous one, we’re emphasizing speculative work as well as interventions that could be adopted from other fields. Because this is a topic we can only speculate on, we don’t have a single well-developed viewpoint on which interventions the animal advocacy movement should try. Instead, we’ve asked staff to share what they’re personally interested in seeing or are hopeful about.
Jon Bockman, Executive Director
I’d like to see an organization try using gamification as an animal advocacy intervention. Using this method could cause advocacy messages to stick in people’s minds better than they do when they simply contain large amounts of numbers and data. This approach would capitalize on the knowledge that using individual stories can be highly effective, since turning your real-life actions into a game is a way of participating in your own narrative. Considering that 155 million Americans play video games on a regular basis, this could be a way to reach a particularly large audience—comprising almost half of the population of the United States. I’d imagine there are almost limitless possibilities for how these games could be designed. Perhaps there could be an app that allows you to gain points each time you choose a plant-based option, and points unlock rewards or privileges. Alternatively, a “game” could even be as simple as inputting the number of plant-based meals the user eats and seeing how many animals he or she has spared per day/week/month/year, etc. Thus far, uncertainty with regard to the best approach has prevented such a project from moving forward—as have doubts about whether or not this tactic could actually achieve the behavioral change sought. Piloting different approaches would require sufficient time and financial commitment, but may be worthwhile.
The above idea is somewhat connected to another effort I’d like to see: advocacy directed at parents. Although some organizations have created resources for parents, I’ve yet to see a truly compelling campaign to win them over. High schoolers in general seem like a promising audience for advocacy, but most of them are not buying their own food and are left with eating whatever is available at home. When parents haven’t been brought on board, they may see their child’s interest in veg foods as just another phase that they don’t feel the need to support. Although I don’t have a specific strategy in mind, it’s possible that the aforementioned gamification could be used as a tool to reach this audience as well. With the release of the Wii console in 2005, Nintendo achieved success by targeting parents and grandparents in what is termed a “blue ocean strategy,” capturing a market that doesn’t have competition. Although sufficient research on these topics would of course be a prerequisite step to testing this methodology, it seems that there could be potential in using gamification to target a wide range of audiences.
Allison Smith, Director of Research
I’d like to see animal advocates make a concerted effort to become more involved in politics and policy, not just by influencing policy makers (though Toni describes some interesting interventions in that area below), but also by becoming politicians and policy makers. Not only would this be a way to have more direct control over events, but a deeper involvement in politics or policy provides opportunities to influence others in those areas—since peer connections can be more powerful than connections from outsiders. In the United States it’s probably not practical to follow the example of the Dutch Party for the Animals, because our two-party system makes it hard for third party candidates to meaningfully compete in many races (though there are some opportunities for third parties in local government). However, other communities have demonstrated that it’s possible to work within the two-party system to address specific issues; for example, members of the Congressional Black Caucus work to further the interests of people of color, and the associated foundation helps develop political leadership within the black community.
I was also going to say that I’d like to see animal advocates try the canvassing method that uses active perspective-taking (shown to have surprisingly strong effects in a study where it was used to reduce transphobia among Florida voters). This thought arose because I think there’s a temptation for animal advocates to focus on spreading our message to as many people as possible—even though it often means using limited contact—because we think our arguments and evidence are persuasive on their own. I’m not sure that’s psychologically realistic however, and thus far individual outreach methods mostly lack persuasive evidence of their effectiveness. Unfortunately, it seems that so does canvassing using active perspective-taking. While the method was effective in the study about transphobia, the same authors conducted another trial (on the subject of abortion rights) in which the canvassing had no significant effect. In light of this, while it might be useful to see whether animal advocacy is a domain where this technique does have an effect, it’s equally possible that it wouldn’t. I would be interested to see an organization try it in a context with careful, perhaps third-party, measurement to check its effectiveness—but I don’t think it’s a good candidate for a wide roll-out.
Toni Adleberg, Researcher
First, I’d like to see more interventions aimed at strengthening grassroots communities of activists, especially through solidarity work with other social justice movements. Supporting other social justice movements is valuable in itself, and animal activists should consider actively supporting other movements regardless of whether doing so will ultimately help the animal movement. As it happens, I think that building stronger coalitions with other movements will help the animal movement. Currently, many local animal groups organize activists primarily to conduct outreach activities like leafleting and protesting. These activities may serve well to mobilize current activists, but I wonder whether they are the most effective way to recruit new activists. Engaging in more coordinated solidarity work, on the other hand, might help the animal movement expand its grassroots networks.
Second, I’d like to see more interventions aimed at creating legal and political change. A recent post on ACE’s blog, written by Adam Shriver, contains a number of good ideas for animal advocates who want to get involved in political work. I’d also like to see a project in the U.S. modeled after Humane Voters Canada, with the goals of (i) conducting outreach to politicians, and (ii) making politicians’ positions on animal protection more transparent to voters.
Kieran Greig, Research Associate
I would like to see greater use of feature length animal advocacy documentaries as an intervention. They played a significant role in my own animal advocacy journey, and there is correlational evidence suggesting that a large proportion of people who have become vegetarian or vegan did so after watching a documentary (Humane League Labs, 2014). Blackfish is widely recognized as having a substantial effect on SeaWorld and public perceptions of using animals as entertainment. It seems that a feature length documentary focused on farmed animals could lead to similarly dramatic changes in attitudes towards them.
There may well now be more farmed fish than there are combined numbers of farmed birds and farmed mammals and the welfare levels of farmed fish seem likely comparable to the poor welfare levels experienced by most farmed birds. Corporate campaigns have been very successful at generating pledges from organizations to switch industrial agriculture practices from caged to cage-free laying hens. I think this relatively strong track record helps make corporate campaigns aimed at improving the welfare of farmed fish a very promising intervention and I am glad to hear that Mercy For Animals and the Albert Schweitzer Foundation plan to implement it. It seems possible that the diversity in fish farming systems compared to the few closely related farming systems for chickens may also mean that advocacy organizations can more easily cause groups to switch to farming techniques that have greater average welfare levels for fish than for chickens. However, the public most likely has lower levels of empathy for farmed fish than for other farmed animals that are evolutionarily closer to humans, like chickens. That could mean corporate campaigns to improve the welfare of farmed fish receive very little public support, which in turn may cause them to have poor levels of tractability.
Lastly, there are simply an incredibly large number of insects; by one estimate for each and every farmed animal there could be 100 million insects. An increasingly strong case can be made that substantial numbers of these insects ought to be included within our circle of compassion. For instance, Klein & Barron (2016) contend that insects possess the capacity for subjective experience. I know very little about interventions that could help insects. One intervention that seems promising upon cursory inspection is humane insecticides. I think this should be more seriously considered by animal advocacy organizations, as they seem to be a promising intervention because they seem to score relatively well on a commonly used prioritization framework (importance, neglectedness and tractability). The large number of insects combined with the plausibility that they have moral status results in a strong possibility that this intervention is quite important. I don’t have a great sense of how tractable this intervention will be, but my very soft sense is that it’s probably in the same ballpark of tractability as promoting concern for the suffering of wild animals. As far as I know, no one is currently directly working on this intervention. I have not put significant time into examining this intervention and I feel markedly less confident in this intervention than the previous two that I have mentioned.
Jess Beames, Research Associate
I’ve previously worked on campaigns that have used Marshall Ganz’s organizing framework, making use of the snowflake model for centralized direction and coordination, as well as bottom-up participation. The use of online organizing platforms was also key to the success of these campaigns. I’ve often wondered how this approach—frequently used by progressive election campaigns—could be translated to the animal advocacy movement. I’m sure some organizations are using aspects of this approach but I don’t know of any that are using it extensively or to its full potential, at least here in Australia. Valuable aspects of this approach include the use of public narratives, building of community, the ability to scale, and the opportunity for fast and responsive mobilization and action. I question which are the most effective interventions this type of campaign could use, but I imagine it might be a mixture of non-violent direct action, leafleting, canvassing for political campaigns, community outreach, and collecting petitions/pledges. The value may not be directly attributed to specific interventions on their own, but to movement building and the one-on-one conversations that occur within communities.
Sofia Davis-Fogel, Research Editor
I’d like to see effective charities using more longform visual media (i.e., documentaries) as intervention tactics. These films often appeal to broader audiences than other interventions, and if made or commissioned by effective animal advocacy (EAA) groups rather than outside parties, they could likely be made more strategically and their impact could likely be measured more effectively. Visual media interventions are already highly utilized, primarily in the form of short clips and videos on social media. Many EAA groups use research to inform their messaging decisions (e.g., what is the effectiveness of cute animal footage vs undercover investigation footage?) and much of that insight could be applied to longform media as well. In this sense, the endeavor would build on existing tactics rather than starting from scratch. Since documentaries usually feature interviews with experts and sometimes contain useful unedited footage, they are often thought to reveal little-known truths or provide access to restricted information. Given the current political climate in which skepticism of power is high, this format may be especially appealing and/or effective.
I’d also like to see more interventions designed with adolescent audiences in mind. Clearly, children often have very little decision-making power with regard to their consumption behavior—so messaging directed at them would have to take very specific forms. Regardless, it seems unwise to neglect them as an audience. Children have yet to override their intrinsically compassionate nature to the extent that most adults have done, and the young teenage years are arguably an important time for moral development. At this age children increasingly take part in household discussions, so their thoughts may begin to have more of an effect on family members. (As Allison mentioned above, people tend to be more open to ideas when they come from close contacts rather than from outside influencers.) Although these interventions would be less conducive to short term evaluation than other tactics, we should consider the benefits of reaching an audience who is still in the process of formulating their conscious attitudes towards others. Given the way in which the tides of social change seem to correlate with the growth of new generations, some importance should be placed on influencing future decision-makers during the age at which we may be most likely to have their ear.