ACE’s Director of Research, Allison Smith, spoke with Animal Ethics’ Leah Mckelvie and Oscar Horta on August 19, 2015.
1-Year, 5-Year, and Overall Goals of Animal Ethics
Explaining the 1-5 year goals of Animal Ethics first requires discussing Animal Ethics’s purpose. A core aim of the organization is to fill a number of gaps in the animal advocacy community. While the animal activism movement has been strong in promoting vegan lifestyles and campaigning for improvements to farm animal conditions, historically there has been much less focus on speciesism as a distinctive problem which underlies animal suffering and exploitation at the hands of humans. Animal Ethics seeks to make long-term change in how animals are viewed in comparison to humans at the public and academic levels. Related to this, a second gap Animal Ethics seeks to fill in the animal activism community is to spread the arguments in defense of animals that are little-known outside of philosophy, both among influential individuals, particularly in academic fields, and among activists and the general public. They do this by, for instance, publishing research and generating discussion in academic journals and conferences, while also disseminating that research to the general public presented in an easy to understand way. Animal Ethics says that knowledge of the major philosophical arguments can help individuals change the way they view their relationship to nonhuman animals, and can also help both activists and academics to understand and refute arguments that are used in defense of speciesism. A third gap Animal Ethics targets concerns the status of wild animal suffering. Few organizations focus on the great suffering of animals in the wild, and as a result there is a lack of fundamental research on the extent and possible solutions to global wild animal suffering.
Given the ambitious goals of Animal Ethics, their 1-5 year plans involve laying the groundwork for becoming a large, respected, and well-known organization in order to perform influential work in all of these fields, with anti-speciesism outreach and research programs spread around the U.S. as well as internationally. They are currently working to cultivate their social media presence and become a common source and brand for information about wild animal suffering and anti-speciesism online and in publications in academic journals. For example, if an individual wants to know about methods for reducing wild animal suffering, or the conditions of specific species in the wild, they want Animal Ethics to become the go-to source for reliable and trusted research on such topics. They have reached 50,000 followers on Facebook and hope to double this in the next year. Recently completed projects also include composing a strategic plan and contributing a number of articles to academic journals in order to start building their reputation as a trustworthy, scholarly source in academic and activist communities. Even so, what they have already published on their website and in academic journals composes only around half of what they have researched and written, so there is a considerable amount of material still in the pipeline for this year.
The Organizational Structure of Animal Ethics
Originally formed in 2012, Animal Ethics has three staff members (Leah, Oscar, and Daniel Dorado) who share the role of director, and all three have been there since the formation of the organization. There is a single full-time employee who performs administrative work for Animal Ethics, while also contributing to their outreach and writing. The organization makes use of many volunteers, though none are full-time. Some of them edit or contribute content, while others do translation work or give talks on behalf of Animal Ethics, or occasionally help with website and graphic design. New volunteers are acquired both through word of mouth contacts as well as through ads placed on sites like Volunteer Match and Translators For Progress. They do have some standardized guidelines for volunteers in writing, editing, or outreach roles to follow. In terms of the organization’s transparency, they have an open information policy where any information about the organization will be given upon request, but they do not yet have much information publicly posted. By the end of the year, they hope to broaden their transparency by registering with major sites like Charity Navigator and GuideStar, as well as posting full 990 tax forms for public reference.
Funding in the Past and Upcoming Year
The current small staff at Animal Ethics work primarily as volunteers, but within the next year they hope to make a number of new hires. In the past year Animal Ethics did raise enough money to fund the programs it considers essential, primarily because the initial work in setting up the organization chiefly required an investment in time rather than money. Their funding needs scale based on the extent of work they want to produce, given that much of their work is done on volunteered staff time.
Funding needs will increase next year due to the expansion they hope to see. For instance, they are able to make Facebook posts on the Animal Ethics pages 1-2 times a day, but hiring new staff would allow for more or longer posts. Current funding also limits how much leafleting they are able to do, and funding for new staff would allow them to much further extend that work, such as by hiring a graphic designer to improve leaflet design, or a volunteer coordinator to coordinate volunteers in leafleting and other activities. Further funding in the following year would also be used for eventually publishing a book and hiring a researcher for adding educational content to their website.
Prioritizing Goals: What Would Animal Ethics do with $100,000 More Funding?
Animal Ethics has ambitious goals in place but also a fairly concrete ranking for where they would expand first. With roughly $100,000 more funding, they would hire a staff member, likely in the U.S., to research and edit texts. As an organization, Animal Ethics sees the academic research they have written as just the beginning of the process – further time and staff are needed to take that work and turn it into an accessible, captivating product for general readers. Second, they would then expand their outreach work, adding a new staff member – also probably in the U.S. – for leafleting and growing a volunteer base. Third, Animal Ethics has found that there is substantial interest in wild animal welfare and anti-speciesism issues in other regions, such as in Latin America, and so they are already in the process of looking to start a new hire in Latin America to help network and disseminate the work of Animal Ethics there as well as in the English-speaking world. They also note that such a researcher in Latin American countries would need to be paid less than a comparable researcher working in the U.S., making it a cost-effective region for expansion, although they could still spend most of their time working on English material and social media. A new Animal Ethics foundation is in progress in Spain as well, which is expected to make some of their international work easier in the future, as well as making it possible for donors in Spain to make tax-deductible contributions, and for donors in the EU to make donations without transfer fees.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Current Programs at Animal Ethics
In some cases, Animal Ethics is not in a position to measure the effectiveness of their programs. For example, they are aware of the general effectiveness of leafleting and tabling, but do not have research on the results of their own work in these areas. When developing effective programs, they model their practices on other more established organizations as well as well-confirmed results from studies on charitable giving and activism methods. When it comes to their goal of influencing academics in relevant fields as well as other animal activists, ways of measuring impact exist but they are not yet at the stage to conduct such research. Using tools like Google Scholar will allow them to measure citations of their published articles, but much of their work is too recent to reliably follow those numbers now.
In other cases, however, Animal Ethics does have metrics for evaluating the success of their work. When it comes to their online presence, they measure their Facebook growth, website hits, and other analytics, but they are hesitant to draw conclusions from merely quantitative data. For instance, they might find that certain generic posts about helping animals in nature generate lots of positive feedback, while others that, say, explicitly highlight issues of wild animal suffering and the great need for human action generate much less positive discussion and more negative feedback. Rather than relying solely on the quantitative metrics for effective communication of wild animal issues, they keep in mind qualitative measures, such as whether they are clearly communicating the ethical issues in such posts. Balancing quantitative and qualitative evaluation of their programs is essential to their goals going forward.
Determining and Updating Priorities
While Animal Ethics does have set goals, such as the target audiences they want to reach in their work, they are also flexible with respect to how they prioritize their funding and strategies in meeting those goals. They would change their approach if, for instance, the quantitative data they collect indicated something was not working. If some posts on their website were getting unusually low hits or engagement, or if they received direct feedback that a paper or post was confusing or could use improvement in some way, they would be open to making changes as needed.
Goals Completed in 2015
So far, Animal Ethics has reached, or expects to reach, all of the goals it set for 2015. For instance, they hoped to translate the website into Portuguese and Italian this year, and have thus far finished the Italian version and expect to finish the Portuguese translation by the close of the year. They feel the goals they set are ambitious, yet realistic enough to be completed in reasonable time.
Problems and Adjustments in 2015
They are flexible in identifying and adjusting to problems in their work-flow. For example, the original goal to publish all of the research Animal Ethics staff has so far conducted ended up being too time-consuming, so they refocused on publishing half and revising these pieces to be more user-friendly, as well as spending more time building their social networks. Their approach to publishing on social media sites like the Animal Ethics Facebook page has changed over time as well. From the beginning, they’ve posted some controversial things and tried to put out a clear antispeciesist message. However, they were hesitant to discuss too many of the most controversial things in the very beginning when they were just building up an audience and people didn’t know much about them overall. The proportion of controversial posts hasn’t increased, but they have started posting some things that are even more controversial than they did at first, including papers about intervention in the wild and about predation. They now tend more towards more controversial issues, but it’s not a huge shift. They continue to also make posts with appealing images and videos of people helping wild animals, to encourage the view that it’s good to help wild animals.
Overall Strengths of Animal Ethics
They view their rapid growth on Facebook as one of their largest successes in the past year. Their international focus and success in Latin America is also a strength, as is their impact in academia and success in publishing their research in academic journals. Evaluating the influence of their published academic work will have to wait a year or two, when they will get a better view of the impact on other researchers through metrics like citation and download rates, though they’ve seen some of their research already included in a textbook, which is an early sign that it is being treated as authoritative. Feedback they have received as an organization has been overall highly positive, especially from those in the animal activism movement, including some who self-identify as environmentalists. This is a good sign that their message and reasoning is being persuasively communicated to target audiences.
Overall Weakness of Animal Ethics
Animal Ethics recognize the need to increase the numbers of volunteers and interns, and to make better use of the ones they have. Related to that, they would like to do more outreach, such as in leafleting and tabling.