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Summary

  • This is the second in a series of blog/ forum posts that looks at the application of stakeholder-engaged research methods in EA-related cause areas. This post looks at how Good Growth has been applying these methods to supporting the community concerned about farmed animal welfare and alternative protein in China 
  • Improving research in the Chinese animal advocacy space should be a priority, in order to improve our theories of change and support the Chinese advocacy community
  • We think that stakeholder-engaged research using mixed methods is particularly suitable for farmed animal welfare, community building, and alternative protein research in Asia, because there are large gaps in our theories of change, and a range of stakeholders whose input can provide value
  • We describe two of our studies where we have used stakeholder-engaged methods to understand advocates and consumers in China 
  • These findings can help to refine the strategies and pathways of organisations focused on these cause areas
  • We invite EAs to explore these methods. If you're interested in doing so reach out to us at team@goodgrowth.io or DM us (Jack or Jah Ying) on the EA forum

Introduction

In the last post, we introduced our perspective on stakeholder-engaged research methods we think might be neglected in EA, and we put the spotlight on some of our past research in the community building/ meta-EA area. 

To recap, too much research is produced without engaging the people who might use or be informed by it, reducing both the quality of the research and limiting the potential for impact on the world. To resolve these issues, we should find creative ways to involve various stakeholders, such as implementing organisations, policymakers, and the general public, throughout the process of producing and disseminating research. 

This is not a new idea. A variety of terms are used to describe the idea of doing research with stakeholders playing a significant role - some of the more well-known terms include Mode 2 researchresearch co-creation and community-based participatory research. We use the term stakeholder-engaged research to encompass all of these approaches. Stakeholder-engaged research is often connected with various kinds of qualitative research, such as ethnography, participant observation, in-depth interviews (structured, semi-structured or unstructured), and focus groups, where engagement is “built-in” to the methodology, but it can encompass quantitative methodologies, natural science and engineering. 

In this post and the next, we’re going to look at Good Growth’s current area of focus - farmed animal welfare - and the related field of alternative protein. Our work is focused on supporting the broader community of people working on animal advocacy in Asia - this post will focus specifically on our China research. We’re using ‘animal advocacy/ animal advocates’ as an umbrella term to refer to all communities trying to help animals, regardless of focus on rights/ welfare or wild/ farmed animals. 

Why Animals in Asia/ China?

Animal welfare in Asia is an important and neglected cause area: Asia is home to over 40% of farmed land animals and produces over 85% of farmed fish, the majority of which are in China. On top of the enormous welfare impacts, the growing animal industry in the region also contributes significantly to the global risks of climate change and zoonotic pandemic risk. Despite this, Asian advocates only receive an estimated 7% of global animal advocacy funding, and Chinese advocates are particularly neglected. 

As well as addressing welfare directly, developing and promoting alternative protein is an increasingly popular way of mitigating the welfare and environmental problems created by animal consumption. Optimists believe that high-quality, tasty, affordable non-animal-based protein will be the key to reducing farmed animal suffering across the world. But this process is far from inevitable - alt protein companies have to compete with the increasingly efficient and subsidy-supported industrial farming sector, as well as ingrained cultural habits. Western alternative protein companies have not yet been successful in most of Asia, and, despite some successes in Singapore and China, Asia remains a neglected (but growing) region for modern alt-protein.

Source: APAC report, GFI, 2022 (Note: The Asia/ Pacific region actually saw more than a doubling in investment in 2022)

Why us? 

Prior to 2021, Good Growth was focused on conducting user research to support the EA community with meta-projects (see our previous post). Then in 2021, we were looking to focus on a high-impact cause area that would benefit most from our strategy of producing research, in particular qualitative, user/ market research using stakeholder-engaged methods, to improve the effectiveness of other nonprofit organisations.  

After working on projects in the Asian animal welfare space, we found our strategy was particularly suited to the ecosystem surrounding farmed animal welfare and alternative protein in Asia, for a couple of  reasons: 1) Need and demand for increased research; and 2) Current market inefficiencies with existing research.

Need and demand for increased research in Asian animal advocacy

What is the optimal allocation of resources between research or direct work? 

We can think about this from the perspective of an explore-exploit trade-off, where we balance reward maximisation based on existing knowledge (exploit) with discovering or attempting new actions to further increase knowledge (explore). The more confident we are that a set of actions/ strategies we are currently employing will optimally lead to the outcomes we want, the more we should prioritise direct work (exploit). But if we have big gaps in our theory of change, we’re not sure about the optimal way of making an impact, and we expect that there are higher impact opportunities we haven’t yet discovered. In this case, we should probably devote more resources to research (explore).

With animal welfare in Asia, it seems that more resources should currently be allocated to exploring (research). To illustrate, we can take a look at Animal Charity Evaluators theories of change.

Theory of Change ideas for animal advocacy, Animal Charity Evaluators

Those familiar with the European or North American animal welfare movement will be able to fill in this Theory of Change with numerous existing interventions and/ or organisations. For example, corporate campaignsdirect welfare interventions for animal health, vegan and vegetarian campaigns in schools and workplacestackling bottlenecks in alt protein developmentanti-speciesist education, and lobbying for policy change.

But this theory of change has far more uncertainty for animal advocates in Asia, China in particular, for example, the following questions remain unanswered: 

  • Are policy-based interventions tractable in less democratic countries? 
  • What’s the marginal impact of increasing the number of meat -free alternatives in a country where traditional meat-free alternatives are more common?
  • Can corporate campaigns work in a country where businesses have more government connections?
  • How do beliefs around the value of animal life interact with different traditional value systems (Buddhist, Confucian, Socialist)? 

These questions, and more, need to be carefully addressed before we commit to scaling up direct work in China. As these questions are generally open-ended, broad and involve a lot of unknown unknowns, our approach of using qualitative and mixed methods research with multiple stakeholders is an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of overly narrow research approaches. 

This need for research is combined with a high level of demand. Multiple organisations, both international and domestic, have mentioned to us the need for more research, more data, and a greater understanding of the facts related to animal welfare in China. An increased demand has led to many potential new research projects, and Good Growth has been able to expand to a three-person team, working exclusively in Asia, with China representing one of our main markets. 

Market inefficiencies in Chinese animal welfare research

Alongside a need for more high-quality research, the animal advocacy research ecosystem in China currently faces challenges in supply, coordination and utilisation. One consequence of this is that local groups are unable to develop the range of strategies and interventions that we see in the West. Another is that some foreign groups working on China-related issues have made mistakes[1]due to insufficient research, which risks creating negative lock-in effects for the broader community. 

The first challenge is that there is growing demand for research and few people/organisations able to provide the supply.  Local groups working in China need more research to identify the areas and interventions that could have an outsized impact, to support prioritisation. Foreign groups entering China need more research on pragmatic challenges they might face in the country as a foreign actor, including tried-and-tested pathways to success and common failure modes. Funders also need more detailed research illuminating the challenges faced by local actors. 

The second issue is coordinating plans and priorities within the space to ensure that research efforts are mutually reinforcing and not repeated. While some open-source research is being produced on animal welfare (APIACTAsia) and the market for alternative proteins (GFI and Green Queen) in the region, most organisations/ companies looking to launch in Asia want to conduct market entry/scoping research (see ACE in ChinaFWI report for Asia), which can lead to the repeated production of very similar studies. We’ve actually found ourselves in this very situation - a landscape report that we were involved in had major similarities to another produced by Animal Ethics in the same year. Although they had different focal points[2], better communication and coordination within the (already small) research community would have avoided duplicated research and improved resource allocation. Moreover, due to the limited number of stakeholders working in this space, repeated similar research with the same stakeholders may be inefficient and have additional negative consequences (such as respondent fatigue). 

A third challenge is the communication of research to stakeholders. Although high-quality academic research is being produced by international and domestic academics, there may be obstacles to animal advocacy organisations using this research effectively. Research conducted in academia, or by international orgs, may be too complex, is rarely translated into Chinese (or vice versa to international orgs/funders), and may not be made available on commonly-used social media platforms, such as WeChat, Weibo, Zhihu or Xiaohongshu. 

Some strategies Good Growth have employed/ are planning to employ to address these challenges include: 

  • Publishing and sharing research in multiple formats, such as academic papers, blogs, reports and interactive presentations / workshops with advocate/ EA/ industry/ academic audiences. 
  • Working to leverage research resources outside the Asian/ animal community, and incorporating capacity building into our client research projects. 
  • Partnering with Faunalytics to coordinate an Asia-wide, open-access research project, co-designed with coalition organisations in the region. 
    Running research bootcamps for advocates in Asia, to increase research literacy and awareness, and connect them with potential research partners for future collaboration. 

If you are interested in learning more or supporting this work, please get in touch with us at team@goodgrowth.io

In the next section, we go into further depth on how we’ve conducted research with and for advocates.

The Projects

Since 2021, our team at Good Growth has undertaken multiple projects across Asia, and the following projects focus on China in particular. This section introduces the specific problems we were attempting to solve, and explains how stakeholder-engaged methods played a role in tackling them. 

Research on Farmed Animal Protection in China - Community Building and Consumer Attitudes towards Animal Welfare

From 2021 to 2022, Faunalytics were looking for support with studies exploring farmed animal protection in China. The first phase of the study explored the perspectives of animal advocates based in China, while the second phase of the study looked at attitudes of Chinese consumers towards animal welfare

This was considered an important area because:

  • There was an increased interest in China from international orgs, due to high potential impact on animals
  • There were many Chinese perspectives we wanted to explore, including Western/international involvement in the Chinese animal welfare sector, and local attitudes to the advocacy community

The objectives of this study were to:

  • Identify the most significant challenges faced by farmed animal advocates in China
  • Allow international advocates to work more effectively in China 
  • Develop recommendations to pass on to other groups and inform the later stages of our research

In the first stage, we interviewed advocates from both local and international organisations, to identify a range of issues encountered by the animal advocacy community in China. We discussed experiences, strategy, funding and future prospects. In these interviews, we also explored advocates’ beliefs about the Chinese public’s attitudes towards animal welfare, providing us with a range of hypotheses to test in the next stage. 

In the second stage, we focused on what regular Chinese people thought about animal welfare issues. We wanted to verify the advocates’ perspectives, understand the effectiveness of different messaging types, identify platforms and demographics for future outreach, and gain a more in-depth understanding of meat consumption attitudes in China.

Methods

As we had a broad range of objectives, with many open-ended questions, we wanted to generate a wide range of hypotheses about perceptions of animal welfare within the Chinese context. As we discuss in our previous post,  a qualitative interview-based approach is an effective way of achieving these goals, allowing us to better explore ‘unknown unknowns’, better understand the context of the research questions, and mitigate some of the biases associated with (more common) survey-based research.  

The first study involved 15 in-depth interviews with advocates from different sub-fields of the animal protection community, which we analysed thematically. For the second study, we explored some of the advocates’ hypotheses about Chinese consumers, using focus group interviews with different demographic groups: Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents, Students, Unmarried people, and people from three different income brackets[3]

We had a couple of main objectives that informed our methods in these focus groups. Firstly, we wanted to encourage an honest, comfortable and authentic discussion about diets and animals, so we started by asking participants open questions about what they had eaten today, and what they thought of the term ‘animal welfare’ (dòngwù fúlì 动物福利). Secondly, we wanted to observe as ‘real’ reactions as possible towards the kind of animal welfare-related materials that the Chinese public might come across, so we showed participants a range of authentic materials (two videos and three short online articles). We took actual news stories and messages produced by welfare organisations rather than specifically designed fictionalised examples, so that we could observe participants’ reactions to real content.

We used qualitative coding and thematic analysis methods to analyse the content of these interviews, and combined this with our own background knowledge and cultural awareness to contextualise this information. 

First Phase - The Advocates

People working on the ground are often the first port of call when you want to enter or understand a new field or region, and conducting this process more systematically can help to avoid neglecting certain demographics or viewpoints. Both local and foreign advocates would have valuable perspectives on operating in the animal advocacy space in China, so we engaged with a sample from both groups. 

This process gave us some interesting insights into the animal advocacy community. The results for the first stage of the study can be found here (you need to request the full version), and these were some of the key takeaways:

  • China’s animal welfare community faces many challenges
    • The public aren’t generally aware of farmed animal welfare issues
    • It’s difficult to operate as an animal nonprofit
    • Vegetarianism can have religious connotations that are off-putting to some consumers  
  • There are some major bottlenecks to growing the community. In particular, the community is small, there are few professional opportunities, and limited resources for capacity-building.
  • But there are some opportunities: 
    • Some demographics seem excited about health, educational and food-related messaging and events, which could be potential channels for promoting meat reduction 
    • There are some promising people entering the community  (IFAWF have some examples here)
    • A possibility of integrating welfare concerns into the growing movement for sustainability and environmental protection

These issues form the basis of the recommendations for advocates, funders and alternative protein companies in China. This phase of research also provided some hypotheses about the Chinese public that we were able to test in the second phase. Advocates had spent time trying to reach out to various demographics with varying messages/ platforms, but they had rarely tested the effects of their messaging in a systematic manner. 

Second Phase - The Chinese Public

The second stage of research produced some novel and interesting conclusions about how Chinese people think about these issues. It supported many of the advocates’ views about the importance of health, the potential for a market of high-welfare products, and provided a lot of contextual information on attitudes to animals. 

Although pessimism about Chinese attitudes to welfare is common, we found that the Chinese public had views that were often sympathetic to animal causes, especially when framed in ways that they identified with. Some of the more surprising findings were as follows:

  • Getting the language right is a critical challenge. The Chinese term for animal welfare (dòngwù fúlì 动物福利) is not commonly recognised[4], and conjures up a few misunderstandings. Welfare (fúlì 福利) makes people think of more-than-basic welfare standards (such as massages for cattle) and even anti-poverty social welfare schemes[5]. Care is needed to ensure the terms used are appropriate for the local context (see our guide for Chinese/English terms). However, most participants were receptive to farmed animal welfare after watching a short video explaining the concept. It seems likely that confusion around the language may have created issues for advocates.
  • While western consumers may be coming round to the idea of compassion to crustaceans[6], lobster welfare was a major turn-off for the Chinese participants. We showed them an article about crustacean welfare in the UK, which was met by a lot of pushback across all demographic groups. 
  • Different focus groups had distinctive views, which may potentially be representative of these demographics more broadly[7]:
    • As the advocates also suggested, mothers were very keen on choosing safer, higher-welfare products for the sake of their children, and had a lot of power in deciding what their families ate
    • Despite the advocates mentioning that older people were not promising recipients for animal welfare messaging, grandparents were surprisingly willing to try higher welfare products, and were moved by the videos and articles depicting animal suffering. Also, while meat is seen as healthy for children, older people tend to reduce meat for health reasons, which may make them more receptive to messaging on plant-based diets.

In the process of conducting the group interviews, we observed first-hand reactions to videos and articles portraying animal welfare issues. Many participants said these media had an impact on them, and that they would show more concern about this issue in the future. We were unable to follow up and determine whether they changed their behaviour in the longer term, but the study made us more optimistic that the Chinese public has the potential to develop much more sympathetic views about animal welfare. 

This study also revealed that some of our prior assumptions, and those held by the advocates, may have been misleading, or lacking in nuance. One example was the idea that animal welfare was negatively perceived as a “foreign concept”. The advocates believed that many Chinese people identified animal welfare as something associated with western ideas, or even, in one respondent’s words, a “foreign conspiracy”. However, in the focus groups, although the term itself was unfamiliar, participants rarely saw the idea of animal welfare itself as  “foreign”, especially when they were shown articles about stories of the treatment of animals within China. 

While it’s probably inevitable that animal welfare advocacy will have some foreign associations, foreign or less-rooted advocates should realise the possibility of framing welfare issues in a way that local people can identify with, and thus avoid the potential negative associations of foreignness. Neglecting the importance of genuine localisation of the field of animal advocacy highlights a major downside risk to foreign organisations working in China without engaging local stakeholders. 

Check out the full study here.

Chinese Consumer Plant-based Meat Insights

As well as focusing on growing the animal advocacy community, we’ve also identified key knowledge gaps in the food systems and alternative protein spaces, which we were keen on addressing. In response to a request for proposals from the Food Systems Research Fund in 2020, we started a multi-phase project on Chinese consumers' attitudes to plant-based meats. 

Next-generation/ modern plant-based meat, as opposed to more traditional (and often underrated) tofu or gluten-based alt-protein products, has only recently entered the Chinese market, and the potential for market growth in China remains relatively unexplored. We developed a research plan in consultation with the Good Food Institute China, drawing heavily from their 2020 Consumer Research Priorities

Existing research on the alternative protein sector in China had numerous blindspots. Firstly, most research was survey-based. Although surveys can provide some valuable updates on the acceptability of/ familiarity with plant-based meats, they generally lack the kind of nuanced, culturally-informed and practical insights that enable companies to make meaningful, evidence-based changes to their product strategy. Second, research is often conducted by private groups and not made public. This may lead to important data not being made available to other stakeholders, and if some data or findings are made available, the methodology and data are usually not shared, making it difficult to assess the quality or external validity of the research. Survey design in industry reports may also be biased due to misaligned interests. Finally, academic studies may not be accessible to local advocates, both in terms of physical access, as some advocates cannot access paywalled international journals, and technically, due to a lack of expertise or translation into local languages. 

We attempted to address these blindspots by using stakeholder-engaged methodologies, open survey design and open-access reports, and by disseminating the study with multiple stakeholders working in China.

The high-level research question we were addressing was: “What are Chinese consumers’ attitudes towards new-generation plant-based alternatives and what are the implications for marketing these products in China?” 

On a population level, this question appeared to be hard to answer. There seem to be few major push-factors driving Chinese consumers towards plant-based meat. Compared to European consumers, they don’t seem as driven by the increasing awareness of climate change and factory farming.

Before starting the study, we theorised that Chinese consumers had diverse approaches to diet and meat consumption. For alt-protein producers, a mass-marketing strategy, aiming to target plant-based meat at all sectors of the market, would be unlikely to gain traction in China. Instead, alt-protein in China needed a more targeted approach. We had to work out which factors motivated which demographics, and how to target these segments with plant-based meat products. 

Methods

We used a mixed-method approach that would capture these nuances of different segments of the Chinese population. This included a variety of data collection methods and analytical tools. 

First, we conducted a Buddy Focus Group study with 30 participants recruited using a ‘buddy system’ (get 10 participants, then ask them to bring two friends to join a virtual interview). We opted for a representative range of Tier 1 or 2 city residents[8] (Beijing, Chengdu, Jinan, Shanghai and Zhongshan), and selected participants with a range of different meat consumption behaviours. The interviews were comprised of a set of questions about current consumption and plant-based products:

  • What they ate throughout the day
  • Who buys the food they eat
  • What considerations affect their food choices
  • Would they try a range of plant-based products we showed them

After establishing what they reported, we then wanted to know what their observed food consumption behaviour suggested about their attitudes towards food consumption. So we conducted a diary study, with a representative selection of 15 participants from the focus group discussions. Participants had to submit photo and video entries of food purchase, preparation and mealtime activities over the course of the week. They were also asked to choose a plant-based product at a supermarket and provide feedback.

This gave us a lot of rich data to dig into: many participants seemed to take a lot of care preparing food for their children, some seemed to want to optimise their health, some had sent images of posh restaurants and communal meals, while others sent pictures of plastic containers from street stalls and convenience stores. We then took this data and systematised it in two different ways:

  • We used affinity diagrams to identify major trends within the findings. This was a visual, collaborative activity carried out using the MURAL platform. The research team created initial consumer groupings and identified behavioural patterns, surprises, barriers and opportunities from the data. 
  • We did a second group analysis through MURAL to identify five user personas as archetypal representations of potential plant-based meat consumers, also identifying their main drivers and differentiators when making food consumption decisions.

The study finished with a large survey to determine broader attitudes to plant-based meats, and, used a statistical technique called confirmatory factor analysis, to confirm whether our personas were accurate representations of segments of the broader Chinese population. This survey was developed using Qualtrics and delivered to 1206 respondents, matched by age and gender to the population. 

What we learnt

As the below graphic indicates, we identified five different persona types based on their approaches towards food consumption. These personas correspond to specific attitudes towards plant-based meat. 

Source: Good Growth, Chinese Consumers Insight Report (2022). Note that respondents can identify with more than one consumer type. 

If you’re a more analytic type of person, you’ll probably have a bit of initial scepticism about this categorisation. You might identify with 3 or 4 (or none) of these personas, and feel there’s something that feels a bit essentialist or unscientific about these conclusions. How can we prove that this is a meaningful taxonomy? Why not four personas or six personas?

To respond, it’s worth looking into what personas are and are not trying to do. Personas aren’t attempting to build a mathematical, objectively correct, and comprehensive taxonomy of a population across all relevant metrics. Persona generation is always going to be a creative, subjective and not-strictly-replicable process, and different researchers would likely develop a slightly different taxonomy, despite access to the same data. 

Instead, this framing captures and conveys important information that other methodologies would miss - we pick up clusters of attitudes that correlate with each other and are likely to be associated with certain consumption behaviours. In terms of useability, they also provide a more pragmatic tool for alt-protein companies to target customers than a more analytical, and drier, depiction of consumer types[9]. It encourages thinking of consumers as real people rather than just as numbers, and easily brings to mind the kind of product that might match a given kind of person. 

Other Insights

We also gained many insights about attitudes to meat consumption, plant-based meat and food culture in China more generally. Many of the assumptions that we came into this study with turned out to be incomplete or misleading, often in interesting and unexpected ways.

  • Food safety concerns go beyond the headlines. We knew that food safety was a major headache for Chinese consumers, but the situation is more complex than we realised - people are concerned about various kinds of ‘fake meat’, from zombie meat, to meat from ‘non-food animals’[10]. They’re also concerned about additives and hormones in meat and other animal products. Alt-protein companies really have to tread carefully to avoid the negative associations of ‘fake meat’. 
  • Vegetarians and Vegans in China are not that into plant-based meat. Most alt-protein companies assume that vegetarians and vegans are going to be a big chunk of the consumer base, but the vegetarians and vegans we interviewed in our study weren’t into PBM at all. While the quantitative study indicated a lack of enthusiasm for PBM, the qualitative piece gave us some really juicy insights. It turns out that vegetarianism in China is strongly associated with Buddhist and Daoist ideas of purity and good health - ‘unnatural’ alternative meat products with lots of additives were rejected by our vegetarian respondents[11].
  • “口感” (pronounced: kǒugǎn) or “mouth-feel” is super important. We’d initially assumed that taste would be a major factor, but respondents frequently used this term instead. It refers to the overall sensation arising from chewing and sensing food, which is affected by taste, texture and temperature - this concept that doesn’t necessarily match with the (less commonly-used, and fairly obscure) English word. While Chinese stakeholders will be aware of this concept, it’s definitely something that foreign alt-protein companies need to think about when working in China.
  • Chinese people have totally different associations with meat alternatives. Unlike most western countries, China has a long and complex history with alternatives to animal products. Tofu, seitan (miànjīn 面筋), and soy milk are common protein sources in China, but aren’t seen as meat alternatives in the way they generally are in the west. Although less well-known, many consumers are aware of less common soy-, taro or gluten-based imitation meat (“仿荤菜”, pronounced fǎng hūncài in Mandarin), which have caused many Chinese consumers to form neutral to negative perceptions of plant-based alternatives.
This is imitation meat/ fish (“仿荤菜”, fǎng hūncài) 
  • Experimenting with new food often happens in social spaces or communal meals. Less surprising, perhaps, but the Chinese-style of sharing multiple dishes in a restaurant means that you often end up trying out food you didn’t order or expect. It’s probably a way better way of trying out new food types - you can try out five or six dishes per meal - and can lead to increased experimentation. Developing dishes or food types for this kind of restaurant represents an opportunity for alt proteins to spread more effectively. 
  • But… Nobody thought that they were the target consumers for plant-based meat. When we asked consumers to buy or try out new PBM products, no-one really thought the product was meant for them. 

As many of these trends and characteristics had not been considered by alt protein manufacturers, these insights could potentially have a major impact on the strategy of companies attempting to enter the Chinese market. 

For some more of our insights, follow this link. For the associated quantitative study, co-authored with Chris Bryant and Kathryn Asher, recently published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics - find the summarising blog post here

Conclusions

Our findings in these studies, and the positive reception from both Chinese and international advocacy organisations, have supported our general approach to research in the farmed animal welfare/ alt protein space in China. Some of our important takeaways from these processes were:

  • The qualitative approach allowed us to get a wider range of exploratory information, develop hypotheses and gain the kind of culturally informed and in-depth findings that you can easily miss in quantitative research. While there may remain some doubts around external validity and representativeness, mixed-methods research, such as that we performed on the CCI study, can provide evidence that many of our qualitative findings are applicable more broadly in China. We hope that quantitative and mixed methods researchers are able to test some of our findings in the animal space in China. 
  • Engaging many different stakeholders throughout these projects, and in the follow-up, has improved our findings by ensuring that we’re answering action-relevant questions, giving us ideas to test, and keeping consumers, advocates and AP companies in mind throughout the research process. 
  • Ensuring that we conduct rigorous research is only half the process. Without making sure that the research produced is actionable and disseminated to relevant stakeholders in a memorable way, research is likely to get ignored. Finding ways to ensure that these findings are actually used by stakeholders remains a key challenge.

Our approach to research had a couple of advantages over the more common methodologies in the EA research space. We’ve noted that EA organisations tend to conduct interviews with some professional stakeholders, but with less engagement with the target community (consumers or recipients of a healthcare intervention, for example). Throughout these studies we were able to spend a lot of time engaging with regular Chinese consumers, and this revealed some of the misconceptions held by advocates or industry figures. Some of the hypotheses suggested by advocates working in the space were slightly misleading representations of the views of actual consumers. This may be a blindspot for other EA organisations, especially where stakeholders such as consumers, producers and the general public are concerned. 

Call to Action: What to do with stakeholder-engaged research methods?

One main call-to-action we have for the EA community is to increase consideration of stakeholder-engaged methods in existing research. We hope that the EA and Animal Welfare community can use these methods to improve animal advocacy research in emerging markets such as China. This could include:

  • Conducting more qualitative research to understand partners, recipients/ participants in programs or other indirect stakeholders
  • Engaging a more representative or diverse range of stakeholders before setting research priorities 
  • Coordinating plans and priorities to ensure that research efforts are mutually reinforcing and not repeated
  • Taking cross-cultural research more seriously - doing localised research before going into new countries 

Something else we'd love to see would be a more systematic attempt to introduce a stakeholder-engaged research agenda into specific EA cause areas.  

If you’re interested in exploring these ideas further, we're always happy to chat. Get in touch with us at info@goodgrowth.io

  1. ^

    Animal Charity Evaluators are one example of a group that have openly discussed their mistakes related to China  https://animalcharityevaluators.org/transparency/mistakes/#fn1-1-149 

  2. ^

    Ours was focused more on farmed animals, while Animal Ethics’ had a stronger focus on wild animals

  3. ^

    As is commonly the case with research in China, we weren’t able to accurately represent the bottom half of the Chinese income distribution or those in rural areas. An urban, middle-class bias seems to be systemic in Chinese market research, both because they comprise the main consumer base and because they are far easier to access. This is likely to pose a particular problem when making international comparisons. To counteract this bias, there is some research by the Animal Welfare Standards team representing agricultural stakeholders and less-urban populations.

  4. ^

    See also this study, which explores the use of the term.

  5. ^

    Connections between ‘social welfare’ for workers and ‘animal welfare’ raise the possibility that  a ‘labour-focused’ approach to advocating for animal welfare could be effective in China (see this paper and this podcast)

  6. ^

    As well as this report that discusses public petitions for crustacean welfare, Andrés at the Shrimp Welfare project also notes in the 80k podcast that knowing research on crustacean consciousness was well-researched by reputable academics made a sample of the UK public more susceptible to these ideas.

  7. ^

    Sample sizes were small (n = 5) for each demographic, so representativeness is less certain for particular groups

  8. ^

    Again, this choice was because urbanites are far more likely to purchase modern plant-based meats (as our quantitative research confirmed), and because it’s a bit simpler to conduct research in these cities. 

  9. ^

    To quote Scott Alexander’s view on MBTI, personas are trying to “separate people into little bins that put continuous [attitudinal] space into discrete and easy-to-think-about characters suitable for human processing”. 

  10. ^

    Strangely, concerns about animal borne diseases emerging from intensive farming were rare in our studies.

  11. ^

    One caveat is that there is a new wave of vegetarianism in China, mainly among younger, more urban and international people, characterised by Vegans of Shanghai (小步vegan). This movement is more influenced by the western tradition. We’d like to see some extra research into how these trends interact.

Comments3
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:24 PM

Really important work, thanks for posting, looking forward to your continued outputs!

Thank you for posting! 

While western consumers may be coming round to the idea of compassion to crustaceans[6], lobster welfare was a major turn-off for the Chinese participants. We showed them an article about crustacean welfare in the UK, which was met by a lot of pushback across all demographic groups. 

I find this particularly important, and bumming.

Defo neglected and somewhere where a lot of work can be done! I'm really happy that there are people working on this. I'm personally really unsure of the trajectory of this and any timelines but just the fact that so much research has gone into this has really made my day.

加油!