Animal Ask is a new research organisation conceived through the 2020 Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Programme. We aim to optimise and prioritise future asks to assist animal advocacy organisations in their efforts to reduce farmed animal suffering.
Billions of animals suffer on factory farms every year. The animal advocacy movement has so far done great work to help alleviate animal suffering, building up expertise in both public and corporate campaigns and spending a significant amount of resources on these methods.
The foundation of these campaigns is what is referred to as an ask. This is the specific request for industry, food companies, or government to improve the welfare of animals in their care e.g. asking the UK government to ban cages for laying hens. These animal welfare asks are implemented over a set period and if successful, can change the lives of millions of animals. However, not all asks are equally impactful - good prioritisation of potential asks has the potential to greatly increase the effectiveness of our efforts.
There are a huge number of potential asks we could make, with many complex factors to consider when prioritising an optimal animal ask. Therefore, it is necessary to decide which ask is of higher priority. How much does this specific species care about one welfare improvement vs another? How would implementation work with respect to industry and regulatory bodies? How many animals would likely be affected? Systematic research is required in order to answer questions such as these as applied to different species, locations, and organisations.
Animal advocacy organisations are already doing good work to select asks. However, many organisation leaders and research professionals in the space have indicated that they do not have the capacity to investigate asks in more depth, and that research support in the optimisation and prioritisation of asks would have positive effects. Systematic research and evidence is currently a bottleneck for the animal space in general, and as in the global health space, the wrong intervention might accomplish nothing. Given the impressive level of effort and resources animal advocacy organisations currently put behind each ask, we think that supporting our community in prioritising the best asks is key.
Selecting a suboptimal ask could lead to the omission of a significant amount of impact. Charity Entrepreneurship estimates that the difference in value between the best and worst ask, already being reasonably considered, could be as large as 3 times as much impact (source). The selection of an optimal ask is vitally important if we are to maximise the impact we have for animals. It is for this reason we think that research focussed towards optimising and prioritising asks, to inform key decisions in the movement, could be valuable.
There is currently limited capacity and resources for this specialised work. The current process of selecting asks varies depending on the scale (regional vs local) and strategy of the organisation developing the ask. Some of the larger organisations have their own research teams, however they generally have limited capacity for ask considerations as they have their time split between numerous organisational research priorities. Long-term asks are particularly neglected as many organisations, policy makers and governments don’t have the resources to invest in research to support ask considerations that may be implemented many years from now. Therefore, we will be uniquely placed as the only research organisation entirely committed to the comparison and formation of impactful farmed animal asks.
Tractability of the problem brings two main considerations ; whether we can accurately determine the optimal asks and whether existing organisations will update their views based on our research.
The former is dependent on the available evidence and the accuracy and validity of our research process. Our research process will be guided by techniques from the Charity Entrepreneurship 2019 - 2020 research rounds. Some of these techniques include: 1) regular consultations with experts and stakeholders, including animal welfare experts, government officials, industry decision makers, and animal advocacy leaders 2) systematic country comparisons, with an eye to legal regulations and numbers of animals affected as reflected in production/consumption databases 3) cost-effectiveness estimates, informed considerations, and weighted factor models. We are also guided by research from Rethink Priorities, Faunalytics, Animal Charity Evaluators and insight from our esteemed board of advisors. We plan to continually iterate on this using feedback from the organisations we work alongside, researchers in the movement and our own findings. We are confident that this will allow us to inform organisations in their ask considerations. In the short-term, we will be constrained by the existing literature and available data, however, we expect this will be sufficient for our purposes. Longer-term, if we are satisfied with our performance in our pilot year and decide to continue with Animal Ask, we will consider investing in primary research through grants or our own research projects.
The second bottleneck for our organisation, depends on whether animal advocacy organisations are open to our research support in their decision making. This largely depends on how open they are to a new organisation providing research to support their ask considerations and whether they will update their decision-making based on our research. Alternatively we could find that the organisation's existing priorities are already optimal, in which case, our research would have no counterfactual impact.
In the Charity Entrepreneurship model of Animal Ask they assumed a 30% probability of organisations shifting to a higher impact ask (source). The probability of this could be significantly lower and we would still think this project appears promising in expectation.
Our short-term focus is to build on our relationships with mission aligned organisations, supporting them with their current strategic agendas and priorities, conducting research to assist with their most pressing considerations.
As we are currently in our pilot phase we are also focussing on developing proof of concept for our organisation. We are looking to support an organisation in their decision making considerations for an upcoming ask. This will help to increase the impact of the ask that is implemented, while simultaneously helping test our model. We will use our findings to iterate on our research process, evaluate whether our research counterfactual changed the decision of the organisation and integrate any feedback into our future strategy.
Our current estimates and Charity Entrepreneurship’s initial cost-effectiveness analysis suggest that this organisation has the potential to be highly cost-effective. This is largely driven by the low cost of conducting such research and the large effect of shifting between asks. However both of these models rely on numerous assumptions that we may falsify within our pilot year.
Our long term vision is to build up our research capacity and expertise to conduct broad longer-term focused ask comparison research to support organisations, individual activists, policymakers and donors so that they may do more good in the long term.
How to support our mission
Advisors: We currently have notable advisory board members from both the EA and animal advocacy communities supporting us with our mission such as Karolina Sarek, co-founder and Director of Research at Charity Entrepreneurship and fund manager at the EA Animal Welfare Fund, Mandy Carter, Global Campaigns Manager at Compassion in World Farming and Jan Sorgenfrei, Co-Founder and Director of Campaigns at Anima International.
>> We are asking other mission-aligned individuals who have an interest in our work to get in touch regarding this opportunity.
Pilot Programme: We are currently looking for mission-aligned organisations for our pilot programme where we support groups with an up and coming ask consideration. For more information on this programme, please don’t hesitate to get in contact and we can share our more in-depth criteria for this pilot.
Hires: We plan to most likely hire a senior researcher in early 2021 to support us with our intervention. We are yet to determine if this will be a specialist researcher with experience with a specific species or a generalist researcher to support our efforts. Information on this decision will be released towards the end of the year.
Funding: Charity Entrepreneurship has awarded us a seed grant of $100,000, which will enable our organisation to operate for our first year. In early 2021 when we have evaluated our progress, we may seek additional funding.
Feedback: We greatly value your feedback and suggestions, particularly at this early stage. Please feel free to post your questions or comments below or reach out to us directly through the contact form on our website.
Overall we would love you to engage with our work and share our various platforms amongst your networks to ensure that Animal Ask has the greatest impact for animals overall.
Animal Ask was incubated under Charity Entrepreneurship, an effective altruism organisation, which provided our initial funding through a $100,000 seed grant. Our current team members are co-founders Amy Odene & George Bridgwater.