Book Review: Nick Cooney (2011) Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach us About Spreading Social Change (Lantern Books: New York)

Price: ****
Ease of use: ****
Value for EAA beginners: *****
Value for EAA pros: ****

 

This book by Nick Cooney is an excellent resource for understanding how psychology affects our work in social movements. It draws primarily on external psychological studies, combined with Cooney’s personal advocacy experience, primarily for the Humane League (he had worked for or helped to found many organisations by 2011, and done so for more since then) and some strategic thinking and common sense.

The book is intended to be applicable to any social movement, with his examples frequently alternating between animal advocacy, environmentalism and other causes. This does not significantly detract from its value for animal advocates (even if some of the specific suggestions aren’t directly relevant), although I suspect that advocates for other causes might find that the book focuses on issues most pertinent to animal advocacy.

The structure of the book is simple. Chapters 1 to 3 lay out a variety of cognitive biases that affect how successful various types of advocacy efforts are likely to be. This section leaves you with the impression that successful advocacy is incredibly difficult, and that you shouldn’t rely on your intuitions.

After building up your sense of the gravity of the problems (in the manner of a successful salesman?), Cooney then moves on to demonstrating solutions for the issues. Chapters 4 to 7 all list a huge number of “Tools of Influence” to support our advocacy. The final three chapter then contain wider social scientific learnings and business strategy ideas which put the ideas from the rest of the book into context.

The book is therefore packed full of useful information. Here are some of those who might benefit, organised roughly in order of who I think would benefit most:

  • Advocates hoping to increase the effectiveness of their individual outreach, or increase their chances of success in discussions with corporate, institutional or governmental contacts, partners and targets
  • Those currently working for non-profit organisations who might want to read through to see if the ideas contained might help to streamline their work, and improve efficiencies.
  • Aspiring social scientists, EAA researchers, or those working in non-profits interested in measuring the impact of their own programmes, to read through the first few chapters to broaden their understanding of how cognitive biases might affect their research.
  • If you are already familiar with both psychology and the animal advocacy movement, you might not learn as much from this book, although I imagine that it might still piece some ideas together in ways that you had not already done yourself.

The wide appeal of the book necessarily means that it won’t be consistently 100% useful, word for word, for any one reader. It contains an overwhelmingly large number of useful new ideas for those new to the field of psychology, which makes the book almost intimidating to use.

For those under time pressure, I’d encourage you to follow one of these two strategies to get the most out of the book:

  • Read this list I have created of 23 of the different cognitive biases and 42 of the tools referred to in the book. This list cuts out much of the useful explanation and examples given in the book, but condenses the key concepts. You could copy and paste the information into a separate Excel/Google sheet and add an additional column for the relevance of the concepts to your work. I would advise also buying the book, so that you can look up the specific examples and relevant studies, as and when appropriate.
  • Flick through the book, looking at the clearly labelled subtitles, and stopping to read those strategies which seem most useful for you.

As usual for such books, the Kindle edition is relatively cheap, but the paperback is more expensive than most paperbacks. It gets 4*s anyway, because the book is so packed full of information, most readers would easily get their money’s worth!

For those looking for easier (i.e. less research-heavy) introductions to effective animal advocacy outreach, I’d recommend starting with Friedrich and Ball’s Handbook or Leenaert’s book.

Note, that whilst I am fairly unreservedly endorsing the helpful information and advice contained within Cooney’s book, I am not endorsing his personal conduct. Although I know very little about the issue beyond hearsay, this article addresses some of the concerns. It is a complicated issue, so if you are engaging with it, I encourage you to read to the bottom of the article, which includes some replies. The accusations are grave, but we should not stop benefiting from Cooney’s (otherwise unrelated) productive work – to do so would be to prioritise personal purity over effectiveness in reducing animal suffering.

An additional criticism might be that some of Cooney’s suggestions essentially accept (and therefore, implicitly endorse?) certain assumptions and prejudices. To reject these strategies in favour of challenging privilege might lead to reduced effectiveness in the short term, but might be considered important for the long-term health of the movement, or for its intrinsic value. I don’t have strong views on this issue, but if your views are stronger than mine then you might reject some of the advice in the book, although only a relatively small proportion of the book would be affected. Those interested in the topic might find Melanie Joy’s new essays on privilege useful.

There are some other reviews of Cooney’s book. This one has some interesting rough and ready estimates about the (meta level) impact that this book might have on the effectiveness of animal advocates.

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Book review: Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich (2009) The Animal Activist’s Handbook: Maximizing Our Positive Impact in Today’s World (Lantern Books: New York)

Price: ***
Ease of use: *****
Value for EAA beginners: ***
Value for EAA pros: *

This short book (89 small pages, if you exclude the various introductions and appendices) is interesting perhaps mostly as a historical document for the Effective Animal Advocacy Movement, rather than as an up-to-date resource for research-based advice. It may still serve as a great introduction to the topic for some newer advocates, as long as they are aware of its pitfalls, but for those who are already more engaged in the movement, I would recommend more specific resources, like Animal Charity Evaluator’s advice on cause prioritisation and their intervention reports, or Cooney’s book on social change (review coming soon).

The book was written in 2009, by two of the Good Food Institute’s current leadership team, long before GFI was created. At the time, Bruce Friedrich was senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary, having previously worked at PETA, whilst Matt Ball was co-founder and Executive Directors of Vegan Outreach. The preface begins with a description of their personal journeys and careers.

Outdated

In broad terms the book is devoted towards encouraging people to engage in individual advocacy to spread awareness of veganism, concluding with the remark that “animal liberation will be achieved… through person-by-person outreach, progressing hand-in-hand with advances in technology”. This is no longer the view of effective animal advocacy researchers. According to a 2017 survey of researchers, conducted by Sentience Institute, there is over 80% agreement that institutional advocacy is more effective than individual advocacy. Indeed, Friedrich and Ball themselves have shifted their personal efforts from supporting individual outreach to supporting supply-side change, now both working for GFI. When advising me on this blog post, Ball personally wrote “I worked on the demand side of things for almost 30 years, and in that time, we’ve accomplished very little other than welfare reforms… per-capita consumption of animals is at an all-time high. The overall failure of demand-side advocacy (evidence here) is what led me to want to work on the supply side, helping GFI advance everything in the plant-based and clean fields and markets.” Although Ball may be putting his earlier efforts down excessively harshly in the sense that, though meat consumption has continued to grow, it might be higher were it not for animal advocacy efforts, it is hard to argue with the suggestion that so far, individual advocacy efforts (and perhaps even demand-side interventions more widely) have not succeeded in radically reducing animal product consumption.

More specifically, the book consistently encourages the use of leaflets as a method of individual activism, with pages 78-82 being dedicated specifically to advice on techniques to become a more effective pamphleteer. Although, several years ago, Animal Charity Evaluators was optimistic about the effectiveness of leafleting, they have become much less confident. Although they continue to consider it a “promising volunteering activity”, their analysis suggests that, in the short-term, “leafleting is about as likely—or perhaps even more likely—to actually cause increases in animal product consumption” as decreases.

Continued primary use – great introduction to individual outreach

Nevertheless, the book still has potential as a great short introduction to effective individual outreach. Many activists continued to be interested in how to conduct individual outreach effectively – for many of those coming to Effective Animal Altruism London socials, it is the first question that they ask. As well as discussing the idea that other methods of outreach may actually be more efficient, I think I will now recommend this book to them (previously I have recommended Cooney’s book on social change – review coming soon – and SPIN Selling).

In the first chapter, the book essentially lays out a justification for focusing on reducing animal suffering by noting that the cause area is neglected (page 9) but has huge scale and tractability (both pages 15-17).  This summary is valuable for all animal advocates, though I would strongly encourage them to read ACE’s consideration of cause prioritisation too. Though “scale” is subdivided into “the sheer number of animals” and “the enormous amount of suffering involved”, this reasoning follows common Effective Altruism cause prioritisation logic. The fascinating thing is that this book was published in 2009, whereas the Centre for Effective Altruism, 80,000 Hours and Open Philanthropy Project, the three main EA organisations conducting cause prioritisation research, were all founded in 2011! I’d encourage everyone to consider how far animal advocacy should be prioritised compared to other cause areas too, using their research – this page is likely the best place to start.

Chapters 2 and 3 lay out a case for a more respectful and empathetic approach to animal advocacy than many vegans are tempted to engage in. This advice is based primarily on an understanding of persuasion and pop-psychology works like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, rather than on animal advocacy-specific advice. In many ways, the book gives similar arguments to those of Tobias Leenaert, though in a more condensed format than Leenaert’s book.

Other uses and limitations

Although largely agreeing with the subsequent conclusions of researchers in the Effective Altruism community and Effective Animal Advocacy movement, the book itself does not place these ideas within a research framework, using instead primarily a rational common-sense approach, combined with some wider popular (partially research-based) advice books. Aside from the fact that it is superseded by more in depth research and advice in many ways, the relative lack of specific references to research makes the case less plausible overall.

Additionally, the book is couched within a slightly odd framework of Friedrich and Ball’s ideas about “the joy of a meaningful life”. In some ways, this matches to later conclusions of 80,000 Hours, the Effective Altruism movement’s research-based careers advice organisation, such as when they note that “Happiness does not come from an easy or materially ‘rich’ life. It comes from a thoughtful, meaningful life dedicated to changing the world for the better”. In other instances, it seems to contradict 80,000 Hours’ advice, such as when encouraging individuals to follow their passion for animals. The conclusions are drawn from rational thinking combined with their own personal experiences and world views. I found many of the conclusions agreeable, but this approach leads the book to begin with a slightly hippy-ish vibe which I found off-putting, and which doesn’t match up to the evidence-focused approach of the Effective Animal Advocacy movement today.

There are other gems of advice within the book. I found the advice on “effective time management” on pages 26 to 29 helpful, for example, largely because it referred to some works I have not heard of before, such as Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1990) which sounds like it largely corroborates the implications of Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

Although cheap, the book is very short, so in terms of specific information, the value for money is not necessarily fantastic. Organised clearly by chapter heading and with subheadings, it would be very easy for an advocate to use the book to skim through the elements which seemed most useful to them in 30 minutes to an hour, or just to read the whole thing in only a few hours.

Event review: 50by40 Corporate Outreach Summit

Price: *****
Ease of use: ****
Value for EAA beginners: **
Value for EAA pros: *****

The 50by40 Corporate Outreach Summit in Berlin was a conference for those focused on corporate or institutional outreach to encourage greater provision of vegan food. It was organised jointly by ProVeg International and the Humane Society of the United States. “50by40” refers to the aim to reduce animal product consumption by 50% by 2040.

This review is intended to help animal advocates decide whether they’d like to attend the next conference, and reflect on the usefulness of such conferences in general. If you’re hoping for a concise summary of what was shared in the talks at the conference, you may find this article by Tobias Leenaert more helpful.

As Sebastian Joy explained in his speech, the conference was intended to provide “loose collaboration”, focusing on “shared goals”, rather than on “shared values”. This is an area that he believes there has been a gap for.

The talks

The weekend consisted of several days’ worth of talks. In comparison to EA Global, there was a greater emphasis on all attendees listening to each talk. There was no overlap, so I attended every talk. You can see the agenda here.

The talks were all filmed and so I am hoping that they will be put online soon. You can access the slides here.

All of the talks were extremely interesting, and some of them were extremely personally useful. Many of the talks on the first day overlapped in their content, since they mostly focused on institutional outreach, encouraging university caterers to increase their provision of vegan offerings. To this end, I think that slightly more specific briefs for the talks would have helped to make the day more productive for all. Nevertheless, the overlap was helpful in that it showed some clear consensus on some issues. For example, many of the speakers emphasised the importance of not only initial networking, but really building strong relationships with the clients (i.e. their advocacy targets). Whilst HSUS started by cold calling, they later built up strong relations with their clients, and emphasised the helpful offerings that they had. This was then followed up by offering to help their clients’ own connections. Several of the speakers emphasised the importance of clear planning and tailoring your research and message to the individual company’s needs. They also seemed to emphasise the importance of introducing vegan meals of high quality, to ensure that the change is liked and is lasting, with HSUS hiring chefs to advise their clients.

The following days were more varied. Hearing May Mei of Goal Blue (a Chinese environment NGO) speak made me more optimistic about the opportunities for international non-profits’ efforts in China, as long as good local partners were found. The talks that I was most excited by in the conference were Mahi Klosterhalfen’s talk on the work that he is doing for the Albert Schweizer Foundation, which includes creating a ranking of supermarkets on their vegan offerings, as well as Melanie Jaecques of Ethical Vegetarian Alternative talking about the research into veganism and supermarkets in Belgium. It was interesting to hear that the work of Albert Schweizer Foundation, GFI and Compassion In World Farming all involves various forms of rankings of their partners. This was seen as a useful way to encourage competition among companies to improve their vegan offerings, as well as to lead to useful conversations between the advocacy groups and the companies. One interesting avenue that I had never considered before was that raised by Pablo Moleman of ProVeg Netherlands, of working with the food industry to replace animal ingredients such as eggs or gelatine from their production. His estimate, from data received from one company, was that leaving out chicken eggs from a large vegetarian meat alternative company would save 260,000 animal lives per year, for example.

An additional benefit of the talks was hearing about the work going on in various countries. This included the huge success of Meatless Mondays in Brazil, and the passing of a law making caterers obliged to provide vegan meals for people upon request in Portugal, as well as the work of various organisations in Asia. Similarly it helped attendees to stay up to date with the current campaigns of more familiar organisations (I learned lots about ProVeg and HSUS that I didn’t previously know, for example), which will facilitate coordination and mutual support, as well as preventing overlap and duplication.

It would be good for future conferences to have greater opportunities for more focused talks (given the experienced audience), as well as for workshops, idea-sharing and discussion. Additionally, an input from researchers into the effectiveness of different intervention types would have been helpful to give a sense of overall strategy. The conference felt inclined more towards applause of all organisations’ previous efforts than to asking tough questions about how to prioritise different actions and time inputs, for example.

Networking and useful conversations

Due to the small size of the conference, it was incredibly easy to meet people with shared or similar experiences and role focus. This meant that it was easy to share ideas, reflections and tips. With 3 full days of talks (and their subsequent evenings), there was time to meet lots of individuals. There was no sense of pressure to make the conversations especially useful, although attendees mostly seemed quite determined to do this anyway, so there was a nice balance of both focused discussion and more informal, friendly conversation.

There was relatively little experimentation with methods of facilitating networking, beyond a task early in the conference where attendees were divided into small groups and played a game where they had to explain their values to each other. Although the values exercise felt a little forced, it was useful as an opportunity to meet some new people. Despite the relatively small size of the conference, I still only managed to speak to between one-third and one-half of the attendees, at a guess (although I might have been able to speak to more, had I been more determined).

It would have been helpful to have a list of attendees and their roles in advance, so that attendees could structure and plan their conversations and networking. I realised from my experience at EA Global that planning for such conversations can be helpful.

Value for money?

The conference was free to attend. Even if the price of accommodation and travel pushed the price of the conference into the hundreds, I personally think that the conference was better value for money than EA Global was for me, and certainly worth the cost (see my review of EAG for a discussion of why the price of conferences matters).

Monthly newsletter; April 2018

This is a new type of post, where every month, I send out an update with around 10 highlights of news articles and EAA posts that you might have missed. After today, I will only be sending these out by email, but since the mailing list is new, I am posting it here for the first time.

To sign up to future newsletters, and updates about new posts, sign up here.

But Can They Suffer posts:

Book review: Neil Rackham (1995) SPIN Selling (Gower Publishing Limited: Aldershot)

Effective Altruism or Effective Animal Advocacy posts:

  • A new career path recommendation – becoming a China specialist (80,000 Hours)
  • A useful deep-dive into the cost effectiveness of The Humane League’s cost effectiveness (Avi Norowitz)

Other interesting news:

  • France has banned labelling which refers to meat alternatives as meat. This opinion piece suggests that the ban might force creative marketing in plant-based meat; is there something to be said for pushing plant-based products to innovate and move away from mimicry of meat, whilst pinning our hopes on direct replacements on clean meat? (Plant-based News)
  • Meanwhile, GFI continues to fight against similar efforts in the USA (GFI)
  • A survey suggests a much more favourable consumer response to the term “plant-based” than vegan (Food Navigator)
  • The UK has introduced an ivory ban. Although this might seem like a way to distract from the issue of factory farming (people focus on issues that affect a small number of animals, which are easier to empathise with), it suggests that total bans on animal products are possible. Perhaps the next step will be fur – this is certainly something that Open Cages, PETA and others are campaigning for. Who knows what would follow after that? (Plant-based News)
  • An amusing article which confuses correlation and causation, and therefore claims that Instagram is “THE SURPRISING REASON WHY VEGANISM IS NOW MAINSTREAM” (The Independent)
  • A new plant-based meat company, launched by GFI’s previous senior scientist, is experimenting with production technologies (GFI)
  • I continue to have discussions with people about impact investing, but I continue to feel pessimistic about the opportunities arising from it, since looking into the topic for my post in March. See this article which assumes that impact investing is positive. (Plant-based News)
  • Two examples of UK mainstream media coverage of EAA topics – BBC newsnight on clean meat and BBC’s Countryfile on Animal Equality undercover investigationsBBC’s Countryfile on Animal Equality undercover investigations