Book Review: Jacy Reese (2018) The End of Animal Farming (Beacon Press: Boston, MA)

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

Disclaimer: I work full-time for Sentience Institute. This post represents entirely my own views, rather than those of  my employers. Given that I work with Jacy, I am not the best person to write a review of the book, but I thought it was worth including the book on But Can They Suffer, so that the site can continue to list reviews of books from members of the EAA community.

To some extent, The End of Animal Farming has a dual audience: 1) animal advocates seeking to integrate the perspectives and insights from the Effective Altruism community and its research into their advocacy; 2) those otherwise not deeply engaged in animal advocacy, who can benefit from understanding how animal advocacy interacts with the wider goal of moral circle expansion, with the effective altruism movement, and with current technological developments. I would guess it would be slightly more useful for the former than the latter.

The book uses research from Sentience Institute and the wider animal advocacy community. It covers much of the same ground as the foundational questions summaries and research posts, but the insights from previous work are integrated into a narrative form. In this sense, it is a comfortable and enjoyable read, which helps to familiarise the reader with some of the current research insights, but also with many of the key “scientists, entrepreneurs, and activists” involved in the predicted end of animal farming.

Due to the more narrative style than most of SI’s materials, the book tends to read slightly more like a statement of Jacy’s current beliefs in some key issues in animal advocacy than as a neutral list of all relevant arguments. Counterarguments are still included, however, and the book remains balanced and fair.

I would recommend TEOF as a fantastic introduction to effective animal advocacy, above Cooney’s book, Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach us About Spreading Social Change. Cooney’s book is very useful, but is quite narrow in its focus and is dense with psychological studies. TEOF has a broader focus and is more readable. Aside from the notes – which are often worth reading – there’s only 164 pages.

For many already involved in animal advocacy, the book will likely include some evidence from less familiar sources (from historical social movements to psychology studies) or broader perspectives on the farmed animal movement which incorporate wild animals and longer-term future considerations. If you are already very up-to-date with effective animal advocacy research and Sentience Institute’s work, there may not be many particularly surprising insights in the book, although you will likely enjoy reading it. You may also find some of the discussion and re-phrasing of familiar issues to be useful, or gain insight into less familiar issues (for me, a good example was a discussion of how to frame messages to appeal to more conservative audiences).

Overall, an excellent book for a variety of audiences.

If you’d like to see a more critical, external review, see here, although I’ll note that I don’t really agree with the criticisms.

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My areas of potential disagreement with other EAAs

Disclaimer: From 01/08/18, I will be working full-time for Sentience Institute. I was also considering a potential role at Veganuary and have been in regular contact with the co-founder. I hold both organisations in high regard; probably higher than average within the EAA community. Thanks to Connor Jackson, Vicky Bond and Matthew Glover for their feedback on the first draft. This post represents entirely my own views, rather than those of the commenters or of my new employers.

Recently, Jacy Reese of Sentience Institute posted a blog post on “3 Big Changes We Need in the Farmed Animal Movement”. It seemed like a useful post for members of the Effective Animal Advocacy movement, in that it clearly outlines three suggestions for major reforms. I would encourage all readers of this blog to read that post. It has also inspired me to create a similar list of areas where I suspect I disagree with others in the EAA community, broadly defined. This is less of a confident, well-informed plea to those involved in EAA organisations (which is broadly how I see Reese’s post) and more of an attempt to draw attention to some potentially important issues. These issues might potentially meet Reese’s criteria of being “important” and “under-discussed”, although I am not yet particularly confident about any of my own thoughts about the long-term implications of animal advocacy strategies, and I can’t claim that my reflections here have as extensive a research basis as those in Reese’s post.

This post may generate useful feedback for myself, so that I can update my own views, but may also encourage others to change their own views and behaviours.

For simplicity’s sake, I have focused on three issues. For those interested in wider debates within EAA, some of the best resources are Sentience Institute’s list of foundational questions, and Animal Charity Evaluators’ intervention reports, plus materials on cause prioritisation.

The three focus areas are:                     

    1. High profile vegan pledge campaigns have been relatively under-utilised as a method of taking some of the low-hanging fruit of individual transitions towards veganism, but also as a method of generating momentum for corporate outreach. This view comes with some important caveats, however.
    2. Animal advocates should start explicitly paving the way for wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming. This is more tractable than we might assume, and potentially more desirable, although there are risks involved.
    3. Some EAA efforts are close to saturation in developed, Western countries, and greater effort should be placed on expanding into countries with less of an EAA presence. This must be done in a very careful manner, which is considerate to varying cultures and conditions.

 

 

High profile vegan pledge campaigns have been relatively under-utilised

Description

Supporting individuals to reduce their consumption of animal products has short-term benefits by reducing the demand for animal products, and therefore reducing the number of animals suffering in factory farms. Reduced use of a particular behaviour can correlate to (and may directly lead to) reduced support for a wider practice; reducing animal product consumption might therefore help to challenge speciesism and encourage wider moral circle expansion. Where it is cost-effective to do so, this is therefore a useful intervention.

Proactive, individual vegan outreach is difficult, for a number of reasons. Vegan pledges are more “reactive” in the sense that they support individuals who are already close to making the switch to veganism to do so. They essentially pick the low-hanging fruit of potential vegans. I suspect that the main benefit of widespread publicity of pledges is in redirecting people towards the pledge itself and its supporting resources, rather than in independently changing people’s attitudes. Even if the EAA movement de-emphasises a vegan ask, there will likely be those who wish to personally abstain from cruelty, as discussion of animal issues becomes more widespread and pledge campaigns support those individuals to do so.

Perhaps most importantly, high-profile pledge campaigns have the potential to have a large indirect impact by provoking businesses to perceive there to be an increase in demand for vegan products. Rather than simply encouraging veganism among the low-hanging fruit, high-profile pledge campaigns may therefore also drive corporate and institutional change which makes consumption of plant-based foods instead of animal products easier and more widespread.

An important caveat, however, is that there are a number of ways in which pledge programmes could fail to be effective, thereby wasting resources, or could even be counter-productive. Although far from failing completely, other charities in the UK (see here and here as examples) have run vegan pledges which have never achieved the same publicity or success as Veganuary has. This suggests that the specific planning and marketing of the campaigns could be crucial, although the differences in success may partially reflect differing levels of resource input. For an example of a potentially counterproductive pledge, see this one, which encourages reductions in red meat consumption, which could potentially lead to increased consumption of chicken meat and therefore an increase in total animal suffering (for an estimate of the suffering caused by different animal products, see here). Furthermore, there may be some dangers of encouraging veganism, and it may be better for the EAA movement to focus primarily on institutional messaging. See a summary of that debate here.

The potential for more widespread change arising from vegan pledge programmes is untested at this point. This seems like a promising avenue to explore, however. I would encourage those looking to found new charities outside of the UK to consider focusing on a pledge programme, and those who are happier to donate to riskier intervention types to consider funding pledge programmes.  

Evidence

In support of the claim that reducing animal product consumption will possibly challenge speciesism more widely, this study, though with a small sample size, suggests that those who consume animal products extend compassion to a smaller “moral circle” than those who do not. Psychological understanding of cognitive dissonance more widely makes this seem plausible, although I am not aware of more conclusive evidence that this process is inevitable.  

There is a wide variety of evidence showing that individual outreach is difficult. Some of this will be considered in more depth in the second section, below, but a speculative cost-effectiveness comparison makes the basic point. Individual outreach can often be costly to lead to meaningful change for animals, when advocates are seeking to proactively reach out to potential vegans. One of the most promising interventions in this area has turned out to be disappointing. Recently, Peter Hurford and Marcus Davis’ reanalysis of the study by Faunalytics and Animal Equality into individual video outreach “points to an estimate of $310 per pig year saved (90% interval: $46 to $1100)”, which is incredibly expensive compared to other intervention types, such as corporate outreach or undercover investigations. Although their cost effectiveness estimates are speculative, and they don’t place much weight on them, Animal Charity Evaluators estimate that undercover investigations might spare between 0.15 and 820 animals from living through factory farming conditions per dollar spent (with their “realistic” estimate being 210 lives). By comparison, Hurford and Davis’ analysis suggests that, if applied to chickens and converted into a lives per dollar figure, video outreach might spare between 0.03 and 1.4 animal lives (with a manipulating of their main estimate suggesting 0.18 lives). Although we shouldn’t take such cost-effectiveness comparisons as particularly reliable, the figures here would suggest that undercover investigations were over 1000 times more cost-effective than individual (video) outreach at sparing animals from living through factory farming. 

In contrast to this expensive form of outreach, a relatively thorough evaluation by Veganuary suggests that their pledge programme is sufficiently cost-efficient to make their impact per dollar comparable to ACE top charities, and could spare between 5 and 20 animal lives per pound, which translates to between 3.8 an 15.2 animal lives per dollar, at current exchange rates. They are currently seeking fuller evidence and external review from ACE to corroborate this, but this could suggest that their pledge programme is well over an order of magnitude more impactful than individual video outreach, if we compare the figures to those from Hurford and Davis’ reanalysis of the Faunalytics study.

 Veganuary’s experience has shown that their pledge programme has led companies to provide more plant-based foods and sometimes to actively promote plant-based foods and diets. The pledge campaign has also led to opportunities for direct corporate outreach. Although Veganuary’s success in these areas has been mostly confined to the UK, it seems possible that success with highly-publicised pledge programmes could drive momentum for wider corporate and institutional change in other countries too, whether through Veganuary or other charities.

Animal advocates should start explicitly paving the way for wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming

Description

Although there are a variety of different forms of individual vegan outreach, as noted above, this does not seem to be a particularly tractable area for reducing animal suffering in many cases. This suggests that a shift towards institutional interventions and messaging would be more impactful. A shift from individual to institutional interventions is advocated by Jacy Reese, Tobias Leenaert and other EAA researchers, whilst the wider debate is summarised here.

Political and legislative efforts are a particular type of institutional intervention. There is evidence that wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming is more tractable than common sense would suggest (see below).

Efforts to implement such radical legislation to reduce animal suffering are high-risk, but potentially offer high-rewards.

They are high risk in the sense that they seem ambitious and difficult, and could fail. This would drain significant resources from the EAA movement, that could otherwise have made a huge amount of difference for animals. Perhaps worse than the resource cost, however, is the risk that failed efforts could set a dangerous precedent or perhaps lead to a backlash effect, either in terms of legislation or in terms of changed public perceptions of animal advocacy. This might make further victories for animals more difficult.

Radical legislative efforts would, however, probably have an extremely high impact for animals, if successful. Such legislation could not only make significant improvements in animal welfare in the short-term, but would cripple the profitability of the animal agriculture industry by forcing businesses to use less efficient practices and may therefore help to make widespread animal agriculture impractical.

The closest effort that I know of to the sort of far-reaching legislation that I am proposing here is being pushed by Sentience Politics in Switzerland; read more here.

Evidence

As noted in the first section of this post, efforts at proactive vegan outreach can be expensive. This study by Animal Welfare Action Lab seems to suggest that a reducetarian ask is not significantly more cost-effective than a vegan ask. The differences were not statistically significant between the treatment groups; compared to a control group, those exposed to an “eliminate” appeal reported to have reduced their meat consumption by around half a portion over 30 days on average, whilst those exposed to a “reduce” appeal reported an average reduction of around three-quarters.

More widely, there is a range of psychological biases and effects that reduce the tractability of efforts to systematically change individuals’ behaviour. Many of these are listed here and here. Efforts at vegan outreach have been ongoing for decades, and yet have had extremely limited success. Animal product consumption continues to rise, both globally and, in some cases, within developed countries, whilst the proportion of vegans has not risen substantially.

There is a range of evidence from social movements showing that efforts to change individual consumption habits have not played a significant role in wider successes for social movements, except where it has been used in a targeted way to facilitate wider political campaigns. As an example, one historian of the Free Produce Movement to boycott slave-made items in the USA has written that “there is little evidence that slaveholders or their political representatives paid much attention to [the free produce movement] and no evidence that it had a discernible economic impact on them” (I’ve cited them second-hand from here). In the British anti-slavery movement, there was a boycott of West Indian sugar, but this only reached 4-6% of the population, and yet slavery was abolished in 1833, after being severely damaged by legislation that ended the slave trade in Britain in 1807.

Furthermore, the historical success of this movement suggests that a single piece of significant legislation, which fundamentally weakened the institution and industry of slavery helped to lead to its eventual full, formal abolition (at least in that country). Legislation banning factory farming, or perhaps even slaughterhouses, could have a similar effect on ending animal agriculture. Other historical social movements, such children’s rights, also suggest that legislation can be successfully implemented without full public support for an issue, but can subsequently shape both attitudes and behaviour.

The best evidence that wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming is surprisingly tractable is that in a recent survey (which has been replicated, and its findings confirmed), 49% of US adults said that they support a ban on factory farming, 47% said that they support a ban on slaughterhouses, and 33% said that they support a ban on animal farming. That said, some countries are probably more amenable to such legislation than others. In Canada, modest animal welfare measures (against practices which are unpopular and illegal in other countries) were rejected in 2016, for example, suggesting that more radical reforms are not tractable there, unless political circumstances change.

One benchmark for how much such a campaign might cost in a developed, Western country could be a comparison to the campaign costs for the Brexit referendum, which were limited to £7 million. Clearly costs could be far higher, or somewhat lower than this, however. Given that Open Philanthropy Project has recommended grants totalling over $48 million in the past few years towards animal welfare causes, such costs seem large but achievable, if the EAA movement prioritises legislative efforts enough.

Many examples could probably be found of times where failed legislation either has or hasn’t delayed progress of a social movement or popular goal. An intuitive political analogy is how in the UK, in 2011, the issue of electoral reform was shaped by the Liberal Democrat Party into a referendum on the issue of whether or not to changed the voting system from First Past The Post to Alternative Vote. AV was an unpopular system, and the public rejected the change; voting reform has not been discussed much in the UK since, and I suspect that the political campaign has delayed progress on the issue by many years. One example which serves as counter-evidence is that in the late 18th century, several abolition bills were suggested and rejected, and yet the slave trade was abolished in 1807.

Greater effort should be placed on expanding into countries with less of an EAA presence

Description

Many developed, Western countries have had animal advocacy movements for decades, and this has combined with Effective Altruism ideas to develop the EAA movement in recent years. There are, however, many countries in the world which have not had substantial animal advocacy movements and are comparatively disconnected from the developments in the EAA movement. Some of these countries are also countries with incredibly high use of animals for food (in total, if not per capita), or are currently on a trajectory towards increasing use of animals as food. This website is useful for easily visualising and comparing countries’ animal product use, and comes from UN FAO data. Note how China produced 18.19 million tonnes of poultry meat in 2014, second only to the USA. Brazil produced 13 million tonnes, while even India, known for relatively widespread vegetarianism, produced 2.76 million tonnes. See Lewis Bollard’s newsletters for excellent summaries of both the problems and opportunities in China and India.

These countries with high total animal product use have had various forms of animal advocacy; see PETA India as one example. Nevertheless, my impression is that the proportion of people working on animal advocacy in some of these countries is far smaller than in much of the developed, Western world and that this is even more the case for those connected to EAA research and ideas. Given the huge scale of (potential) animal suffering, and the relative neglectedness of advocacy in such countries, the EAA community should be focusing its resources, where possible on exploring opportunities for action there.

This will almost always involve trade-offs for organisations, and will often be a relatively “risky” opportunity. But the expected value of seeking to expand into countries with a lower track record of animal advocacy seems higher.

The leadership of multiple charities have expressed explicitly to me that fundraising reasons at least partially underpin their expansion into the UK or USA. But by entering such countries, charities are essentially trying to compete with other animal advocacy charities already in that country. This may still be beneficial overall, if the charity is more impactful than other animal charities. However, by entering countries with less of a track record of animal advocacy, I suspect that animal charities are more likely to locate and open up new sources of funding for the movement, which may be small at first but may grow over time.

I hold the views expressed in this section slightly less strongly than those in the previous sections, however. This is because there are still intervention types which have not come anywhere close to saturation in many developed, Western countries. I also suspect it is possible that the leadership of EAA organisations also share my priorities longer-term, but that they are simply being relatively cautious, and focusing on expanding their successful programmes into culturally similar countries before they attempt to expand them elsewhere.  

If you agree that more neglected areas should be a higher priority, even if the tractability of interventions there is unclear, then there is still a need for caution. We don’t want organisations to take action in a culturally insensitive manner, which could potentially reduce the tractability of future actions, by alienating the governments or wider populations of those countries. Some relevant concerns are listed here, such as the danger of creating bad first impressions, although I’d suggest that some of the concerns about Effective Altruism there apply less to EAA specifically; there is less of a requirement for specific, complex concepts, for example.

For further reflections on a related issue, see Max Harris’ recent post on But Can They Suffer: “Effective Animal Advocacy in China: Perspectives from a UK Activist and Tourist”.

Evidence

In the past year or so, I have seen The Humane League and Open Cages expand into the UK. Veganuary are currently hiring to expand into the USA. I have also seen several new EAA groups spring up in the USA, such as Better Eating. I use these examples not to criticise the specific organisations or decisions, but merely to point out that EAA organisations are continuing to focus significant efforts and resouorces on expanding further through developed, Western countries. In some expansions of EAA organisations within Western, developed countries, a niche is being filled that other organisations have either neglected or lacked the resources to fill. Whilst Compassion In World Farming have been working on chicken welfare for decades, the rapid rate of success achieved by The Humane League in the UK proves that they have made a valuable contribution. Similarly, even if PETA have been working on banning fur in the UK for decades, Open Cages have brought an EAA perspective and a different campaigning style.

There have been some efforts to expand into areas where animal advocacy is neglected and potentially highly important; ProVeg have a team focusing on China, for example. The Humane League have staff in Mexico, and Animal Equality is active in South America more widely. Lewis Bollard has been keen to fund work in countries in Asia and South America, both with EA Grants and Open Philanthropy Project. Excluding money given to international meta groups (you might disagree with my categorisation here),  69% of the money from 2018 animal welfare EA Funds grants have been to “international grassroots groups” or groups in Asia and Latin America. For OPP, the figure is 32% (see my quick calculations here).

Nevertheless, the growing number of groups active in western, developed countries and the relatively small number of groups active in Asia, South America and Africa suggests to me that there is still an imbalance to be addressed. Whilst Lewis Bollard is funding groups outside of North America and Europe, the main focus of most of Animal Charity Evaluators’ top recommended charities and standout charities remains in those areas, and so I suspect that most money from smaller donors in the western, developed world is still focusing on causes closer to home.

Book Review: Erik Marcus (2005) Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, & Money (Bio Press: Boston, MA)

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

This book is divided up into several different “parts” or sections, each of which fulfils quite a different function and would appeal to different readers.

  • The first part, “Animal Agriculture”, pages 1-60, covers the state of animal agriculture as it was in 2005, with some statistics in chapter 1, some descriptions of the suffering of various types of animal in chapter 2 and some suggestions for possible reforms in chapter 3. This will likely be a useful resource for newer advocates.
  • The second part of the book , “Dismantlement”, pages 61-126, analyses “the three existing movements for animal protection” – “the vegetarian movement”, “the animal rights movement” and “the animal welfare movement” – and suggests the creation of a fourth movement, to unite these various parts – “the dismantlement movement”. This is primarily a call for a shared proactive approach to helping farmed animals, including both institutional and individual outreach. The idea was proposed a while ago, and does not seem to have been taken up (a Google search revealed nothing obviously relevant, except a single reference back to the book itself), even if some elements of Marcus’ ideas are now fairly commonly held views in the EAA community. Nevertheless, some more experienced EAAs might be interested in the term as a potential driver of progress and unity within the movement. For instance, if we think that more consistent messaging is a priority for animal advocates, might this be the sort of term that they could unify behind?
  • The “Activist Essays”, pp. 136-178, summarise various intervention types, but some are outdated from an effectiveness perspective. For instance, the EAA community has shifted away from a focus on leafleting. They may, however, be useful for those seeking motivation – reading about the actions of others may inspire you to act too.
  • The appendices, pp. 179-232, focus on discussion of some issues related to the animal advocacy movement. These may be useful starting points for advocates, although there are a variety of free websites which address these issues equally well. Many animal advocacy non-profits cover such information in their “why” or “about” sections online. Additionally, some of the data may be a little dated now, though I only skim read these sections.

The book is therefore partially intended as a “go-to” introductory resource. It could still serve this function, but some content is outdated now. It is also partially intended as an argument in favour of specific suggestions for reforms to animal advocacy. This is primarily through the idea of the “dismantlement movement”, but contains some other core ideas, such as the note that individual outreach hasn’t been very successful to date, an emphasis on increasing the use of institutional outreach, and support for measures which might decrease trust in the animal agriculture industry, to pave the road for more radical reform at a later date. Some of the ideas are quite well-supported among more experienced EAAs, while others may prompt a little reflection.

As with the recently reviewed book by Ball and Friedrich, the book is notable for sharing some ideas which later became associated with the EA and EAA movements, despite being written before these movements were established. For example pp. 93-4 attempts some rough and ready charity evaluation (although it misses the EA focus on cause prioritisation), with quotes reminiscent of the story of the foundation of GiveWell: “donating is, after all, simply a form of investing – with the payback being social progress rather than money”. Pages 112-119 give some career advice similar to that of 80,000 Hours, including a focus on “dabbling” and career exploration.

At many points, the book touches on some of the key questions that face the EAA movement today. For instance, chapter 9 on “the militancy question” is similar to the confrontation vs nonconfrontation debate (and reflects a common EAA perspective), though it is more about use of illegal tactics compared to outreach.

The book starts by providing some useful statistics about the animal agriculture industry in the USA, but as a whole is based mostly off personal experiences and intuition. References to external research are few and far between after first two chapters. There is some reference to evidence from historical social movements on pages 81-82, though this is neither thorough nor well-explained, and as such is potentially more misleading than helpful.

The book is very easy to navigate, with a clear contents page, and is available very cheaply on Amazon. I think the title is misleading, as only a relatively small portion of the book focuses on the “meat market” or on the role of “money”. Discussion of “ethics” is also quite limited.

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).

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

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

SPIN selling is a book on sales techniques in major sales written for “practising salespeople and their managers” which I think is nevertheless useful (to varying extents) for those involved in Effective Altruism movement building, as well as for vegan outreach, be it in a personal, corporate or institutional setting.

Summary of the book’s advice

The main finding of the research is that the most common forms of sales advice and training that was current at the time of research led to some increases in success in selling smaller, inexpensive or impulse-buy goods and services, but actually held back success in larger sales, where the costs to adopting a new product, technique etc were higher.

The author divides the process of a sales “call” up into the following stages:

  • Preliminaries (“the warming up events at the start of the call”)
  • Investigating (“finding out facts, information and needs”)
  • Demonstrating capability (“showing that you’ve got something worthwhile to offer”)
  • Obtaining Commitment (“gaining an agreement to proceed to a further stage of the sale”)

The book suggests that preliminaries don’t matter a huge amount and that successful major salespeople are flexible, rather than relying on strategies which speed up transactions in low-value sales, such as the “opening benefit statement”.

The book’s main advice focuses on the “investigating” stage. Here, the researchers (the author, Rackham and his company, called Huthwaite) created the acronym “SPIN” to show the stages of a successful sales call:

  • Situation questions (“finding facts about the customer’s existing situation”)
  • Problem questions (“about customer’s problems, difficulties or dissatisfactions”)
  • Implication questions (“about the effects, consequences or implications of the customer’s problems”)
  • Needs-payoff questions (“about the value or usefulness of a proposed solution”)

Their research showed that situation questions were used more in calls which failed and were over-used by inexperienced people. They are necessary to some extent, but are not a main driver of successful sales.

Problem questions are more closely correlated to successful calls, especially in smaller sales. These questions uncover “implicit needs” of a customer, i.e. issues that they are facing. However, the author argues that in sales pitches where the potential costs of implementing a solution (financial or otherwise) are large, a salesperson should not jump in at this point by demonstrating capability. Instead, they need to devote effort to developing the customer’s sense of need.

This is done partially through implication questions, which uncover “explicit needs” and get the customer talking to explain to you the magnitude of their problems, which therefore makes the cost of the solution seem more worth it to them. These questions are strongly linked to success in larger sales. They can be as simple as “and what effect is that having on [desired output]?”

Needs-payoff questions are those which help customers to focus on the usefulness and desirability of a proposed solution, and are also strongly linked to success in larger sales. They can be as simple as “what benefits do you see of [the solution]” or “can you think of any other benefits that [the solution] would bring you?”

When advising on how best to “demonstrate capability”, the author then redefines what constitutes a “benefit”, which is a word that other sales training programmes refer to a lot. Rackham distinguishes “features” about the product (anything it offers) from “advantages” (features which meet an implicit need of the customer) from “benefits” (how the product meets the explicit needs of the customer). Whilst “features” have no correlation with success in major sales, “advantages” correlate with success in early calls within a sales process, but less so later on, whereas “benefits” strongly correlate with success at all stages of a sales process.

The book argues that “obtaining commitment” is crucial. It distinguishes different outcomes from sales calls: 1) an order; 2) an advance – “where an event takes place, either in the call or after it, which moves the sale forwards towards a decision”, such as setting a time for a follow up meeting or demonstration; 3) a continuation, where “no specific action has been agreed with the customer to move it forward”; 4) no sale or rejection. The researchers classified an “advance” as a successful sales call, but a “continuation” as having failed. In this way, they emphasise the importance of obtaining specific commitments from the customers. Nevertheless, Rackham advises against “closing techniques” which essentially pressure the customer into making a decision, and are not correlated with success in major sales. He advises the following three steps as a way to obtain commitment: 1) check you’ve covered key concerns; 2) summarise the benefits; 3) propose an appropriate level of commitment.

The layout of the book is very easy to use. Each chapter is clearly labelled, even if it is not in chronological order within a sales call. Reading chapters 3-6 in the investigating stage would give you the main advice of the book (the SPIN technique), whereas the rest of the book can be summarised as noting that each of these stages doesn’t matter as much as the investigating stage itself, and you shouldn’t worry too much about memorising lots of different techniques for these stages. Each chapter ends with a summary and a useful practical guide on “techniques to help your selling”.

On a practical level, the book suggests that to help make sales calls successful, you should plan for the specific call. This might involve working out some of the specific implication and needs-payoff questions that you will ask. It also suggests that when trying to learn and implement its advice, you should focus on developing one aspect of the advice at a time, such as spending several weeks perfecting your implication questions before moving your focus onto needs-payoff questions.

Lessons for Effective Altruism movement building

In Effective Altruism movement building, we often position ourselves more as expert advisors than as salespeople, redirecting people towards certain resources, research or ideas to meet the needs of people that they are already conscious of. In these cases, then sales techniques may not be especially applicable. Indeed, Rackham lists when “you’re the expert” as one of the times when “a style high in giving and low in seeking [i.e. questioning] can be legitimate and successful” (pp. 39-40). Furthermore, since the “capability” that we are demonstrating, or the solutions that we are providing are often completely free in financial terms and often require only a small amount of other costs (e.g. some time reading), then we don’t really need to bother trying to develop the individual’s sense of need. If sales techniques are applicable, then it is more likely to be the advice which correlates with success in low-value sales, than the advice on major sales that SPIN Selling focuses on. One element of Huthwaite’s research was that listing the features of a product tends to increase the price sensitivity of the audience (p. 138). Given that many of EA’s offerings are free, simply listing off features of research, ideas, a mailing list or whatever else you are trying to “sell” might be an effective way to make your audience want to engage with it. Indeed, I tried out using some of the SPIN techniques in the book in a casual conversation with somebody who was new to EA at a social, and it seemed slightly unnecessary (and demotivating) to make them feel that they needed research to support their advocacy even more than they already realised that they did.

Nevertheless, there are times when we enter into conversations about larger commitments (like taking the Giving What We Can pledge, or careers changes) with individuals; indeed it seems likely that encouraging deep engagement with EA provides greater opportunities for impact, given the talent gap that the EA community faces at the moment. Furthermore, there may be times when direct outreach or “sales” of (specific) EA ideas to particular (influential) individuals is needed. In such instances, the book’s advice is useful for making your arguments more persuasive.

I suspect that some people reading this will see such sales techniques as manipulative and would object to their use to share EA ideas. I’d agree that we certainly wouldn’t want to use any techniques that would damage trust in us or the EA movement. However, I see these techniques more as a way to help people realise the needs that they already have, to overcome status quo bias and people’s instinctive efforts to rationalise and justify their own current behaviour, than to manipulate people. In this sense, using such sales techniques would just be helping people to do more good.

Lessons for vegan outreach or sharing ideas about speciesism and animal suffering

It seems fairly rare that animal advocates will be able to have extended conversations in which they can employ these sale techniques. Usually, they will only have time for a very short pitch (e.g. an online ad) which is better conceptualised in terms of a marketing funnel than in terms of sales techniques, or will be reactively responding to individual questions and challenges.

If, however, interested individuals start to engage with ideas about animal suffering or veganism, there may be opportunities to direct the conversation in a way which uses the SPIN methods.

I have found that individuals often engage with the Effective Animal Advocacy movement armed with questions about how to make their individual outreach efforts more effective. Apart from encouraging people to consider whether individual outreach really is the most effective use of their time, I have also recommended SPIN Selling to some individuals for this reason.

Lessons for animal advocates’ corporate or institutional outreach efforts

It seems more likely that in discussion with a business or institution, professional animal advocates will have a longer slot in which to discuss the benefits of an expanded vegan offering, or for restructuring the “choice architecture” that they offer their customers (using a customer’s inertia to nudge them in a particular direction – a term borrowed from Thaler and Sunstein’s book Nudge). In such discussions, it seems likely that the SPIN model would provide useful methods for businesses or institutions to feel the need to do so more acutely, whether it is for moral, environmental, health, public relations or profitability reasons.

Should you trust the advice? The research methodology

The book is based on research studies of 35,000 sales calls made by 10,000 sales people in 23 countries. Initially, the researchers attempted to work out which behaviours correlate with success in successful sales calls, which they then developed into a training programme. It contains an appendix which details the methodology of testing for the effectiveness of the training programme. Although Rackham and his team at Huthwaite found results which initially suggested the success of training in the SPIN model against control groups, such as a 76% increase in sales over a 6 month period in a trained group compared to a 19% increase in the control group, various complicating variables led them to test further. Although noting that “you can never entirely eliminate the effects of other organizational and market factors” (p. 225), some of the most conclusive proof that the training worked came from comparing a control group to those who had received the SPIN training but hadn’t put the behaviours that they were trained in into practice very much, and again to those who had received the training and put the behaviours into practice. Whereas the control group’s number of order per month fell from before training, to during (alternative, non-SPIN) training to after, the middle group’s performance improved during the training but fell back down afterwards (suggesting a “Hawthorne effect”). More successfully, however, the group which most adopted the behaviours taught by the SPIN model increased their total number of orders per month during the training, but improved on this again in the months after the training. Even if the detailed methodology is not given for each individual study, a large part of the book is devoted to bemoaning the lack of rigorous research into sales training programmes beforehand, so the research and advice in the book seems like a significant improvement. Additionally, it makes the book a lot more accessible – it is a useful “how to” of sales techniques, rather than a detailed report on a single study.