Effective animal advocacy movement building: a neglected opportunity?

This is a linkpost to a post I have written on the EA Forum. Below, I have copied over the summary. Click the link above for the full post.

Organisations such as the Centre for Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours, as well as the individuals involved in local effective altruism (EA) groups, have conducted excellent work supporting aspiring EAs to do good. However, these organisations and many of the individuals involved in local EA groups focus predominantly on supporting work on reducing existential risk (x-risk), either directly or indirectly, especially extinction risk. The communities of other cause areas, such as the effective animal advocacy community (EAA, i.e. the intersection of effective altruism and animal advocacy) have comparably less access to movement-building services than do those in the EA community who prioritise reducing extinction risks. There is likely substantial unmet demand for movement building services in EAA.

EAA movement building projects are suggested that might meet this demand. Some of these projects may be best-suited to volunteers, some to new, targeted organisations, and some to existing EAA organisations. Some general considerations of the advantages and disadvantages that each of these has for taking up EAA movement building opportunities are listed.


Effective animal advocacy community directory

Announcing the effective animal advocacy community directory!

This is a list of people who are interested in animal advocacy and effective altruism and would be happy for you to reach out to them to ask questions or arrange a 1-1. If you want to add yourself to this list you can fill out a form on the link in the top left.

The idea is to facilitate connections and networking. We recommend copying this sheet into your own drive to sort by particular columns (e.g. to find local advocates or sort by primary area of expertise/interest).

I hope you find it useful!

Directory: https://tinyurl.com/yxzq4tgk
Link to fill out info: https://forms.gle/ZeboW4h22aBHN6S88
Suggested questions to use when reaching out to someone through the EAA directory: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1w2MUkRKc3cNVh3cTqv-Ni7WIZjlJ3-0WrFHptJIbrc8/edit?usp=sharing

Note, there are other directories that have partially overlapping purposes (e.g. https://eahub.org and https://researchfund.animalcharityevaluators.org/collaboration-directory/) although I expect that this is still sufficiently different to justify the time input.

Note, I may take a week or so to update the directory with everyone who enters their info, so expect it to be much more filled one week or so after this post!

Event Review: Effective Altruism Global: London, 26th to 28th October, 2018

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

As ever, this post reflects my own views, not those of my employer.

I previously reviewed Effective Altruism Global (London, 2017) here. I also attended EAG in 2018, and I wanted to update the review. If you’re interested, read the 2017 review first for context on how EAG works; this additional review is intended to add further comment after EAG has had time to change and develop and after I have been involved in the EA community for a further year, including taking on a full time role at Sentience Institute. Note that other people have written better guides about how to make the most out of EAG, such as here. These posts cover my own perspective and experience, mainly to help people decide whether it is worth them attending an EAG conference or not.

In summary, I found the 2018 EAG more exciting and less demoralising than the 2017 EAG, and I suspect that it was also more useful for me. This was primarily due to changes in my own approach to EAG, rather than changes in the structure of the event. Otherwise, my broad recommendations remain the same: “I would encourage interested people to attend, but to make the most of your networking opportunities while you are there and to prepare some ideas and questions [and meetings] in advance.”

The main difference in my experience came from additional preparation for the event. Last year, I turned up on the Friday with very little idea of what to expect and having done no preparation. This year, I booked in several meetings in advance, and arranged extra meetings as the conference progressed (12 scheduled meetings this year, compared to none last year). This was partially with the help of a new system implemented by CEA to support one-to-one conversations. One-to-ones often seem form the most useful part of many EA events that I attend, and EAG 2018 was no exception. As well as making the conference more useful, I also found that this made me less stressed, because I prefer structured events with clear plans to lengthy periods of unstructured conversations.

Last year, I wrote that “some of the most useful conversations that I had were with those who shared a primary focus and interest in reducing animal suffering.” This year, I think that I gained more from conversations, meetups, and talks involving researchers working in areas beyond animal advocacy. This is because I had clearer career similarities with them, which led to fruitful conversations about productivity tips and research habits or approaches. In this sense, a key difference also came from my personal increased clarity regarding my own career, and deeper involvement in the EA community; this enabled me to prioritise conversations like this.

It’s worth noting that I think that I underestimated some of the long-term benefits that I gained from meeting others involved in animal advocacy in 2017. Some of these conversations have been useful in terms of organising events in London and in terms of being more able to contact others for advice or to share thoughts. Some of these connections almost led directly to career opportunities for me too.

Practical notes

This year my ticket was cheaper because I booked earlier. Given that discounts are also available, I’ve improved the price rating.

I didn’t feel (notice?) that there were major changes to the organisation or style of EAG this year compared to last year. There were slightly fewer workshops and there were more “meetup” events. I actually found these meetup events to be slightly more structured than I would have liked; I probably would have preferred more unstructured networking, perhaps focused around a wider array of topics.

I’ve upgraded the “ease of use” rating. I think that as long as you make use of the app and information provided beforehand to plan your time at EAG, it’s self-explanatory and easy to use. Gaining maximum value out of the event probably does depend on being proactive, though. There were also some technical difficulties with the Bizzabo app this year that I didn’t notice previously.

Veganuary: An Effective Charity?

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

Explanation and resource links

“Veganuary: An Effective Charity” was a talk that I hosted with Effective Animal Altruism London, where Matthew Glover, the co-founder of Veganuary, made the case that his charity was indeed a charity on a par with Animal Charity Evaluators’ top-rated charities in terms of reducing animal suffering. This was then followed by a question and answer session with myself and representatives of Animal Charity Evaluators, Animal Equality and Open Cages.

“EAA beginners” may be interested in the talk itself, but will mostly likely find some of the questions discussed in the Q&A more helpful. “EAA pros” and large donors may find the conclusions of the talk (and this post) interesting and encourage them to shift their understanding of the effectiveness of Veganuary, and possibly the wider intervention type of month-long vegan pledges.

The full video of the talk can be seen here. You can see the Q&A here.

You can also listen to the audio of the talk here (start listening from 2.15 minutes in) and of the Q&A session here.

You can also see Matthew’s slides here. These come with notes attached which cover the majority of Matthew’s points. You can also see my introductory talk (no sound recorded) here.

The rest of this post is mostly a summary of the talk itself, with a few additional reflections.


Summary of the talk

Early in the talk, Matthew noted that Veganuary faces funding difficulties. Many people do not realise that Veganuary is a charity, or needs funding. But they also haven’t successfully attracted much funding from the Effective Altruism community yet. In 2016, Veganuary was reviewed by ACE – you can see the review heresee the review here – which included the estimate that “Veganuary spares between 5 and 20 animals” from life on a farm per pound sterling spent (which translates to between 3.8 an 15.2 animal lives spared per dollar, at current exchange rates). This compares very favourably to ACE’s top recommended charities. The (more recent) rough estimate for Animal Equality is that they spare “between -2 and 2 farmed animals per dollar spent”, for example. Nevertheless, these estimates are not precise calculations of cost effectiveness, and ACE has a variety of criteria in their evaluation process. As a result of these other considerations, Veganuary did not receive a recommendation as either a top charity or a standout charity.

Matthew then went on to consider some of the weaknesses that ACE identified, and suggest that there had been progress on these issues. He also confirmed that the strengths identified by ACE have been subsequently entrenched or developed.


Difficult to assess capacity for growth

When the review was carried out, Veganuary was a relatively young charity, with limited evidence of successes to date or of capacity for growth. Following the review, participant numbers grew from 23,600 in 2016 to over 165,000 in 2018. Veganuary has also become a UK-registered charity and created a more robust organisational structure, developing this capacity for further growth. Their website and social media results also suggest growth.

The average cost per sign up has decreased each year, from £12.12 in 2014 to £2.06 in 2018.


Opportunities to expand corporate outreach and PR work

Many UK supermarkets have launched new veg*n ranges this year. Some of this was supported by direct communication with Veganuary.

There are also many examples of the pledge leading restaurants to promote Veganuary off of their own efforts. For example, Zizzi promoted in both 2017 and 2018, this time launching a new vegan pizza and offering 2 for 1 on vegan dishes during January.

Their joint campaign with The Humane League aims to support corporate outreach to restaurants, with a catering guide, window stickers and cards to leave in restaurants to encourage vegan options.


Veganuary’s own impact estimates reconsidered

In February of 2017, Veganuary analysed their survey results and publicised that they had spared roughly 14m animals through the 2017 campaign. This led to an estimate of Veganuary sparing 108 animals for every £1 spent, which would put their cost effectiveness far above that of ACE recommended and standout charities.

This figure was derived from the number of participants and the self-reporting of omnivores and pescetarians as to whether they were likely to stay vegan. It factored in a recidivism rate of 85%, based off Faunalytics’ study.

With support from an economist engaged with the effective altruism community, Matthew has adjusted these calculations to come to a more conservative estimate of 5 animals spared per £1 for those going vegan directly as a result of Veganuary, and the total impact of Veganuary’s spending on likely being somewhere between 5 and 20 animals spared per pound sterling donated – similar to ACE’s initial calculation in 2016.

The downgrade of Veganuary’s direct impact

The downgraded figure of £1 came from three downward adjustments. Firstly, factoring in the likelihood that average Veganuary participants likely consume fewer animal products than average omnivores (estimated at 50% fewer). Secondly, that Veganuary likely did not cause many people to go vegan, but rather sped up their transition to veganism (estimated at the transition happening 2 years earlier). Thirdly, that various biases and data collection issues misrepresented how many participants stayed vegan (estimated to have inflated the figures by 50%). To see these ideas in more depth, see Matthew’s slides 58-66 here.

The potential importance of Veganuary’s indirect impact

The total estimate of 5 to 20 animals per dollar is to allow for the – so far unquantified – factors suggesting Veganuary’s wider impact than their own survey data suggests.

These include the fact that many people attempt Veganuary without signing up to the website. In the UK, there is a mass of anecdotal evidence of veganism gaining in popularity and mainstream recognition. The Google trends spike for the word “vegan” in January 2018 is larger in the UK, where most of Vegauary’s advocacy is, than for the rest of the world. It seems likely that Veganuary is responsible for a large part of this.

Additionally, supermarket and restaurant product changes encouraged by Veganuary further encourage veganism. Matthew made the point that many people take part in Veganuary without signing up directly. The Vegan Society undertook a survey last Summer suggesting that 1.3m had taken part in Veganuary 2017, and the real figure seems likely to be somewhere in between this figure and Veganuary’s own records of 59,500 for that year.

Widespread mainstream media attention likely encourages further dietary change.  Since the 2016 review, Veganuary have written a book entitled How to go Vegan, expanded their online publicity and resources, paid for posters on public transport, as well as had high-profile radio interviews, TV, press coverage and TV appearances.

All of these changes likely also encourage many omnivores and pescetarians to decrease their consumption of animal products without going fully vegan – or to try veganism and give up, but to consume fewer animal products than they did previously. As Veganuary’s direct influence grows, these knock-on effects will quite possibly grow proportionately.

Indeed, it would seem likely to me that these changes account for a far larger reduction in animal product use consumption than Veganuary’s official sign ups do; perhaps even more than the increase Matthew’s estimates have accounted for.


Resulting adjusted comparison to ACE recommended charities

This puts Veganuary’s own estimates back in line with Animal Charity Evaluators’ initial estimate of 5 to 20 animas spared per dollar.

Nevertheless, Veganuary has improved on a number of measures and concerns that ACE had in 2016, that might make it a much safer bet as an effective use of donations for reducing animal suffering.

Initially, ACE was concerned that Veganuary was a relatively young charity, which limited its track-record of success and made it difficult to assess its capacity for growth. In the subsequent years, Veganuary has quite clearly shown its rapid growth, and capacity for further increases in efficiency, as mentioned previously. Veganuary’s own targets for 2018, based off their growth so far, is for 300,000 participants (up from 165,000) and £1.50 per sign up (down from £2.06).

Another concern was the difficulty of interpreting Veganuary’s own survey findings; these problems have not been solved, but further analysis has made progress on this (and I know from personal conversations that Matthew is seeking solutions to improve the collection of reliable feedback and data). This may have led to some progress in the uncertainty around month-long pledges.

Given this uncertainty, ACE also noted concern that 95% of the budget was invested in the pledge. In response to this, Veganuary has conducted 3 undercover investigations like this one, which is an intervention that ACE recommends “in most instances when done by experienced organizations”. In a broader sense, they have expanded the variety and reach of their promotion of veganism, as noted above.

My quick reflections and conclusions

I haven’t checked the calculations myself, but it certainly seems plausible that Veganuary is one of the most cost-effective charities for saving animal lives. The steady growth and improvements reassure me that ACE’s concerns have been met. Even if they weren’t met sufficiently for an ACE recommendation, I think it would make sense for knowledgeable donors to meet funding gaps Veganuary would have.

Additionally, I believe that this intervention type has a place within the Effective Animal Advocacy movement. Even if minimal resources were put into expanding and publicising pledges like this, then it makes sense to have them in operation, to redirect interested people towards. Nevertheless, it seems likely that some of Veganuary’s most significant impact comes from the knock-on effects of its publicity efforts, so I do think that these are worth pursuing too.

Event Review: Effective Altruism Global: London, 3rd to 5th November, 2017

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

Effective Altruism is a set of ideas about how to do as much good as we can in a world where we have limited time and limited resources. Effective Altruism Global is the series of conferences organised to support people from across the world in their objectives of doing the most good that they can (find out more here).

This event is in the past, but the purpose of this review is to help animal advocates consider whether they have much to gain from attending a future Effective Altruism Global conference, rather than to give a comprehensive review of the event itself. The theme of this conference was “doing good together”, but I did not feel that the conference was particularly tailored towards this goal, so I think that this review will still be a good insight into how EAGs work.

The weekend was essentially a mixture of talks on a variety of Effective Altruism topics, plus a lot of time built in for conversations and networking, with a break between every talk to allow for this. The talks themselves were useful, but the main benefit for most attendees was probably the conversation and networking opportunities. Attendees were regularly reminded of this by event organisers, and all the talks are being uploaded for free anyway, so those who missed the event will be able to watch these later.

Networking and useful conversations

EAG began on Friday the 3rd November, with a relatively unstructured evening; attendees arrived to receive their lanyards, have some food and drink, but primarily to meet each other, since no talks were organised. The conversation and networking opportunities were slightly structured by the presence of optional “speed networking” activities, as well as tables organised by cause areas. Feeling that speed networking sounded like a painful experience, I went to the animal welfare table, and had some useful conversations.

We were reminded at the start, as well as in Will MacAskill’s opening talk on Saturday morning, that we should not chat exclusively with people who shared a cause interest, but should purposefully try to speak with others and broaden our perspectives. I believe that this is partially useful advice. I had one especially useful conversation with Kerry Vaughan, who works for the Centre for Effective Altruism (and not in reducing animal suffering), who, through a series of insightful questions about my current situation, helped me to feel that I might like to prioritise focusing my career on reducing wild animal suffering (more on this topic below), rather than reducing the suffering of farmed animals. This is because the scale of the problem is larger, and he suggested that as long as I build proper feedback loops into my work, I should be able to realise whether my efforts and contributions would be likely to have any sort of tangible impact in the future.

On the other hand, I should note that some of the most useful conversations that I had were with those who shared a primary focus and interest in reducing animal suffering. I met individuals in a similar situation to me, who do not currently work full-time in reducing animal suffering but are considering doing so in the future; with these individuals I primarily shared ideas and perspectives, and we gave each other suggestions and reflections on our current efforts to reduce animal suffering. It was great to meet an individual named Sagar, for example, who is currently on the board at the Vegan Society (UK) and suggested that I apply to join the board there too, which was something I had never considered doing but which may help to improve my personal impact but also build career capital for the future.

I also met individuals currently working full-time in organisations seeking to reduce animal suffering. As well as sharing ideas with these people, I also built up an understanding of the needs of these organisations, how I might be able to meet these needs and how I might be able to best prepare to get a job working for such organisations. For example, I found conversations with Jamie and Roisin from Animal Charity Evaluators helpful, when thinking how to prepare for potential work with them. I also had some interesting conversations with Matthew Glover, the founder of Veganuary, about the issues that he was facing and about why Veganuary may be a far more effective organisation than its current ranking by Animal Charity Evaluators would suggest.

I did also have useful conversations with several individuals about Effective Altruism more generally, but even then, these conversations focused on “movement building”, which is essentially a secondary “cause area” that I am interested in, as I already focus significant effort in building engagement with Effective Altruism.

My reflections on how to get most out of the conversation and networking opportunities at EA Global conferences are:

  • Make use of opportunities to speak to those interested in reducing animal suffering (and any other cause areas that you are interested in), but do not speak exclusively to these people.
  • Make use of any opportunities to work out who will be attending the conference, and therefore who you would like to have conversations with, or ask specific questions to. In EAG London’s case, there was an app called Bizzabo where you could see who was attending, and I did not make sufficient use of this in advance.
  • Work out which questions you would like answers to, and perhaps think about strategies for how to ask these questions to people who you have not met before and will (mostly) know very little about. On the other hand, you should still remain open to new ideas, and to finding answers to questions that you didn’t know you had!
  • Make use of the speakers’ dedicated “office hours” to ask them about their talks or just to speak to them. I did not do this, and regret missing the opportunity to meet some interesting individuals, mostly notably Persis Eskander who gave the talk on Wild Animal Suffering Research.

The talks

Saturday and Sunday consisted of talks from about 10 until 6, with long lunches and breaks for further conversation and networking. There were multiple talks on reducing animal suffering each day. These are all available online for free here. I was disappointed that all the talks on animal issues clashed with those on AI safety research (this is a cause area that I donate to), but at least I will be able to watch these talks later. The talk on Wild Animal Suffering was a great introduction to a topic that I have not yet read enough about. It was this talk, combined with conversations with a few individuals (including Kerry, mentioned above) which made me feel that I need to devote significantly more attention to this issue. I also found the talk on clean meat informative, especially for gaining a more detailed insight into some of the issues hindering progress in this area at the moment. There were quite a few workshops, which, unfortunately, are not being uploaded online. There were, for example, several workshops on increasing your personal working efficiency, which I found informative.

You can see a full list of the talks that were given here.

My main takeaways – meeting people and learning about wild animal suffering

Personally, I suspect that the main benefits that I gained were in meeting new individuals who I will remain in contact with. I did, however, change my mind about several key issues, as a result of conversations and talks combined. Most notably, I now feel that there is more that I, as an individual, can do to help increase the likelihood of significantly reducing wild animal suffering in the future, and that I should consider these opportunities a priority.  The gist of the argument for why we should consider this issue is that there are many, many times more animals in the wild than in farmed conditions. Animal Charity Evaluators’ page on this topic cites research from the Smithsonian Institution which notes that “at any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive”. In contrast, Sentience Institute estimates as an upper bound 343,100,000,000 animals farmed by humans in 2017, most of which are fish – view the breakdown here. Although their figures don’t quite match up to Sentience Institute’s, ACE argues that “there are about a billion times more wild animals than animals in any situation directly under human control—and even if our estimates are significantly off, or we exclude invertebrates from the analysis, the gap in numbers is still extremely large” (same link as above).

Although we may feel more responsible for farmed animals, there are still sentient beings in the wild, whose interests we should not ignore. In particular, certain types of animals – called “r-strategists” – have developed through evolution the strategy of producing huge numbers of offspring, who live only a short time and most of whom die (possibly painfully) before they make it to adulthood or breeding maturity. It is therefore likely that the death of these animals causing them greater suffering than any pleasure that they may experience in their brief lives. Given the unfathomably large number of animals involved, this then accounts for a huge amount of suffering. There are many questions around such issues: the extent to which insects (who account for a huge proportion of such animals) can actually suffer, as well as which interventions (if any) are possible now or would be in the future. It is precisely because of these unanswered questions that raising awareness of wild animal suffering as a cause area, and research into wild animal suffering, are urgent priorities.

At the least, I feel that I need to read up more on the topic, and discuss it with interested individuals at Effective Animal Altruism London events, but I will also look to see if there is some small amount of useful research that I could conduct at this stage.

Is it worth the price and the travel?

At £300, this is not a trivial question. For that price, you could do some pretty great things.

ACE estimates that every $1000 donated to The Humane League “would spare 100,000 to 1.7 million animals from life in industrial agriculture.” With the current conversion rate that £300 equals $395.70, this would translate as 39,526 to 671,937 animals spared from a life in factory farming through a donation of the same amount. For one human comparison, GiveWell’s most recent calculation estimates that for the Against Malaria Foundation, their highest-recommended charity for attempting to save human lives, it costs $4,999 to save one life (see detail on the calculation here). Therefore, the money used to attend EAG would be the equivalent of 7.91% of a human life. There are obviously huge amounts of uncertainty in these estimates (and I suspect that they are optimistic for The Humane League’s impact), but the fact remains: money matters, and £300 is a lot of money!

That does not, however, mean that you would have donated this money otherwise – on a personal budgeting level, I considered EAG to be somewhere between a holiday, a recreational activity and an investment in my career. I do no regret attending, as the location this time was convenient for me, so there were no significant travel difficulties. Nevertheless, I did walk away feeling that I wouldn’t be travelling to any more distant EAG conferences any time soon.

I suspect that EAGs are most useful for those already heavily involved in the Effective Altruism (or Effective Animal Advocacy) community, as they give you a chance to meet lots of intelligent people, share ideas and perspectives, and organise your plans with colleagues (and future colleagues) who you may otherwise have been unable to meet with. For such people, the talks are a lower priority, and the weekend is essentially a great opportunity to have lots of people who you want to speak to (from across the world) in one place. For such people, EAG is definitely worth the price.

For those less involved currently, EAG probably helps you to get lots of new ideas and get some useful networking done (especially if you make this a priority and use the time well). To some extent, EAG was very personally motivating, as I met lots of people who were doing great things to make the world a better place, who can act as role models. This is probably especially helpful for people who do not have an active local Effective Altruism group that they are able to meet up with and contact. On the reverse of the same coin, however, I (and a few others I spoke to) felt slightly deflated due to the feeling of being less knowledgeable, less useful and likely having lower potential to do good in the future than a large number of the people there! For people not already very involved in the EA community, then, EAG is probably still worth it if the logistical difficulties are not too great, but if you need to travel far, the costs may outweigh the benefits.

If money is more of a barrier, there are options for a reduced ticket price, which may make it easier for some. The benefits that you receive from attending will obviously depend on your own position and goals for the event. For example, travelling across the world just to gain some inspiration may not be the best idea, unless you feel particularly lacking in inspiration, but if you are considering a career in one of the cause areas (or are already pursuing such a career), then it may well be worth it!

I would encourage interested people to attend, but to make the most of your networking opportunities while you are there and to prepare some ideas and questions in advance.

Animal Rights/Welfare Giving Game

I created and ran an Animal Charities giving game with Effective Animal Altruism London in July 2017.
I have designed the slides, materials and instructions with the explicit intention that anybody could use/modify/deliver the resources and session easily. They should be self-explanatory. They could also be used as the basis/model for a Giving Game on any other topic.

There are also some fairly detailed reflections on the effectiveness of the event for the specific context of using the Giving Game with a local EA group on there, but these resources could be used in other contexts too.

Conclusion: The giving game was enjoyable and personally useful for many of the participants, but in the specific context, a workshop would probably be more useful, and to do much good in terms of spreading EA ideas, it would have to be delivered to a different group (or marketed in a sufficiently different way to attract a different group of attendees).

Feel free to download, adapt, share, whatever is most beneficial for you.