Our Process for Narrowing Down Which Charity Ideas to Research



Animal advocacy is a huge area and there are thousands of possible ideas to investigate, which could all be the basis for forming charities. Our research process goes through multiple steps to compare and consider areas and ideas to help found the most effective charities.


The research process involves multiple steps of differing breadth and depth. It would be impossible to go in depth with thousands of ideas; and while it would be possible to cover a huge number of ideas very shallowly, this would most likely not provide enough detailed information on whether a new charity in the area would be effective. Many research processes, including ours, thus involve varying levels of depth.




Broad Understanding


Our first stage is what we call “broad understanding”. We have written a full post on it here. This is comprised of broad, often cross-cutting, reading, research, and projects that will help with gaining an understanding of the area and inform later decision-making. A few of the many things we did in our broad understanding stage were conducting interviews with 30 experts in AR, take an online course on animal husbandry, and read a variety of books by many different sources.


This research was aimed at both inspiring new ideas outside of our more standard animal activism, and to get as wide an understanding of the issues as possible. After this, we felt pretty confident with listing a very wide range of possible charity ideas and being relatively sure we didn't omit opportunities simply because they fell outside the established AR perspectives.



Priority Reports


The second stage of our research is prioritization within domain. In an ideal world, we would have time to look at each possible idea in some depth, but as a result of the broad research stage, we have a list of several hundred possible ideas. In practice, it would not be possible to evaluate each of these ideas to a high level of scrutiny, given the time we have. However, subcomponents of an idea can be more easily cross-compared (such as which animal is most important). These subcomponents could then be combined in a short list of fully developed, specific charity ideas (e.g. Government lobbying for water quality aeration improvements for catfish in Thailand.). We broke up a charity idea into four subcomponents, each of which will have an individual priority report, a comparison spreadsheet, and a list of priorities within that component. The four subcomponents are animals, countries, asks, and approaches.


The animal priority research would include both factory farmed animals (cows, pigs, fish, birds, etc) as well as wild animals (bugs, rodents, larger mammals, etc). Animals would be prioritized based on the number of animals, the amount of suffering per animal, the number of causes of the suffering within the animal, neglectedness, and the animals’ probability of sentience. These factors will suggest which animals are promising to work on and will eventually be combined with other elements into a strong charity idea.


Countries would include locations across all 5 continents, with 5 factors being considered. The number of animals produced within the country, the number of priority animals produced, neglectedness as measured by the ratio of funding to animals produced (funding/number of animals), tractability, and if it has any limiting factors that would affect scale. We expect these factors to lead us to countries that might be currently overlooked by the animal movement or which are disproportionately important due to the size of the animal population that can be addressed by a charity.


Asks tell us what the particular improvement that an activity would be aimed at would be like. This could be cage free, dietary changes, slaughter practices, or any other ask that could be made to a corporation, government, or individual. They would be compared on the strength of the idea (including the evidence base and estimated cost-effectiveness), limiting factors, execution difficulty, and externalities. These factors could begin to suggest which asks might be most effective when combined with a priority animal, country, and approach.


Approaches encompass the different ways in which you aim to get an ask applied. They would include government lobbying, corporate campaigns, and individual outreach. The same ask could, in theory, go through any or multiple of these channels, but, overall, it seems that some channels have been historically more successful than others. We have not yet determined the main factors we will consider when comparing these approaches.


Charity Idea Creation


The third stage of our research will involve combining the top priorities researched above into coherent possible charities. Not all combinations of a top animal, ask, approach, and country will be applicable or coherent. For example, even if China is a top country and government lobbying is a top approach, they might not be a good combination. After we have combined the ideas that seem internally valid to our organization, we will then speak to experts in the animal community, government officials, non-farming corporations (such as retailers), and the broader farming world as a whole to get a sense of the ideas’ viability and to vet them externally. Finally, the specific ideas that continue to look promising after the external vetting will be put into a spreadsheet for the final phase of research.


Priority Charity Reports


The final and most important set of reports will be our priority charity reports. This will involve diving deeply into a small number (~20) of the most promising specific charity ideas. The criteria will be similar to our ask report criteria but in much further depth. For these charity reports we plan on looking at four broad areas with 16 sub-areas. Ordered below, in rough order of importance, these are:


  • Strength of idea

  • Cost effectiveness

  • Evidence

  • Limiting factor

  • Funding

  • Talent

  • Counterfactual replaceability

  • Size of problem

  • Logistical bottlenecks

  • Execution difficulty

  • Difficulty of founding

  • Difficulty of running well

  • Feedback loop

  • Externalities

  • Movement reputational effects

  • Movement internal effects

  • Field building effects

  • SARP - small animal replacement problem

  • Long term effects

  • Other


Each targeted report will follow a system and set of questions very similar to our broad intervention research, aiming at systematic, deliberate research for each area. Unlike our other reports where we plan on publishing short summaries, the most promising of these reports will be between 10-50 pages and we intend to publish the full reports (as well as a 1 page executive summary) so that people looking to found these charities can learn as much about them as possible. They will lay out all the pros and cons of a specific charity idea alongside a cofounder profile for showing who might be a good fit to run them. They will also include implementation details, such as first year plans and theoretical budgets. The goal is to be specific enough so that a founder could pick up the idea and found an effective charity with minimal further research.


Other Research


We expect some cross-cutting research to come up throughout the process, and thus expect to publish a post covering our methodology or research findings about once a week throughout the year (for example, our animal reports), although we expect the bulk of our research hours to go into the process outlined in the previous section.


If we end up hiring more research staff, it is possible we will be able to cover more ground or go into more depth in certain promising areas. Considerable hours are also spent on non-research activities, such as outreach, logistics, and the CE incubation training camp.


In Summary


We expect to go through 4 phases of research that will progressively narrow down a very large option space in order to arrive at 2-5 recommended charities to found in the animal advocacy movement. Timeline updated and example links added January 2019.


  1. Broad research

  2. Example: Taking an animal husbandry course

  3. Detailed research: A few blog posts (~50 hours)

  4. Timeline: June 2018 - August 2018

  5. Summary: Broad research report (~5 hours)

  6. Priority reports

  7. Priority animals

  8. Example: Factory farmed fish

  9. Detailed research: Spreadsheet + 15 animal welfare reports (~45 hours)

  10. Timeline: August 2018 - September 2018

  11. Summary: Priority animals report (~5 hours)

  12. Priority asks

  13. Example: Food fortification

  14. Detailed research: Comparison spreadsheet ~12 asks (~300 hours)

  15. Timeline: October 2018 - January 2019

  16. Summary: Summary report (~5 hours)

  17. Priority countries

  18. Example: India

  19. Detailed research: Comparison spreadsheet X countries (~5 hours)

  20. Timeline: November 2018 - February 2019

  21. Summary: Summary report (~5 hours)

  22. Priority approaches

  23. Example: Corporate campaigns

  24. Approaches meta template (50 hours)

  25. Detailed research: Comparison spreadsheet ~8 approaches (~200 hours)

  26. Timeline: February 2019 - March 2019

  27. Summery: Summary report (~5 hours)

  28. Specific charity idea creation

  29. Example: Calcium for egg-laying hens via corporate campaigns in the EU

  30. Detailed research: ~50 ideas considered and vetted (~50 hours)

  31. Timeline: March 2019 - March 2019

  32. Summery: Summary report (~5 hours)

  33. Priority charity reports

  34. Example: Government lobbying for water quality aeration improvements for catfish in Thailand.

  35. Detailed research: Comparison spreadsheet + ~8 charity reports (~400 hours)

  36. Timeline: March 2019 - April 2019

  37. Summery: Summary report (~5 hours)


Estimated hours: ~2000 focused hours or about 54 FT staff weeks.