Which asks should be prioritized in animal advocacy?
When recommending different charities to start in the field of animal advocacy, a crucial question to consider first is which ask should be prioritized? Regardless of the approach - corporate outreach, governmental intervention or individuals focus intervention - we need to decide what we are going to ask them for in the first place.
We expect that the ask and a compatible approach have the strongest predictive power on the final cost-effectiveness of a charity. Most approaches rely on conveying a specific ask. For example, when approaching corporations we could solicit for improving the management of dissolved oxygen in fish farms or for optimizing fish feed to contain less fish and more plants. We believe that one is significantly more effective than the other. That being said, there are a many different factors we considered when prioritizing between asks, including:
Strength of idea
The strength of the idea concerns the cost-effectiveness of an ask, and what weight to put on it given the evidence-base. For example, food fortification looks promising as its evidence base looks strong, which allows us to take its high estimated cost-effectiveness seriously.
Limiting factors address the most likely factor to limit an intervention from expanding and having an impact. This could be funding, talent, replaceability, size of the problem or logistical factors. For example, ensuring humane slaughter and transportation seems to be a promising idea, however, it’s counterfactual replaceability is limited given that there are already lots of competent organizations working on the issue.
Execution difficulty is focused on how hard it would be to apply this intervention in real-world situations, both at the earlier stage of founding and the later stages of execution. It also covers the ability to receive valuable feedback quickly and if the timing is right for executing an intervention in the area. For example, we think the difficulty of doing high impact work in welfare-focused gene modification is extremely high both in the founding, feedback, and execution stage.
Externalities cover all non-direct effects both negative and positive of an intervention. For example, many meat reduction campaigns are focused on red meat and might have a much stronger negative effect on small, high priority animals like fish and chickens than any other intervention. This is an externality called the small animal replacement problem.
There are many other factors that could be considered, but we feel these criteria end up covering the most important considerations. Ratings for individual factors were combined into an overall promisingness ranking. This will provide direction as to what charities to recommend, and although that is the main focus of our research, the ranking could also provide additional suggestions as to where to distribute other charitable resources. For example, what should be the ask of the next corporate campaign led by other animal advocacy organizations?
Based off of our research, we think that there are two* promising asks in no specific order:
Food fortification in factory farms (especially on chicken farms)
This does not mean that we think that the top charities will necessarily do these specific asks, for it could be that a very strong approach, such as food tech, does not fit well with any of the above asks and is instead executed in a different way.
In the next stage of our research, we are going to focus on determining which approach is most promising and how to optimally combine asks and approaches to maximize the positive expected effects.