Biannual Project Evaluation – T2, 2018

Summary

This evaluation looks at our progress during the second six months (“T2”) of 2018 and assesses the extent to which our activities have allowed us to make progress towards our strategic goals. As our team worked very few hours during this evaluation period, this document is considerably briefer than our previous evaluation. This evaluation does not include our plans for 2019 as these are still being developed. We hope to release these in a separate post in the coming weeks.

In our T1, 2018 evaluation we wrote:

“Our priorities for T2, 2018 include: (1) continuing our research, (2) finalising the first round of our academic outreach project, (3) running a grants competition, and (4) establishing better people management structures.”

In T2, 2018 we:

  • Ran a grants competition and awarded funding to two applicants;
  • Completed one research paper; and
  • Finalised Round One of our academic outreach work.

We failed to meet our fourth goal, i.e., to establish better people management structures. This will be a high priority for the project in T1, 2019.

Activities

Our core staff focused on non-WASR projects for most of T2, 2018. As a result, we decided not to begin new projects but instead to wrap up ongoing projects. This means our output for this evaluation period is significantly lower than in T1.

Staff time investment

In T2, 2018 our core staff worked approximately 300 hours in total.

  • Persis Eskander worked full-time in July and August and then took leave to work as a Fall Research Analyst with the Open Philanthropy Project.
  • Ozy Brennan worked part-time over July and August and then decided to phase out of their role with WASR to pursue independent effective altruism research.
  • Georgia Ray began a Masters’ in Biodefense and George Mason University in the fall of 2018 and halted her research work. She contributed to our RFP as a committee member and has continued to provide advice and input on team decisions.

How to read our indicators and impact metrics

In our evaluations, we want to understand:

  1. the value our work has added;
  2. how much progress we’ve made over the evaluation period; and
  3. the quality of our work.

The most important element from our perspective is the value we’ve added. We focus on adding as much value as possible, measured along our impact criteria. These are qualitative and rely largely on our impressions and expectations. As a result, they’re not extremely robust. To support our impact metrics, we also measure our work according to a combination of quantitative and qualitative indicators. These measure our progress and the quality of our work which we believe are useful proxies in understanding value added. Our indicators are supporting rather than primary metrics, and the importance of the information they convey is considered accordingly.

Research

Papers

Indicator: Number of papers completed

  • Persis Eskander completed one research papers in T2, 2018.

Indicator: Expected Progress and Actual Progress

An introduction to Human Appropriate of Net Primary Productivity

Author: Persis Eskander

Expected Progress: High

Author’s comments: The impacts of HANPP on WAS are understudied and relate to activities that humans have the capacity to change. If we discovered activities that are net-negative or positive for reducing WAS, we could shift very quickly into advocacy. However, it is a large topic and it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get the full benefits of information from this one paper.

Actual Progress: Medium / Low

Author’s Comments: When I developed this project, I had planned for it to be a much more thorough investigation of the potential uses of HANPP to understand the large-scale effects of human activities on wild animal welfare. However, as I progressed with it, I realised it wouldn’t be possible to do this in one paper because (a) there are many considerations which each require their own detailed assessment; and (b) there was very little information to help me complete these assessments. I decided to publish this paper as an introduction to HANPP, explain its relevance to WAS, and then point out further directions of research that I expect will be useful.

Impact

Has our research helped us make progress toward identifying large-scale, net-positive interventions?

In our T1 evaluation we wrote “We believe our research so far has helped us make progress toward identifying large-scale, net-positive interventions…Our project is still young and we are still testing how to practically assess the implications of our research. We believe we need more time to determine whether there might be more impactful research paths to which we should shift.” Given only one paper was completed in this evaluation period I don’t think we have enough additional data to say more than we did in T1.

Outreach

Run a research grants competition

Indicator

Number and quality of applications

We received 3 applications which is significantly lower than we were hoping. Unfortunately, it’s not clear whether the low number of applications is because (a) there aren’t a lot of people willing  or interested in independent WAS research; (b) the funding amount we offered was too low to interest prospective applicants; (c) the application process was onerous or the deadline was too tight; or (d) some other reasons. The quality of the applications was good, but not outstanding. The RFP Committee (which comprised Oscar Horta, Maria Salazar, Georgia Ray and Michelle Graham) decided to fund two of the three applications. We’re excited about the projects we chose to fund and look forward to learning from the research findings. We will post further details on the funded projects in the coming weeks.

Feedback from applicants

At the time of writing this evaluation, the granting logistics haven’t been finalised so we are yet to seek feedback from applicants on their experience with the process.

Impact

Has the grants competition allowed us to expand research efforts to identify large-scale, net-positive interventions?

We funded two research projects which the core WASR team would not have been able to complete. In that sense, we have expanded research efforts. However, the low number of applicants suggests that the grants competition hasn’t and won’t significantly expand research efforts. Additionally, the proposals we received focused on relatively well canvassed issues in RWAS. This is likely what made them strong proposals. However, the downside to focusing on oft discussed issues is that research findings are unlikely to be groundbreaking.

Has the grants competition helped us refine our outreach plans and set the groundwork for building an academic WAS field?

Given the low number of applicants, we’re reluctant to infer too much from this grants competition. We can say, with much uncertainty, that we don’t think funding independent WAS research is a particularly promising strategy. In the near future, we don’t intend to run a similar competition again. However, the landscape may change sufficiently for this to become a promising path at some point in the future.

Networks with academia

In T2, 2018 we wrapped up Round 1 of our academic outreach project. After compiling a shortlist of seven academics, we along with some external advisors ranked the shortlist according to how promising we thought they were and how much funding we’d be willing to give. Surprisingly, there ended up being a large amount of discrepancy in our rankings. Because of this, we didn’t feel confident enough in any one academic to award them a grant valued at $50,000 USD or higher and a grant of lower value would not have been useful to our potential grantees.

Impact

Has our approach to building networks with academia allowed us to expand research efforts to identify large-scale, net-positive interventions?

In short, no. We We’ve established relationships, conditional on being able to provide funding, with six academics working on a range of research topics including: wildlife management systems, invertebrate cognition, and population ecology. However, it was an extremely time intensive process and in the end we weren’t convinced of the WAS-specific value of their work. However, we don’t consider the time and resources invested wasted. We began with a high degree of uncertainty about which academic outreach approach would be most effective. After trialling this approach we concluded that it’s not promising. In 2019, we’ll focus on a different angle to building networks with academia.

Exploratory study: Establishing a field of research for WAS

At the beginning of 2018, Persis Eskander received a grant from the ACE Animal Advocacy Research Fund to conduct an exploratory study of academic field growth for wild-animal suffering. In early T2, 2018 we decided not to continue this project as Persis wouldn’t have time to complete it by the end of the year. With ACE’s permission, we gave the project and funding to the wild-animal suffering team at Animal Ethics. Persis will remain an advisor for the project.

Issues

Failed to develop a people management structure

Developing a people management structure in T2, 2018 was a priority action point for Persis Eskander. However, given the changes that arose throughout the last 6 months accompanied by the reduced hours the WASR staff worked, we felt it made more sense to incorporate this into the development of our plans for 2019.

Plans for 2019

We haven’t yet finalised our plans for 2019. We hope to release this in a separate post in the coming weeks.