Background

The Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF) began the Wild-Animal Suffering (WAS) Research project in early 2016. For over a year it was managed by Sentience Politics. In June 2017, following a comprehensive strategic review, Sentience Politics was divided into two independent organizations. These newly independent organizations focus on political campaigning in Switzerland and effective animal advocacy research.

Given these changes it became likely that there would be no funding to continue wild-animal suffering research. Shortly after these decisions came into effect, EAF won a $30,000 grant from Effective Altruism Funds – Animal Welfare to continue wild-animal suffering research and this funding has allowed us to establish this project in its current form.

Introduction

From June 2017 – December 2017, we ran the project as a minimally viable product. Our team consisted of three researchers working part-time on strategy, coordination, communications, outreach, and research. The goal was to see if we could identify a coherent path to better understanding wild-animal suffering and determine the tractability of the cause area. We believe we have identified a promising path forward. This strategic plan details this path over the next 24 months.

Problem. Wild animals suffer, we don’t have a solution to this suffering, and very few people are concerned.

Vision. A world free from preventable wild-animal suffering.

Mission. To build foundational knowledge of the problem of wild-animal suffering, facilitate the search for solutions in academia, and advocate for promising strategies to reduce the suffering experienced by nonhuman animals in nature.

Strategic Goals

We will measure our impact for the duration of this strategic plan according to how well our activities help us make progress towards determining the extent of the tractability of wild-animal suffering. We can determine how tractable wild-animal suffering is by considering three core components:

Can we identify large-scale, net-positive interventions?

Generally speaking we will break down interventions into two classes: broad and narrow. Broad interventions take an untargeted approach to tackling a problem, e.g., conducting research to better understand the causes of wild-animal suffering. These interventions are broadly useful because the problem is currently very opaque and we expect the value of information from further research to be high. Narrow interventions focus on solutions to specific aspects of the problem, e.g., a proposal to develop humane insecticides. These interventions present actionable ideas. Their specificity also allows us to more concretely assess their cost-effectiveness. To be clear, this component does not require that we find large-scale, net positive interventions. Instead, it measures our progress in being able to determine whether there are large-scale, net positive interventions. Therefore, if our activities lead us to conclude that there are no large-scale, net-positive interventions, we will still consider our work, up to that point, impactful.

How much do the interventions cost relative to the amount of wild-animal suffering they reduce?

This component asks us to assess the cost-effectiveness of interventions within the cause area (not to be confused with the cost-effectiveness of cause areas). Our goal is to determine how much an intervention costs and the amount of the problem it solves. With this information we can rank interventions within WAS from most to least cost-effective. This is an important factor in determining the tractability of WAS because, if we only discover interventions that are extremely costly relative to the amount of the problem they solve, then it may be the case that we don’t have good solutions to reducing WAS or aren’t in a position to make progress on the problem. In assessing broad interventions, we are interested in the expected value of the information we discover: e.g., does understanding the causes of wild-animal suffering help us identify ways to reduce it? In assessing narrow interventions, we are interested in the expected value of implementation: e.g., how much suffering will the use of humane insecticides reduce?

What is the likelihood of the interventions being accepted and adopted?

We consider this important in an assessment of tractability for two reasons. Firstly, given the complexity of reducing WAS, we are likely to encounter and possibly explore counter-intuitive intervention proposals. Secondly, given how “weird” the cause area is to many, we might find greater traction in prioritising research on interventions that are already being implemented for non-altruistic reasons or interventions that support other cause areas. The goal of this component is to prioritize interventions with the highest probability of being accepted and adopted. However, it is plausible that interventions which might initially be unpopular gain traction through smart, strategic advocacy. To the extent that we can factor this into our assessment, we will, although it will rely largely on our “best guess” supported by imperfect historical examples.

Note:

  • Some activities lead to direct progress, e.g., multidisciplinary applied research (should) directly contribute to identifying interventions.
  • Other activities are indirectly related to making progress, e.g., building networks with academia allows us to expand and improve research efforts to identify interventions.

Outcomes

Improve our understanding of wild-animal suffering

There is much we still don’t know about wild-animal suffering. To know if we can effectively intervene on behalf of wild animals, we should understand the quality of their lives, which experiences cause suffering, how that suffering is experienced, and the magnitude of harm.

Develop strategies to reduce wild-animal suffering

The goal of learning more about the experiences of wild animals and their ecosystems is to understand how we might be able to reduce their suffering and improve their wellbeing. Therefore, we need to be able to use research findings to identify new interventions or adjustments to existing interventions that have a large, cost-effective, positive impact.

Build a community of researchers and advocates

Given the enormity and complexity of this problem, we need more people working on finding solutions to it, including both researchers with domain expertise and advocates promoting concern for the cause area. To build this community we need to identify a path (or paths) to engaging and recruit talented researchers and advocates.

Activities

Improve our understanding of wild-animal suffering

  • Conduct multidisciplinary basic research in ecology, biology, and economics to better understand the cause area.
  • Conduct multidisciplinary applied research to evaluate basic research findings and identify interventions.
  • Conduct multidisciplinary social research to examine the relevant considerations in developing viable interventions.
  • Support the research of external WAS advocates, independent researchers and students by providing feedback (at their request).
  • Submit research to peer-reviewed journals.

For more details, see our general Research Plan and our individual research plans:

Develop strategies to reduce wild-animal suffering

  • Evaluate findings from basic, applied and social research to develop feasible, narrow intervention plans.

Build a community of researchers and advocates

  • Run a small-scale ‘request for proposals’ (RFP) grants competition.
  • Reach out to academic researchers to encourage WAS research within academia.
  • Reach out to research institutes to encourage WAS research within institutions.
  • Draft and submit content to science media platforms.
  • Attend or present at conferences.
  • Publicise our content online.
  • Improve the accessibility of existing WAS research for advocates.

For more details see our Outreach Plan.

Evaluation

  • Evaluations will be carried out every six months by a mixed team of WAS Research staff, one EAF executive and at least one external advisor.

For details on our targets, see our Evaluation Plan.