“Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good without qualification, except a good will.”
That an innate desire to do good necessarily translates into effective outreach is not a given. Despite our best efforts, sometimes even our best intentions can have unintended consequences. Although there are innumerable cases of do-gooders-gone-awry, the case of PlayPumps comes to mind.
PlayPumps is a water solution system intended to replace arduous hand water pumps in African villages with Merry-go-Rounds that utilize the motion of the device to draw water. The design won a number of grants and sponsors to aid in its implementation and was widely hailed for its innovation.
Shortly after their instillation, however, PlayPumps weren’t putting the “fun” in “functionality” as initially hoped. Children found playing on the devices exhausting, and women in the villages often ended up churning the giant wheels by hand. When they broke, the cumbersome machines were often more costly to repair or replace than the original water pumps, and mechanically speaking generated less energy, and therefore less water, than the original devices. Ultimately, many villagers said they preferred the older method, and slowly the gaudy merry-go-round devices have either been replaced or lay dormant (x).
With non-profits and other altruistic endeavors, which stake their livelihood on putting on a good face, how can we see through the veneer and make sure they are doing the best possible job? Looking inward, how can these organizations evaluate their own methods to improve? And how often do they consult their peers who are working towards the same goal? In an attempt to answer these questions, I looked toward a movement close to my heart; animal welfare and animal activism.
Internal Research and The Animal Welfare Movement
Particularly in the United States, the animal welfare movement is a mixed bag of both long-established organizations and a crop of fledgling organizations that have quickly come to the forefront of the movement. Many of these newer organizations have their own internal research branches to evaluate their outreach interventions, however collaboration between groups is not well documented to say the least. Evaluative research has been done on a myriad of outreach interventions, such as corporate outreach, undercover investigations, leafleting, online ads, and humane education presentations (x). Most of this research, however, is conducted internally; the data is available, but only for those ready to spend hours mulling through obscurely linked research reports. Some organizations site academic pieces in psychological or philosophical journals to justify their interventions on their more public reports (x), however they are not as forthcoming with their citations of other animal welfare organizations.
Animal welfare organizations share many philosophical underpinnings with the effective altruism movement, a pseudo-utilitarian backbone that emphasizes highly effective activism and a commitment to ongoing research. Not all organizations share this mentality, however; Animal Welfare, “with a capital A”, is an umbrella which encompasses many smaller organizations with much more niche goals, such as humane societies, animal testing and vivisection, and wild animal rescue and shelter. In keeping with this dedication to maximizing outreach effectiveness, and focusing on organizations that would be the most likely to engage in collaborative efforts, I will not be including these more niche organizations in my analysis. My focus will be on organizations that emphasize general animal rights, industrial agriculture, general animal welfare, legal and legislative change, and metacharities, or charity evaluators.
My network analysis will investigate citation, collaboration, and coauthorship habits among animal welfare organizations in the United States. Particularly, this piece will investigate how these organizations are connected in regards to developing new interventions for effective advocacy. Using backlink tracking and html parsing of animal welfare organizations’ research publications and annual reports, I want to investigate which organizations collaborate or cite each other the most in evaluative research projects to create more effective outreach interventions.
Initial research findings and annual reports were found from prominent animal welfare organizations using Animal Charity Evaluators’ Research Library. Animal Charity Evaluators’ research library comprises thousands of publications from organizations both in the Animal Welfare mainstream, but also academic journals on the periphery, so the search criteria required some refining. Using the site’s built in search functionality, publications were able to be refined to fit three main criteria; pieces published by animal welfare organizations, pieces published in the past ten years, and pieces that focused specifically on outreach techniques and interventions. This initial search yielded 25 publications from 21 different Animal Welfare Organizations. These publications will be parsed using the BeautifulSoup Python Library to help find hyperlink connections to other organizations. This initial search and first round of hyperlinks constitutes the original sample.
Next, backlinks will be traced between this first sample of organizations and organizations that cited/collaborated on these projects. Using an online backlink search engine, edges can be drawn between . Backlinks are used commonly to construct web based network analyses, particularly in research pertaining to knowledge and coauthorship networks (x)(x)(x). Organizations that were found through backlink tracing were added to the network sample as nodes. This procedure will then be repeated for organizations found through backlinks, creating a two-stage snowball sample.
Source and Target nodes will be manually compiled into a csv formatted edgelist to be plotted, cleaned, and analyzed using the NetworkX Python library. Graph data will then be imported into Gephi for visualization.
Like any other social movement, animal rights and the organizations at its forefront are trying to answer a difficult question; how do we get people to care? It is a psychological, and ultimately deontological question so elusive that it cannot hope to be answered alone. Ultimately, the aim of this research isn’t to answer that difficult of a question, or provide a catch-all solution to creating a perfectly unified animal rights front. My goal, using network analysis as my backdrop, is to help these groups answer more organizational questions; who else cares about what we care about? And how could we be working together?