Theory of Change

Updated: Jul 31

Given the myriad of welfare issues fish endure in aquaculture, as well as the potential for improved fish welfare to support environmental sustainability, business resiliency, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Fish Welfare Initiative’s mission is to improve the welfare of fish as much as possible. The following post lays out how we seek to achieve that mission (our theory of change), and specifically the four main (and often overlapping) categories of work that FWI engages.

What we call our four “impact categories” are listed in terms of our priorities:

  1. Initiative

  2. Movement Building

  3. Influencing Institutions

  4. Influencing Public Opinion

Each of these categories has the intended outcome of better lives for fish. We discuss them in more detail below.

1. Initiative

We use “initiative” to refer to the main activity FWI engages in: researching welfare improvements, demonstrating their viability, then scaling them up via corporate or governmental outreach. The plans for our initiative are outlined more thoroughly in our Theory of Change document. This work will primarily occur in one of our remaining priority countries: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, or Taiwan. We are currently hiring a Director of Country Operations to build and lead a team in one of these countries.

We believe our initiative work is the most important thing we do, in large part because it has the most reliable path to impact.

Example of FWI’s Initiative Work: Priority Species Report, Vietnam Scoping Report, Approaches Overview

2. Movement Building

Movement building is the work we do to make a more impactful advocacy movement for fish. This primarily includes our work building relationships with other animal advocacy organizations.

We believe movement building is important because FWI will likely always be a small organization in the animal advocacy space, and we have the potential to have a much greater impact by enabling the work of other organizations. This also builds allies that will support our work, and whose work we can support as well.

Example of FWI’s Movement Building Work: Speaking at Effective Altruism Global, ongoing fish movement landscape survey

3. Influencing Institutions

Influencing institutions encompasses the work we do to facilitate more fish-friendly policies and commitments from governments, companies, and certifying organizations around the world. This work primarily comes via opportunities to consult such institutions through feedback periods or previously established relationships.

We believe influencing institutions is important because it seems that there are relatively low-cost, possibly high impact opportunities to influence institutions in this way (although we have only weak evidence supporting this). Additionally, our initiative work listed above is primarily focused on influencing institutions, so we find it useful to build up our current capacity to do this early.

Example of FWI’s Influencing Institutions Work: Feedback to the EU Commission on Animal Welfare Strategy

4. Influencing Public Opinion

Unfortunately, the low status in which fish are held in public opinion enables further abuses of them: Public opinion influences legislation, corporate commitments, and dietary choices. We seek to influence public opinion to be more pro-fish.

While we think influencing public opinion is important, it is less of a focus for FWI because 1) the causal chain to impact is more nebulous, and 2) we do not think it is our comparative advantage. We are also compelled by Sentience Institute’s argument that institutional change is often more effective than individual change.

Examples of FWI’s Influencing Public Opinion Work: Facebook page, blog posts

Staff Time Breakdown

You can see our staff time breakdown spent on the four previously listed categories below (with a more detailed accounting in our budget).

Note that “Org building” includes the work we do to boost the efficacy of our organization, such as internal strategy meetings, blog posts, management and hiring time, etc.

We believe in goal-oriented thinking. The greatest manifestation of this is that our mission is to improve the welfare of fish as much as possible, and we aim for this to inform all of what we do. By outlining how all the work we do contributes to our end goal of higher welfare for fish, we're able to more efficiently determine what work is and isn't important for us to invest time into.

We are very grateful to Animal Charity Evaluators for its post Theories of Change, which inspired much of our thinking.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy our post “All of Our Work is a Pilot Program”, which discusses our experimental approach of trying new approaches and assessing their effectiveness.