Dr Trent Grassian recently completed his PhD in Social Policy, after earning a Master’s in Public Administration. Trent conducted research into the impacts of non-profit organisations promoting meat reduction and veganism, in the largest study of its kind and has given presentations all over the world about the project. He currently works for an education non-profit, while continuing to work as an animal advocacy consultant and presenting to organisations and academics around the world. Trent provides insights into effective animal advocacy and behaviour change on his blog, For Us All, where he also has a free report summarising his research findings. His book chapter on food policy is coming out in 2019 in the foundational volume, Environmental Nutrition. He also runs the on-line group, Vegan Researchers & Enthusiasts, and is a passionate human and animal advocate, who has worked on a variety of social justice issues and volunteered with animals on three continents. In a former life, he worked as a Special Needs Education teacher in California for half a decade and helped found a local volunteering non-profit branch.
A chat with Trent
Tell us a little bit about you and your journey into behaviour change in relation to improving the lives of animals?
I have been passionate about social justice since I was a teenager and am always seeking new, innovative ways to change behaviour to reduce human and animal suffering. After working in the third and public sectors in the education field – primarily as a Special Education teacher – I really wanted to expand my own understanding of how policy, individuals and political / social change connect. During this time, I also become more aware of the many ways animals are exploited. As an avid animal lover who has volunteered at sanctuaries with kangaroos, pigs, dogs, cows, sheep, goats, hedgehogs, chickens and many other kinds of wonderful animals, I recognised that this was the area where I could have the greatest influence. Receiving a scholarship to complete my PhD gave me the opportunity to better understand how humans change our dietary behaviour in relation to new information and other types of external and internal influences. I am excited that my research has given me the opportunity to support animal advocacy organisations increase their ability to reduce the number of animals suffering for human consumption.
Why does behaviour change matter?
We are so far from theories that used to dominate, where we thought that if we simply gave people information and they would then act based on that information! Behaviour change is complex and it’s so important for us to understand the ways that human behaviour and the environment in which we live impact the choices we make and the ways animals are treated. Humans are, unfortunately (!) easily manipulated and extremely biased in the way we do things. If we can understand the nature of these realities – which the advertising industry knows all too well and exploits on a regular basis – we can actually empower people to live a lifestyle that more closely aligns with their personal ethics.
What’s your vision for behaviour change for the next five years?
I think the most important thing is for animal advocates and organisations to take a step back from what they are doing. Often, campaigns are structured on what seems to make sense or what they’ve always been doing. But we are lacking in so much research into the impacts campaigns actually have and, most importantly, if we are talking about real, social change we need to look at the bigger picture. Single-issue campaigns and strategies rarely acknowledge or work toward the broader goal of changing societal structures and attitudes toward animals. If we can all start looking at the future we want and work backward from there, now that would be exciting!
How did you become involved with HBCA?
I first found out about HBCA at their first conference a few years back and was very inspired. Jo White’s presentation on the Behaviour Change Wheel actually led to me using this framework within my Doctoral Dissertation! Since then, I have been in discussions with Suz and Jo and helped out with workshops at a few of their events.
Why do you like working with HBCA?
I love that there is an organisation working to support animal advocates and organisations understand how they can use research in their own work. This aligns so closely with what I’ve been doing for the past four years and it is always great to work with others who are as passionate about using research to help animals as I am!
Top tips for organisations getting started with behaviour change?
First of all, any organisation needs to be based on a particular theory of change and how you actually think you can create the world you want for animals (what does that world look like? is a great first question to answer!) Secondly, it’s important to understand what we actually know from existing research because there is a lot that hasn’t been researched (or has only been researched in a very unsystematic way) and that we simply assume. Try to get in touch with experts in your field and those who may have a broader understanding of the research, who have a high level of training and research experience. You don’t need to know everything, but by surrounding yourself and consulting with people who do, we can all work together to design strategic, effective campaigns that promote real change for animals. Most importantly: start asking questions about the underlying assumptions surrounding the types of interventions and work you are doing!
- Dietary change
- Behaviour change
- Research design and analysis
- Designing behaviour change interventions
- Pro-intersectional animal advocacy
Connect with Trent:
Vegan Researchers & Enthusiasts: https://www.facebook.com/groups/veganresearchers/