Jo is an animal welfare researcher at the University of Bristol Vet School where she has been part of the Animal Welfare and Behaviour Group since 2011. Jo’s research focuses on the welfare of domestic animals, mainly equines and livestock. As the welfare of these animals relies so heavily on the decisions made by their human caregivers, most of Jo’s research involves talking to owners/farmers, vets, industry representatives and other stakeholders about their understandings, beliefs and choices when it comes to the animals in their care.
A chat with Jo
Tell us a little bit about you and your journey into behaviour change in relation to improving the lives of animals?
I realised very early on in my research that we could do all the scientific studies we wanted into animal welfare and how to improve it, but if the findings just stayed within academia, being published only in scientific journals, it was of no actual benefit to the animals we are trying to help. For so many common welfare issues in companion animals, livestock and equines, there is a growing evidence base of research demonstrating how and why these problems occur; yet in real life we often see little practical change. To me, doing the research is only part of the story and to make real welfare improvements we need to understand and work with the human side of the equation.
Why does behaviour change matter?
Without changing human behaviour, it is difficult to improve the welfare of animals, no matter how passionately you believe in something or how strong the evidence is. It is so important to understand the human perspective when considering animal welfare. It is all too easy to jump to conclusions about why people do or do not do certain things when it comes to animals. But when you talk to people, the actual reasons may be very far away from the assumptions you made. Thinking about behaviour change means that you are thinking about the human factor and that is vital for making things better for animals in the real world.
Most inspiring behaviour change intervention (animal welfare or other) and why?
For me personally, it was a lesson at school when I was 6 or 7 years old about the environment and sustainability. I can’t remember exactly what was said or how it was delivered. Apparently, afterwards I was a total tyrant about turning off lights and appliances in empty rooms and not leaving the tap running while cleaning my teeth. Those habits have stuck, and I have gone on to share them beyond my poor family to practically everyone I end up sharing a space with!
What’s your vision for behaviour change for the next five years?
It has been really positive to see human behaviour change starting to feature in animal welfare discussions, conferences and workshops over recent years, particularly in many of the more academic circles which have traditionally focused more on the science than on affecting practical change. In my vision this will continue, and human behaviour change will become fully integrated in animal welfare science increasing the applicability of the study designs and findings. Consequently, animal welfare research will have a greater real-world impact and practical application.
How did you become involved with Human Behaviour Change for Animals?
I went to a weekend workshop on human behaviour change with some of the HBCA team, before HBCA was founded. That workshop completely opened my eyes to this area, and I have tried to attend as many HBCA events as I can since then.
Why do you like working with HBCA?
The passion, knowledge, experience and dedication of Suz, Jo and all the team really inspire me and give me hope that we can help improve more animal lives in the future.
Top tip for organisations getting started with behaviour change?
Keep an open mind, talk to people, learn from them and share experiences, don’t be put off by theory side of it.
- Quantitative and qualitative research methods
- Survey design and development
- Scientific writing
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