Thursday, January 10, 2008

Data is Not a Four-Letter Word

As the modern animal protection movement has developed into many different professions, there has been increased attention to the need to document what we know by performing and publishing research. In the 1990’s, a surge of activity in animal welfare research began- but the field has not effectively embraced a commitment to continued growth in research. Little attention is given at many of our professional conferences to advancements in welfare research, which are largely devoted to (with the exception of veterinary medical research) operational and philosophical issues. In addition, relatively few financial and staffing resources are set aside for data collection and analysis. For animal care professionals, direct animal care activities usually take top priority, and examining data is often far down the to-do list, or deemed unnecessary. Moreover, there appears to be a discomfort and, in some cases, an aversion to using data to inform our practices and to test our assumptions. Amazingly, large and well-funded program initiatives are still undertaken with little or no data to support the program premise. In our approach to data collection, our bark is bigger than our bite.

Collecting data certainly includes randomized studies, clinical trials and large surveys- all of which we need more of in the animal care professions. But at its root, data collection simply boils down to getting information. It means asking questions- of employees, colleagues, clients and the public. It means observing interactions- between people, between animals and between people and animals. It means questioning- our assumptions and perceptions, and those of society. Getting information is an activity that all animal care professionals can participate in, on every day on the job. It is really no different from researching different travel destinations, comparing interest rates on bank accounts, or getting to know a new neighbor- all activities with which we are well acquainted.

The more we know, the more we can do.

-Liz Clancy

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