The Importance of Design Thinking in Training  - NDTC

No matter the level of campaigning, an effective training program is essential for keeping Democrats competitive.

This November, we interviewed the Biden-Harris Victory 2020 Coordinated Campaign’s National Training Team. They shared their approaches and advice for training and highlighted the importance of NDTC in Democratic politics.

We talked with Ashley Arnold, the Deputy National Training Director for the Victory 2020 Coordinated Campaign. Ashley previously worked for the Warren presidential campaign and has facilitated trainings for a wide array of audiences, including sessions for the 2020 Democratic National Convention and Crooked Media’s Vote Save America program.

Ashley was interviewed by Collyn Warner, NDTC’s Director of Live Training. 

Introducing Ashley Arnold

Collyn Warner: Ashley, can you give us a little bit of information about yourself before we dig into some questions?

Ashley Arnold: Thanks so much, Collyn. My name is Ashley Arnold. I use she/her pronouns, and I am the Deputy National Training Director on the coordinated campaign. I’m so excited to be here and to chat with you.

Starting a Career in Training

Collyn Warner:. How did you get involved with training and democratic politics?

Ashley Arnold: In graduate school, I studied education policy, so I thought I was going to be on the policy side. I had a summer internship as an organizing fellow at the ACLU in Philadelphia. 

Afterward, I fell in love with organizing, building people power, and creating change. I had been a strong Democrat for most of my life. So, I kind of just went with that. 

I got a job at the Obama Foundation after graduate school. There, I helped produce, from an instructional standpoint, the CLC (Community Leadership Corps). This program is designed for 18 to 25 year-olds who want to be community organizers. 

When 2016 happened, it felt irresponsible of me to be doing nonpartisan work. So, I joined the Warren campaign, and now I work on the [Biden-Harris] coordinated campaign. I feel like it came together in a way that I’m really lucky.

Training with Biden-Harris 

Collyn Warner: What does your current work with the Biden-Harris Victory 2020 coordinated campaign look like with regard to training?

Ashley Arnold: So, I do a little bit of everything. Mostly, I did DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) work for volunteers and staff. We believe we’re one of the first big campaigns to do this. 

And we’ve had help from the training team at the DNC to do some work in Google classroom.  We’ve had live facilitated trainings. Two of them, I did myself. And then, we’ve been doing some things with the states as well. 

So, that’s the big bucket of my work alongside supporting and creating canvassing training and phone banking trainings. 

Putting Learners First 

Collyn Warner: With developing so many different trainings, how do you approach creating them? What is your personal training philosophy?

Ashley Arnold: I was lucky enough at the foundation to have access to so many smart people. Here, I got into design thinking. This made me think about how we can meld equity informed design thinking, community organizing, and instructional design principles. 

For me, that means, thinking about how I can make all training accessible. In asking myself some of those questions that come from design thinking, specifically liberatory design of, “If I continue on the current path, who can’t interact meaningfully?” Who did I create this training for? 

Those are the kinds of questions that are always guiding me, always thinking about the learner and how to build with them too. 

Design-Thinking Explained

Collyn Warner: How would you define or describe design thinking for folks who might be new to it?

Ashley Arnold: Design thinking is a framework of steps. Essentially, it pushes people to design products or outcomes, keeping in mind the actual community they are serving. 

So instead of saying, “I work in the Mayor’s office, and we really need to fix how expensive school lunches are.” You would say, “I’m going to hire a team of designers. They are going to embed themselves in this school for two years. They’re going to talk to the students. They’re going to talk to the people who work in the lunchroom, the teachers, and the policy experts. Afterwards, they’ll provide a solution keeping in mind all of those people.” 

So, it’s really designing with a community and not for a community. 

The Power of NDTC

Collyn Warner: The National Democratic Training Committee trains candidates, staff, and local leaders all across the country for free. we have a trainer community that helps us train so many folks. What impact do you think NDTC’s work has with regard to training and democratic politics?

Ashley Arnold: I think it’s a huge impact. 

We were thinking through some of these things. I’ve been thinking through them myself, going back to the design thinking questions.  Who can’t participate if we continue on the current pathway? 

So many of our trainings are sort of inaccessible to people. Making things free and putting them online is really getting to that accessibility question. 

It’s super important that we continue thinking about equity—who we can make sure is involved and has access to information. And, how we can democratize that as quickly as possible. 

I think the work that you all are doing is really pushing towards that.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Collyn Warner:  What is the most important thing that you have discovered or learned while developing trainings?

Ashley Arnold: I think, and this sounds really rudimentary, but people just don’t learn the same way I learn. 

I think I’m very much a product of our education system. If somebody just talks at me and makes me take notes, I will retain everything they’re saying. 

Unfortunately, it took me a bit to realize this is not the way everyone learns. It took actual instructional design classes to acknowledge we need to cater to many learning styles, many different kinds of people.

That’s the number one thing I’ve been able to learn—creating spaces that cater to everybody regardless of learning style or backgrounds. 

Be Open to Change 

Collyn Warner: And what is one piece of advice you would give to folks who are learning to increase their training or facilitation skills?

Ashley Arnold: Be open to change.  Don’t think you know the best way. Definitely don’t be the person who’s like, “I’ve always done it this way.” Just being open to learning from the people you’re training. 

I’ve had the privilege to train people who are 18 to 25 and then volunteers who are typically much older.  I constantly learn from those populations. These are two distinct populations. They need different tools and use a different language to be on this journey of learning with me. 

So, I would push people to be open to taking feedback and incorporating some of those design thinking ideas. If you have the privilege of having time with people before you have to create a training, take that time and have a preliminary meeting.

Ask them, what do you want to get from this? What do you want to learn? This way, you can make sure that things are accessible to most people. 

Closing Words

Collyn Warner: I know a lot of folks are gonna learn a lot from this Ashley, and appreciate your time today.

Ashley Arnold: Thank you so much. It’s great to talk to you.

Ashley models the value of putting people first in all that you do. Our trainings here at NDTC put you, the learner, at the forefront setting you up for success. Get started on your political career by starting here. 

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Collyn Warner

Since 2008, Collyn Warner has spent most of her time working on political and issue-based campaigns, community organizing, and training. She started her work in these areas in red (and primarily rural) areas in the regional South. In addition to these efforts, Collyn previously worked on event coordination, communication efforts, and logistics at the International Monetary Fund, as well as membership development with Business Forward. She has worked in communications and outreach for the Campaign for Southern Equality, Neighbors for Equality (a grassroots LGBTQ rights group), Amnesty International, and higher education institutions.

Collyn completed her M.A. in English (Composition and Rhetoric) at The University of Alabama, where she was awarded funding to research the digital tools of community organizing across LGBTQ advocacy efforts in North Carolina, and she has presented on activist literacy, digital organizing, and grassroots initiatives at national conferences.