The Great Democratic Debrief of the 2020 Election Cycle | NDTC

Oftentimes, when an election cycle is over, campaigns and organizations jump to the next project without taking time to reflect. But, what if Democrats came together to discuss their successes and struggles? What could be learned from one another? How might outcomes change if Democratic campaigns had access to a database of political experience? 

By collectively debriefing the 2020 Election Cycle and sharing key information with future campaigns, NDTC hopes to benefit the entire Democratic ecosystem. We are calling this initiative the Great Democratic Debrief (GDD). 

By leading the Great Democratic Debrief (GDD), NDTC provided candidates, staff, trainers, and local leaders with the opportunity to look back. Reviewing their experiences, the GDD identifies needed training resources, improves campaign strategy, and increases wins by building Democratic infrastructure. 

The GDD has three main research components and thoroughly gathers and synthesizes information from 2020. As a team, NDTC held 1:1 interviews with expert NDTC trainers, hosted communal Democratic debrief events, and distributed a 2020 Election survey. 

There are contributions to the GDD from nearly 2,000 Democrats across the field. The majority of participants worked on state and local races. Having as many voices from as many different parts of the country as possible, the project aims to represent the diversity of Democrats this cycle. 

It’s important to note, this blog is intended to give the community a sneak peek into the GDD’s development. This is not the full report. NDTC is currently processing the information collected to produce a comprehensive final report in early 2021. In anticipation of what’s to come, we have a few key findings that should hold you over until the full report is released. 

The Makeup of GDD Event Week 

NDTC’s Great Democratic Debrief event week took place two weeks after the election from November 16th through November 19th. Out of seven debrief events, four were campaign-based, one focused on county chairs, and one focused on precinct chairs. Our last debrief was a closed session with our Staff Academy cohort. 

Campaign-based debriefs broke into the following regions:

  • Northeast/Mid Atlantic States
  • Midwest States  
  • Southeastern States
  • Mountain/West Coast States

These events intentionally group folks with similar campaign locations to accommodate different time zones. 

Debrief Roles

Each debrief lasted an hour and a half with one hour of breakout groups. Participants engaged with facilitators about their experience. Each breakout group included two NDTC staff members who guided the conversation between four to five participants. While one staff member asked questions related to campaign or local party work, the second staffer took detailed notes. NDTC’s UX (User Experience) team used this anecdotal evidence to further analyze and produce actionable takeaways to share.  

How It All Came Together 

Prior to the week-long Democratic debrief events, NDTC staff received training on their particular roles. In addition, extra staff members were held on-call to support breakout rooms as the week progressed in the event more were needed. The core event logistics team debriefed each day by reviewing event surveys. This team also worked with our lead techs to ensure a smooth event for each day. 

During this time frame, the in-house communications team sent confirmation emails. After which, follow-up confirmation calls for each event took place with support from team members who had the available capacity. These calls involve multiple rounds to manage participants’ expectations and answer any questions. The Confirm Call Lead made sure the team had the necessary resources for success. All attendee goals met or exceeded for public events. 

Testimonials From Experience 

Overall, more than 96% of participants agreed the event week met their expectations. They felt comfortable discussing their campaign experiences during the breakout sessions. The experience designed to be both easy and meaningful. NDTC is proud of this commentary.

Here are some reflections from our event week participants: 

“I was only a volunteer this election cycle. I love hearing from people who were candidates or campaign leaders. It was wonderful to hear their perspective as people who volunteers were trying to get elected, noting the challenges they faced, wins they had, and what they did to adapt.”

“We had a very diverse group of participants with different campaign roles and received a great variety of perspectives from different geographic areas. It was interesting to see the similarities in what we experienced.”

“I’d like to see more of this type of deliberative and focused engagement at our local, district/county, and state party. This experience is priceless. It’s alright that we’re a continuous work-in-progress.”

3 Common Threads Revealed

This information helps NDTC assess which training resources might help Democrats in future elections. The Online Academy has a wealth of courses and Mini Lessons. Our organization offers Virtual Live Trainings for live, synchronous learning, as well. These resources are accessible for candidates, campaign staff and volunteers, as well as local party leaders. This collection of trainings will continue to grow to meet the needs from Democrats across the country. 

Here are three big things to look for with the release of the full report: 

  1. This year, it was important to have a complete campaign plan. These vital components provide strategies and metrics to measure success with progress towards goals. Some folks may not have had a full plan or realized how to effectively measure their progress towards goals within their plan. Given the past year living in a pandemic, adapting your plan is as important as creating the plan. 
  2. One of the top issues expressed related to data acquisition, list cleaning, and database management. There is the opportunity for campaigns after this election cycle to maintain their data more efficiently. 
  3. Virtual is here to stay, even when we’re able to return to in-person campaigning. Whether with direct voter contact, fundraising, training staff, training volunteers, or digital strategy, folks were incredibly innovative in 2020. We have lots of out-of-the-box ideas and best practices to share with you. 

All of the GDD participants will help guide Democratic training strategy!

What’s Next? 

The impact of key findings from the Great Democratic Debrief is starting to emerge. This information is for you and all Democrats to implement in 2021 trainings, strategies, and learning objectives. 

Towards the beginning of 2021, NDTC will host a few events to share findings with event participants and political partners. On March 13, 2021, the Train-the-Trainer Summit will teach the art of facilitation and impart considerations for virtual and on-demand learning. 

NDTC is in the process of taking suggestions for needed trainings and resources. Feel free to email us to share your suggestions for future resources. 

Stay tuned for our 2021 programming. January’s programming explains next steps to build campaign infrastructure. In February, our VLTs will discuss building your campaign plan. March rounds out the quarter with trainings on “How to Train Effectively.” 

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