How we flipped the classroom to train 1,000 Swing Left volunteers in 50 cities in 4 hours

Matt Ewing
Jul 31, 2018 · 4 min read

One of the really fun challenges we face at Swing Left is how to help tens of thousands of budding new activists effectively engage in the fight to win back the House.

Over the last year and a half, we’ve worked with countless amazing volunteers as they’ve started knocking on doors and making calls, many for the first time.

But, we know that’s not yet enough. We need more people engaged in this fight. And we need to make sure everyone understands the most effective ways to turn out voters and build long term power.

That’s where training comes in.

A well executed training can be a powerful launch pad for new volunteers, and a great opportunity for more experienced folks to sharpen their skills.

But, the traditional approach to training — putting paid staffers in the front of room after room — doesn’t match the scale and urgency of today’s movement. There are 78 Swing Districts on our map and less than 100 days until the election.

View from the training in LA

Flipping the Classroom

Traditionally, teachers lecture all their students on a new concept and then everyone digs in on their own outside the classroom (a.k.a. homework). Flipping the classroom means that students learn through centrally created content, then use their valuable time together to dive deeper into the substance through conversation and practice.

How do we apply that model to training volunteers to win back the House? By broadcasting a single training into rooms across the country where folks could engage in the content with each other.

Content + Community

  1. Content: Hearing from great trainers who are explaining important principles and unpacking how to successfully do the work
  2. Community: Practicing new skills and building relationships with others in the same room

The key idea driving our program is that you don’t need to deliver these two pieces in the same way. Content can be centralized, while community cannot.

What We Did

  • Recruited training hosts. Through our network of amazing Swing Left leaders, we were able to recruit training hosts in nearly 50 cities. Their primary responsibilities were to find a training space in their community; ensure the group stayed focused and engaged during the training; and to be ready to recruit trainees into upcoming campaign events happening nearby. We then emailed Swing Left members near these trainings and invited them to attend.
  • Broadcast a central training. We found a great studio space in LA and brought in 3 awesome organizers (plus yours truly) to deliver a 3 hour training to about 25 people. Meanwhile, our video producer and his 3 camera film crew were putting the whole thing online in real time through a livestream video feed, including slides, name plates for speakers and all the rest. The training looked super professional and sounded great. It was the sort of production quality you’d usually expect from a talk show — except it was all about grassroots organizing.
  • Created space for local interaction. Great trainings rely on small group conversations and roleplays to make sure everyone isn’t just listening passively, but actively engaging in the content. This training was no exception. So, during every session, we introduced conversation topics, or modeled roleplays, and then told everyone watching us online to turn to someone next to them and have that interaction in person. We had a timer on the screen and paper handouts to guide the exercise.

In other words: central content in real time + distributed interactions in real life.

In the end we had nearly 1,000 people attend the training, received some amazing feedback, and, most importantly, have broken our 2018 record for most canvass sign-ups in a month.

You can see the presentation deck we use here, and watch the training itself here.

We hope other organizers benefit from sharing this experience. If you’re interested in future trainings, you can sign up for Swing Left Academy here.

Massive thanks to the incredible Saskia Young for running our training academy and making this happen, to Ceci Hall and Sandra Codero for joining us as trainers, to Jeff Bloom for producing the whole thing, to Steve Pierson for pulling everything together in LA and to our friends at 270 Strategies for letting us borrow from few awesome slide decks.

Training in Portland

Swing Left

We’re flipping the Senate, the White House and key state…

Swing Left

We’re flipping the Senate, the White House and key state legislatures by empowering volunteers and donors everywhere to help win critical elections.

Matt Ewing

Written by

Chief Community Officer @SwingLeft. Former Director of Engagement @SolarCity & Founder at @ScootNetworks. Doing my best to build stuff that matters.

Swing Left

We’re flipping the Senate, the White House and key state legislatures by empowering volunteers and donors everywhere to help win critical elections.