Following the 2012 Obama campaign, I knew I needed a change. After working in Field, organizing volunteers, for four cycles, it was time for something new. My former boss, Sara El-Amine (former National Training Director and current Executive Director for OFA), suggested trying out Data by attending the New Organizing Institute’s Data Bootcamp. That suggestion would change my life.
The New Organizing Institute (NOI) was a non-profit progressive training organization that grew out of the need for new media trainings in the progressive movement. It quickly became known for its highly successful New Media BootCamp, a week-long experiential training that gave participants a crash course in running a new media program.
In 2010, NOI decided to expand its scope by offering the first Data BootCamp, following the same model. The main purpose of this BootCamp was to train organizers with basic data skills to be Voter File Managers for midterm DSCC elections. Following the 2010 elections, many graduates of this BootCamp went on to hold leadership positions in the 2012 reelection campaign, as well as at most other progressive organizations (unions, party committees, etc). Most of these early BootCamp graduates saw NOI as the genesis of their success within the data community, and they chose to continue to return to NOI for future BootCamps, setting the norm for future BootCampers to stay engaged and involved in NOI trainings.
When I attended BootCamp in 2013, it was clear why there was such a strong devotion to this training. Not only was it a thoughtful, intentional training, but there was an intense sense of community in the room. I quickly bonded with my BootCamp team, plus I had the opportunity to learn from some of the smartest people in the field. I was hooked.
When I had the opportunity to grow NOI’s data training program and run Data BootCamp myself by becoming the Data Training Manager, I lept at the opportunity. In building on the history of this training, I followed the following goals:
Tell a story. When building the curriculum for Data BootCamp, I worked with past campaign Data Directors and had them talk through their own campaign experiences. We then built a curriculum narrative around the story of a campaign, complete with regularly updating fake data and everything! By helping participants envision themselves using the tools they were learning in tasks they would need to complete in their day-to-day lives, we were able to better convey the material in a digestible way.
Increase diversity. As a woman in a heavily male-dominated space, I know first-hand how powerful it can be to see someone who looks like me stand in front of the room and be named an expert. I wanted to promote this as much as possible in my own BootCamp. I specifically targeted underrepresented communities (focusing on women and people of color) to join BootCamp as trainers, coaches and participants. As a result, 57% of trainers and coaches, as well as 71% of participants were from these targeted populations.
The more the merrier (and the better the experience). Data BootCamp covers a LOT of material in just 6 days. It can be incredibly overwhelming to attempt to learn Excel, GIS and SQL all at once. That’s why I aimed as much as possible to have a 1:1 ratio of trainers and coaches to participants during the more difficult sessions. Not only did folks get the dedicated attention they needed, but they also could meet even more members of the data community.
Seasoned is not always better. It’s very tempting to tap the folks who are always involved. You know they will say yes, you know they have the correct expectations, and you can trust that someone has vouched for them in the past. However, growing the community is also important, which is why I aimed to grow the overall trainer pool. I held countless 1-to-1 meetings and tapped into new organizations in order to find 25 new badass data trainers.
The ABC’s: Always Be Consuming (beer and pizza). Lastly, bribes work. In the lead-up to BootCamp, I had multiple working sessions where I bought folks beer and pizza in exchange for them working on their PowerPoint slide decks or other training materials. However, on a more intentional note, I also made sure I went to data community happy hours and built relationships with folks, which helped when something or someone inevitably fell through at the last minute, and I needed to call in favors to get the job done.
The New Organizing Institute is sadly gone now, but Wellstone Action has taken on Data BootCamp. I’ve been working with the Data BootCamp team, leading on curriculum and trainer recruitment. This time next week, we’ll be in Baltimore, getting ready for the next awesome group of data practitioners. Once again, the data community has stepped up to put this training together, and I’m excited to see what we pull off!