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Community Contribution

Designing Training for Greater Impact: Adapting Best Practices for DRG Practitioners

Dec 30, 2022
Sarah Mixon

In the democracy, human rights, and governance (DRG) space, we spend a lot of time and effort training local partners to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to enact positive, sustainable change to increase democratic outcomes. While DRG agencies inventory commonly used approaches and metrics, they rarely complete rigorous evaluations to determine what works and what doesn’t. The limited evidence available suggests the reason training interventions fail to achieve impact is because they are often not designed to incorporate lessons on adult learning best practices. We can do better.

At the International Republican Institute (IRI), we have conducted research on adult learning best practices and how they can be marshalled in our programs to help drive positive behavior change. Using this research, we have developed tools to help DRG practitioners incorporate best practices into the design and evaluation of training interventions. One of these tools is a 2x2 rubric that categorizes knowledge dissemination approaches on two key variables: targeting and structure.

The Rubric

We capture the degree to which a training follows adult learning best practices using continua, as shown below.

Chart with the following definition at the top: Targeting is the degree to which a training approach selects specific learners and tailors content to those learners. Beneath the definition of targeting there are two labeled spectrums. The first is Learner Selection, from a wide range to highly targeted. The second spectrum is for tailored content, from generalized training materials to learner tailored materials.
Chart with the following definition at the top: Structure captures implementation and is broken down into training delivery and length and frequency. There are two spectrums below the definition. The first is the spectrum of training delivery which ranges from lecture style to activity-based learning. The second spectrum is training dosage, which ranges from short, one-off training to delivering a full training series.

From here, the training is mapped onto the 2x2 grid. This grid enables us to visualize the intersection of targeting and structure and outlines key considerations for practitioners to use, including different levels of targeting and structure. While this tool can be used to ensure training approaches align with best practices, practitioners can also use it to outline strategic or operational decision points that might impact their decision to follow or not follow adult learning best practices. For example, a team may choose to have an open call invitation for a training (low targeting) because they have limited contacts or want to gain new contacts among a certain population. While this may not follow adult learning best practices, it can be a valuable approach to meet a separate need or goal. Below we outline considerations for each combination of the training components and discuss the context when each might be ideal.

An example of two by two grids. The first grid shows the quadrant in the top left that represents high structure and low targeting, which aims for behavior change in a broad range of learners and multi-day training sessions. The second grid shows the top right quadrant that represents high structure and high targeting, which has more context-specific examples and a more specific group of participants.


An example of two by two grids. The first grid shows a quadrant representing low structure and low targeting, in which short, one-time training sessions would be appropriate for building a single skill or sharing limited ideas. The second grid shows a quadrant representing low structure and high targeting, which would be similar to the first grid but with context specific examples for the targeted participants.

No one quadrant is best, and each comes with a set of tradeoffs. For instance, teams might want to target political party members for a training on constituent outreach but have little control over who party leaders decide to send. In this case, including a training description in the invitation that party leaders can use to guide their decision could help ensure those participants match the intended learner profile. Otherwise, teams may want to design more generalized training materials to meet the needs of a broader range of learners.

When designing and implementing training, teams can use the questions below to begin to determine which combination might be best for their program.

  • Do you want to attract a wide range of participants or a select role or profile?
  • Can you select participants?
  • Is the intended behavior change easy to implement or will it take time to develop?
  • Can you assess participants’ knowledge level prior to the training?

Evaluators can also use this tool to investigate the link between knowledge dissemination efforts and long-term behavior changes more effectively. The rubric can be used to categorize training approaches, identify which (if any) evidence-based practices are followed, and investigate if/how/which approach achieves desired results.

We have started using this tool in an on-going evaluation series and have found it reinforces several promising practices implementers are already using to improve training approaches. Be on the lookout for additional guidance and tools based on our upcoming work in this evaluation series!

About the authors
Sarah Mixon

Sarah Mixon is an Evaluation and Research Specialist at the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. Currently, she is working on a series of evaluations to investigate the effectiveness of Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG) programming to address evidence gaps on what works, for whom, and why within the unique constraints of DRG programming. Using this research, she is creating learning resources that encourage the use of the evaluation results and recommendations.