What's Next: Designing for After the Election

October 16, 2020

In 2019, I launched a project called Vote by Design in an effort to use a design and future thinking approach to help young people across the country discover their agency in the election process. Over the course of a year plus engaging next-gen voters across the country, I’ve learned that our young voters are eager to talk, connect, learn, and build bridges, especially when given the supportive space and accessible frameworks for exploring civic participation. 

With three weeks left until the election, it’s no surprise that there is a laser focus on registering new voters, amplifying campaign messages, and supporting get-out-the-vote efforts. But in the flurry of activity to ensure that all eligible voters participate fully in this round of the democratic process, we're overlooking another crucial action: Preparing ourselves, our communities, and our young voters for everything that will follow a charged election day.

There may well be a brief period of ambiguity as final ballots are counted, but what happens after the outcome becomes clear? What do we do next?

As parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors, we know that it will be difficult to talk to the young people in our lives regardless of who wins the election, especially in the context of the ongoing pandemic and polarization that we’ve been navigating. But we don’t have to passively wait for an outcome to begin planning for these challenging moments. 

What are the conversations we need to be having now, ahead of the election, so we can support our kids, students, and each other on November 3rd and beyond? 

I’ve spent nearly 20 years designing and facilitating strategic conversations about the future. The kind of conversations where the stakes are high, the answers are unclear, and the people involved are fully invested in the outcome. When done well, these conversations don’t just engage people intellectually; they tap into our emotions and full humanity. They help us better understand ourselves and others, while building enduring bonds of trust and support. 

Here are some things that all school and community leaders can do now to prepare for the day(s) after the election:

1. Learn from the past to prepare for the future: While there is no concrete data about the future, there is a lot we can learn from the past. Think back to the 2012 or 2016 elections: How did you feel the days and weeks after they were over? What did you need? What did your community need? What steps were taken? What worked? What should be avoided? And how might that be different when so many of our community interactions are virtual instead of physical?

2. Design backwards from our imagined future(s): How do we want to feel in the days after the 2020 election--whichever the outcome? What actions can we put in place now to support and foster those feelings? How might we create extra space to prioritize connection? What should we consider taking off of our schedules? What questions and supportive visuals can be created to help us process as individuals and as a community?

3. Identify and amplify shared values: What community and cultural values can we (especially school teachers and leaders) proactively communicate with clarity? What behaviors embody the best of those values? How can those be socialized and reinforced? And what kinds of behaviors need to be guarded against or simply not tolerated? 

4. In schools, mobilize broad support: Elections are often taught in civics or government classes. The impact of this election will likely require the full support of the school as a community: the administration, homeroom teachers, advisors, counselors, and support staff. Whatever the election results, they are likely to impact different communities differently. What are the protocols and integrated levels of support that the team should watch and plan for? If possible, how might personalized support plans be provided? What needs to be cleared from existing schedules to allow the team to properly prep and create space to be fully present as needed? And, don’t forget that teachers and staff may need support too!

Here are some resources to share with educators:

5. Lead with empathy, starting with ourselves: Recognize that everyone will be affected. None of us is immune to the cumulative effects of eight months of a pandemic that has disrupted nearly all aspects of our lives, coupled with increasing economic pressure and urgency for social justice reform. We are exhausted and depleted...and still readying ourselves for another high-impact, highly uncertain event that will have significant consequences for our communities, our nation, and our world. 

As I’ve worked with students across the country through Vote by Design, they have consistently told me that they are looking for leadership. Specifically, they want leaders who embody the values they believe are critically important to building a future worth having, values such as empathy, transparency, resilience, and integrity. 

We don’t know what the outcome of the election will be or how this generation of young people will experience and assess it. But we can help them become citizens who are proud and determined to have a voice in shaping our country. We can help them be more curious about both history and current affairs so that they appreciate context and the importance of being informed and engaged. And through our interactions and example, we, as their parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors, can strive to embody those qualities ourselves. And maybe along the way, we will rediscover our own sense of hope, agency, and enthusiasm. 

Let’s make Election 2020 the start of a new era of connected, grassroots leadership at every level of community: local, national, and global. The next generation of voters are the future, so let’s join them in building a bright one. 

Written by Lisa Kay Solomon 

A bestselling author, educator, speaker, and dynamic force for good, Lisa Kay Solomon has dedicated her career to making design a more accessible, learnable, and expansive set of everyday leadership practices.  

Named one of ixDA’s Women of Design 2020, Lisa has taught leadership and design at the California College of the Art’s MBA in Design strategy, was the founding Chair of Singularity University’s Transformational Practices effort, and recently collaborated with LinkedIn Learning to launch their first “Leader as Futurist” class.

Currently a Designer in Residence at the Stanford d. school, Lisa focuses on bridging the disciplines of futures and design thinking, creating experiences like “Vote by Design: Presidential Edition” and The Future’s Happening to help students learn and practice the skills they don’t yet know they need. At the d.school, she teaches classes such as Inventing the Future where students imagine, debate and analyze the 50-year futures of emerging tech, and works closely with the K12 community to make futures thinking a mainstay of 21c core curriculum.