Unveiling the Driving Force Institute: A Journey to Transform American History Education

Driving Force Institute

Background and Journey:

Patrick Riccards, the driving force behind the Driving Force Institute (DFI), embarked on a remarkable journey that defied conventional career trajectories. With a background in law seemingly on the horizon after graduating from the University of Virginia, Riccards found his passion and purpose on Capitol Hill. Stepping into the shoes of an acting press secretary for U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, he soon realized that his true calling lay not in law but in the realm of public engagement and social change.


Transitioning from Capitol Hill to consulting, Riccards honed his skills in leading national public engagement campaigns for diverse entities, from the federal government to corporations and non-profit organizations. This journey became the breeding ground for his interest in social change, steering him towards building and revitalizing organizations with strong missions but operational challenges. Thus, the foundations of his unconventional path were laid.


The Genesis of Driving Force Institute:

The inception of DFI wasn’t a conventional startup story. It arose from a national survey revealing a disturbing reality: fewer than four in 10 Americans could pass a basic multiple-choice American history test. Feeling a moral obligation to enhance history education, Riccards and his team set out to transform the teaching and learning of American history through provocative short-form films.


However, the birth of DFI was marked by rejection. Incubating the project at an operating foundation, Riccards faced the disappointment of seeing the foundation pivot away from American history education. Undeterred, he turned rejection into creation, launching DFI at the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown, unsure of its success. The rejection that fueled this initiative continues to motivate the team, pushing them to overcome obstacles and prove the naysayers wrong.


Acknowledging initial dissemination model flaws, DFI pivoted its approach. Recognizing that high school students weren’t likely to make history videos go viral, they redirected their focus to creating films that appealed to educators, ultimately reaching learners through a network of distributors.


Unique Offerings of DFI:

DFI’s core mission is to make history education engaging, entertaining, and educational. Through short-form films, they bring to light stories that are often omitted from traditional textbooks. Collaborating with prestigious partners like the New York Historical Society, Smithsonian, and the White House Historical Association, DFI has produced over 500 films in less than four years, reaching more than 45 million users through strategic partnerships and distributors.


What sets DFI apart is its adaptation to modern learning preferences. Understanding that the average 18-year-old spends more than two hours a day on YouTube, DFI tailors its content to fit into these preferences, making history accessible and interesting for a new generation.


Leadership and Learning:

Riccards describes himself as a dreamer and a problem solver, a combination that has shaped his leadership style. Having built and rebuilt several organizations, he places a strong emphasis on learning from failures, considering them invaluable opportunities to reassess situations and identify areas for improvement. His leadership philosophy revolves around constantly questioning, problem-solving, and making a real impact.


The Role of Well-being in Performance:

Recognizing the challenging nature of their work, DFI prioritizes employee well-being. Investment in self-care, restorative weeks, self-care bonuses, and schedule flexibility are part of the company’s strategy. This commitment to well-being ensures that the team is not just invested in the work but also in the organization.


Future Aspirations:

DFI’s future aspirations are ambitious. With the United States approaching its 250th birthday in 2026, DFI aims to develop a 500-film series on the essential aspects of American history. The recently published book, “Why History Matters: American History Educators Speak Out,” and the Walter W. Buckley, Jr. Prize in American History are indicative of DFI’s commitment to influencing and recognizing excellence in American history education.


Closing Thoughts:

“Ultimately, our goal is to show why American history is so important. It is to develop a new generation of critical thinkers and to make our nation and our communities stronger. The Driving Force Institute is a reclamation project that succeeds when more and more of us are empowered with the knowledge and understanding that makes us better learners, better adults, and better citizens. We are committed to producing the educational content to help us get there. And we are now reaching tens of millions with that content.”

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