#PDF18 Program Description

[UPDATED MAY 28] With Personal Democracy Forum 2018 just ten days away, we’re excited to share more details about the terrific mix of keynote speakers and workshops that we have planned for the two days. This year, we have restructured the conference to make it more interactive, intimate, and engaging for everyone who attends. Our goal is not only to inform you about many of the cutting edge issues at the intersection of tech and democracy, not only to inspire you by highlighting the great work of our many speakers, but also to help you plug into the networks that are doing the work.

Thus, for everyone who has already registered, the conference has actually begun online. With the stewardship of Howard Rheingold and Darshana Narayanan, the PDF 2018 online forum has opened its virtual doors. Go there to meet other attendees, engage with speakers, learn more about all the content we’ll be covering at PDF, dig into some recommended readings, and to network and plan your experience at the actual event. Our goal for the online forum is to give everyone a place to start connecting now, to share notes and ideas, and to stay connected during and after the physical event is over.

As with past PDFs, we’ll be meeting for two days and interacting with each other through a mix of morning plenary talks and afternoon breakout sessions. But there are some big changes in our format from past year. We’re only going to have seven morning keynotes each day, and we’ve also set aside time for audience Q&A after each talk. Then, after a long lunch break (to give you time for more networking), each keynote speaker will be joined by other featured experts for a facilitated 90-minute workshop digging deeper into that topic. We want these sessions to be highly engaging (not traditional panels), with the goal that by the end of each day, you’ve really made some solid connections that will continue to enrich you and your work after the conference is over.

We’re happy to report that as of now, we have 110 confirmed speakers and facilitators, and almost two-thirds (62%) are women and 2% are non-binary. One-third are from communities of color. We are currently working on updating our Code of Conduct and will have more to share on that topic soon.

This year’s theme is “How We Make Good” — how we make good on tech’s promises to facilitating a healthy democracy, how we make good technology and organizations, and how we make good on our own commitments to creating a just and equitable society and culture.  To this end we have chosen fourteen anchor keynotes and their associated workshop sessions that all grapple with these issues. They can be grouped in three buckets:

  1. Techno Threats to Democracy
  2. The Civic Culture We Want
  3. Bold Visions of the Future

Techno Threats to Democracy

We have five anchor keynotes dealing with different aspects of the current threats to democracy, each with a tech focus:

  • Jan Neutze, the director of cyber-security policy at Microsoft and the head of its cybersecurity and democracy team, will keynote on the challenges we face in ensuring that the voting process and election campaigns are secure from hacking. In the afternoon workshop, we’ll look at what is hype and is truly worrisome about the state of election security today, how an election audit works, what state election directors are doing to better guard their systems from abuse, and how campaigns and advocacy organizations need to upgrade their own security systems and processes. Featured experts in that workshop will include Jessica Huseman, Amy Cohen, and Shauna Daly, with facilitation by Dave Leichtman.
  • Matt Mitchell, the founder of CryptoHarlem, will offer a keynote critique of the so-called “smart city” and expose the many ways that the tech is powering new forms of old systems of surveillance and discrimination against communities of color. Then, in the afternoon workshop, we’ll look at the rise of e-carceration and other ways vulnerable communities are surveilled and oppressed by tech, exploring strategies for combating it. Featured experts in that workshop will include Myaisha Hayes, James Kilgore, and Sarah Auon.
  • Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of the new book Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Has Disconnected Citizens and Undermined Democracy, will kick off the outsiders’ critique of the giant social media platform, pivoting off the explosive news of the past year. Then, in the afternoon workshop, we’ll look at various remedies, including much strong consumer privacy protection, antitrust enforcement, and expanded ways of defending human rights organizers and civil society values on Facebook. Featured experts in that workshop will include: Justin Brookman, Katy Pearce, David Madden and Ben Tarnoff, with facilitation by Shireen Mitchell.
  • Samidh Chakrabarti, the product manager for civic engagement at Facebook, will offer the insiders’ view of how the company is working to address a variety of issues pertaining to its impact on civil society, including how it is working to handle fake accounts, misinformation, and polarization effects and what it is learning from experiments to strengthen user civic engagement. In the afternoon workshop, we’ll delve into specific case examples, exploring the challenges involved. Featured experts will include Katie Harbath, Katy Pearce and Liz Mair, with facilitation by Crystal Patterson.
  • Renee Diresta, the head of policy at Data for Democracy, will give an overview of all the ways tech-enabled misinformation is distorting democracy, and what we’re still not doing about it. This will lead into an afternoon workshop exploring whether the new tech humanism movement goes far enough, and asking whether civil society advocacy groups or government leaders are doing enough to really address the problems we are now facing. Featured experts in that workshop will include Moira Weigel, April Glaser, and Luther Lowe, with facilitation by Jed Miller.

The Civic Culture We Want

The second bucket of talks will focus on the kind of democratic, civic culture we want to preserve and strengthen.

  • Anna Galland, the executive director of MoveOn.org, will keynote on how e-organizations like hers are learning to move people from online engagement to offline organizing, in an age when millions of people are looking for more ways to take action to preserve the norms of democracy. The afternoon workshop will dig in on several innovative local organizing models that have started to spread since 2016, including efforts to invent new forms of community organizing, experiments in creating membership-based chapters of national organizations, and decentralized distributed networks united under a hashtag and common values. Featured experts in that workshop will include Jonathan Smucker, Kei Williams, Amanda Johnson, and Kenneth Bailey, with facilitation by Nicole Carty and Thaís Marques.
  • Haley van Dÿck, the co-founder of the U.S. Digital Service, a start-up within the federal government that has focused on building better digital services for the American people, will keynote on work that is continuing in Washington and across the country to modernize the infrastructure of government. In the afternoon workshop, she’ll be joined by other leading practitioners who will discuss how the civic tech movement continues to evolve the most effective approaches to helping make government work better for all. Featured experts in that workshop will include Sha Hwang, Molly Ruskin, Chris Kuang and Emma Burnett, with facilitation by Shea Sinnott.
  • Chris Hughes, co-founder of the Economic Security Project and author of the new book, Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn, will keynote on the challenge of the future of work in an age of rapid innovation and automation. Then, in the afternoon workshop, he and other experts will explore the continuing debate on how to best address the dislocations and precarity for millions of workers in today’s rapidly changing economy. Featured experts will include Rakeen Mabud, Ioana Marinescu, and Mia Birdsong, and Natalie Foster will facilitate this workshop.
  • Natalie Evans Harris, COO of Brighthive and former senior policy advisor to the US CTO in the Obama Administration, will keynote on her work steering the effort to develop a data science code of ethics through the Community-driven Principles for Ethical Data Sharing. Now more than ever, data scientists need to consider the ethical boundaries of their powerful tools, and in the afternoon workshop we’ll go deeper into the challenges confronting this critical field. Featured experts in that workshop will include Caitlin Augustin, Nate Matias and Lauri Goldkind, with facilitation by Sarah Henry.
  • Robyn Swirling, founder of Works in Progress, will keynote on how we can take collective action to build more inclusive culture. Then she and Stephen Hicks, co-director of the Rethinking Masculinity project, will lead a workshop exploring how to create just, equitable, and harassment-free civic tech workspaces and conferences including our own — especially in light of recent revelations of misconduct and assault by men within our community. When we witness or hear of harassment, when do we choose to speak up or to stay silent? Participants in this workshop will explore what drives those choices, and the cumulative effects of action and inaction on who feels safe or welcome in our workplaces and communities. Workshop attendees will reflect on missed opportunities for intervention, and leave prepared to play an active role in building a safer environment for people of all identities.

Bold Visions of the Future

Finally, stretching our imaginations and hopes, we’ll hear from four anchor keynoters all focused on developing transformative visions of the future:

  • Jerry Michalski, the founder of the Relationship Economy eXpedition, will give a keynote talk about how we went from being citizens to consumers, and what this has done to our ability to trust each other or institutions. Then, in the afternoon workshop, we’ll work on case studies of designing from trust in fields ranging from education to health care to politics. Featured experts in this workshop will include Rosa Zubizarreta and Erin Mazursky, with facilitation by John Kelly.
  • Trebor Scholz, founder of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, will keynote on the state of this rapidly growing movement for an alternative to the Uber-driven version of the sharing economy. In the afternoon workshop, we’ll explore how platform coops can be created and run, with the help of several leading practitioners. Featured experts at that workshop will include Camille Kerr, Cerenia Dominguez and Sylvia Morse, and it will be facilitated by Danny Spitzberg.
  • Pia Mancini, chair of the DemocracyEarth Foundation, will keynote on the challenge of reimagining what it means to be a free citizen when states control how we move our physical bodies and tech corporations control how we move our digital presences. And she’ll offer examples of how the work of her foundation, which is exploring how blockchain can support new forms of global citizenship, is starting to take root around the world. In the afternoon workshop, we’ll examine other experiments in 21st century digital democracy, learning about pioneering practices being developed by the g0v civic hacking community in Taiwan (including a hands-on look at how they use virtual reality as part of deliberative democracy), learn about Madrid’s innovative efforts to foster more citizen participation, and exploring how crowd-understanding platforms like Pol.is are enabling a new kind of community sense-making. Featured experts in that workshop will include Ttcat, Ipa Chiu, Shu Yang-Lin, Fang-Jui Chang, Liz Barry and Miguel Arana Catania with facilitation by Darshana Narayanan.
  • Malka Older, author of a trilogy of science fiction thrillers starting with the book Infomocracy (and an international aid worker and student of organizations), will give a keynote talk on the power of “speculative resistance.” Then, in the afternoon workshop, she’ll be joined by other science fiction authors and practitioners in narrative organizing, who will explore how we can use visions of a better future to shape our demands for change today. Featured experts in that workshop will include Rachel Wiedinger, Deji Olukotun, and Danya Glabau with facilitation by Jo Miles and Amanda Kloer.

These anchor keynote talks will all take place on the morning of both days of the conference, with their associated workshop in the afternoon immediately after lunch.


The keynotes and workshops might be the heart of PDF 2018, but that’s not all. We also are pleased to be offering these eight PDFopen sessions, developed from the many proposals that flowed in these past few months, and covering a broad range of subjects:

A Moonshot in Equity and Democracy: 80% Voter Turnout by 2024 — What would it look like to have 80% of eligible voters in the US voting by 2024? And what might be possible if that electorate looked like the population by demographics? Those are the ambitious questions behind an emerging Democracy Moonshot, facilitated collaboratively by the Democracy Fund, Democracy Works, and Common Cause. The work touches on equity in elections modernization and voter engagement, the role of the social relationship in community, cultural approaches for engagement, the best use of technology to support evidence-based practices, and other cross-disciplinary approaches for a more inclusive and meaningful civic life. This workshop will be an opportunity for you to learn from people doing some of the most cutting-edge work in the field and for us to get your guidance about some of the big open questions. Speakers: Mike Hogan, Natalie Adona, Sarah Audelo, and Darrell Scott, with facilitation by Kate Krontiris.

Reverse Engineering the Tech Platforms to Win Campaigns for Change — Learn about the incentive structures of big tech companies from tech industry insiders, and how these incentives are used to make decisions, allocate resources, structure teams, and ultimately broker power. Equipped with this knowledge we’ll brainstorm progressive organizing tactics that can use this incentive info to ‘hack’ big tech companies– get them to respond to collective action and intention. Speakers: Erica Portnoy, Annie Sartour, Malous KossarianRich Skrenta, and Ann Lewis (moderator). 

Disrupting the Funding System — Over the past year, we’ve seen immense disruption in the civic tech space, but funding these innovations is stretching philanthropy in exciting and sometimes uncomfortable ways. Even more transparent and responsive models for funding – from open calls to prototype funds and fellowships – have their own sets of challenges. For example: Are you prepared to review hundreds or even thousands of applications? How can we support the applicants who aren’t making it through these incredibly competitive pitch processes? Are there best practices for engaging grantees and practitioners in investment decisions? Come talk with some of the most disruptive funders in civic engagement, and dig into strategies and approaches that can help you upgrade your grantmaking. Speakers: Julie Menter, Josh Lucido, Nitika Raj, and Jackie Mahendra (moderator).

Using Data to Improve Police-Community Relations –A panel on the potential and challenges inherent in challenging the status quo in police-community relations. Featuring perspectives from leading community organizers, academics, and tech startups working on this vexing problem. Speakers: Farhang Heydari, Mecole Jordan, and Michael Simon.

Intersectional Techies: Creating Accessible “Know Your Rights” Technology for Immigrant Communities — In response to an increasingly hostile national and local environment for immigrants, a number of organizations created unique new technology products to empower immigrant community members with accurate information and tools to protect themselves and their loved ones. In this workshop,  leading immigrant rights organizations FWD.us, United We Dream and ACLU Texas will brief attendees on the tools that they have collectively built to respond, including the Notifica app, the MigraCam app, and Informed Immigrant.com. The workshop will provide participants with an understanding of the exciting work happening at the intersection of technology and immigration, as well as an opportunity to discuss ways to add to the tech capacity of immigrant communities. Speakers: Adrian Reyna, Cynthia Pompa, Jeanette Whitman-Lee, and Katie Aragon (moderator).

Demos and a Reverse Ragtag Pitch: Five makers of promising new tools for political organizing and civic engagement will offer short demos, followed by a 45-minute reverse pitch session for civic activists and organizers to pitch Ragtag’s developers and designers on the tools they wish someone would make. Demos by David Moore, Sonya Reynolds, Keren Flevell, Bitsy Bentley, and Annafi Wahed. Ragtag represented by Dan Ryan, Niq Johnson and Brady Kriss.

A Beginner’s Guide to Civic Tech: How do we define civic tech? What makes it different from govtech or smart city tech? How do we think about the many different functional categories of civic tech, both in terms of the tools/platforms that people make and the processes that people use to organize the field? Speakers: Jared Ford, Kathryn Peters, and Matt Stempeck.

Digital Skills for Public Servants (in cooperation with the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council): This panel will feature several top NYC public officials exploring the pain points they share as they use technology to do their jobs and deliver vital services to the public, and offers vendors and the makers of civic tech a chance to hear what government needs now. Speakers: Art Chang, Dave Seliger, Alexis Wichowski, and Andrew Rasiej (moderator).

Security Tools for Activists and Journalists (sponsored by Google): Google will host a training workshop on security tools for candidates, campaigns, activists and journalists. The workshop will be co-hosted by members of the Google and Jigsaw teams and cover products like Jigsaw’s Outline and Shield, as well as Google’s Advanced Protection Program. Additionally, Google will provide security keys to all workshop attendees, as well as guidance on how to implement them. Speakers: Ramya Raghavan and Jamie Albers.

These PDFopen sessions will all take place Thursday June 7 between 4:30-6:00pm.

This post will be updated as additional speaker and scheduling details are solidified, so bookmark it!


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