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#PDF14 Here Come the Breakouts! [UPDATED!]

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, May 14 2014

The breakout scene at PDF 2012 (Photo credit: Esty Stein)

In addition to three dozen fantastic main hall keynoters, Personal Democracy Forum 2014 (#PDF14) is proud to offer the following amazing array of breakout speakers. Breakout sessions take place after lunch on both days of PDF, back-to-back from 2:00 to 3:00pm and then, after a coffee break, from 3:30-4:30pm. They will be held upstairs from NYU's Skirball Hall in the Kimmel Center on the 8th and 9th floors.

In keeping with this year's bifurcated conference theme of "Save the Internet | The Internet Saves," we've developed a variety of sessions that will allow you to drill down on either theme, or, if you prefer, to focus on a particular track. The tracks are Organizing, Political Tech, Civic Tech, Ideas, and Activism and Policy. In addition, we will be offering a handful of special sessions developed in concert with some of our sponsors.

A very big thank you to all the folks who stepped up to propose panel ideas and work with us on developing a truly diverse and stimulating group of speakers, including Allyson Kapin, An Xiao Mina, Andrea Chalupa, Anthea Watson Strong, Ben Moskowitz, Catherine Bracy, Christopher Wong, David Evan Harris, Deanna Zandt, Ethan Roeder, Felicity Ruby, Kaiya Waddell, Marty Kearns, Matt Stempeck, Patrick Ruffini, Sandra Ordonez, and Shannon Dosemagen. I'm pleased to report that with their help, PDF 2014 is our best balanced conference ever, with 58 64 70 women speakers and 54 60 63 men (plus one "Special Guest") confirmed so far.

The details are below, listed by thematic track. Room assignments will be added after we get input from registered attendees about their top preferences during each time slot. Here's the entire conference schedule at a glance.


  • From Memes to Movements (International)(Thurs June 5, 2-3pm): Katy Pearce, Andre Banks, Jason Q. Ng, An Xiao Mina (moderator). This is a series of two panels looking at how rising online voices on social and political issues can sometimes be successfully converted into sustainable organizations. Each panel will offer a critical look at the ease of entry for online civic engagement through likes, shares, memes, selfies, hashtags, YouTube songs and other creative forms of expression, and how they show scale, build community and challenge media environments. They will also grapple with the challenge of turning impressive online engagement into long-term movements for change. This first panel will examine how these issues are playing out in lower-freedom contexts like China and Azerbaijan and across the complex cultural responses to LGBTQ rights issues.

  • From Memes to Movements (US) (Thurs June 5, 3:30-4:30pm): Andrew Slack, Scott Zumwalt, Latoya Peterson, Nicole Aro, An Xiao Mina (moderator). The second panel will look at examples of successful movements and institutions that have grown out of cultural memes in the United States, with a focus on projects like the Harry Potter Alliance and It Gets Better, as well as the challenges presented by race, gender and class.

  • Understanding Hashtag Activism (Fri June 6, 2-3pm): Kimberly Ellis, Dave Karpf, Soraya Chemaly, Laura Olin, Colin Delany (moderator). This panel will explore the power and pitfalls of social media-driven campaigns centered on hot hashtags, wrestle with the question of whether this is real activism, and look for lessons in recent online controversies driven by hashtags.

  • Net-Centric Movement Building (Fri June 6, 3:30-4:30pm): Sharon Rubinstein, Lea Gilmore, Allison Fine, Chris Casey (moderator). This panel will take a close look at how disciplined design of the network-centric approach to advocacy movements is implemented on the ground, with the Moving Maryland Forward Network as a case study.

Political Tech

  • Tools for Democratic Self-Organizing (Thurs June 5, 2-3pm): Benjamin Knight, Boaz Chen, Eyal Halamish, Charlie Detar, Marci Harris (moderator). While the Internet has made it much easier for us to find other likeminded souls, whatever our passion or cause, it hasn't necessarily made it easier for people to coordinate their decision-making in inclusive and effective ways. The panelists on this breakout are all pioneering new tools and platforms for democratic (small-d) self-organization, and in this session they will explain their design decisions and offer a guide to building what may actually be the web's missing link--simple and powerful tools for mass decision-making.

  • How the Web is Changing Local Politics (Thurs June 5, 3:30-4:30pm): Heidi Sieck, David Moore, Erin Barnes, Ben Berkowitz and Deanna Zandt (moderator). Done right, the open web can alter or improve how the local political scene works. This panel will look at four working examples: by making it much easier for local-level candidates to use the web to engage their supporters in their campaigns (, by using the web to foster two-way dialogue with local elected officials (, by enabling more local neighborhood civic crowdfunding (, and by creating a densely used two-way channel for residents and city workers to connect directly about non-emergency issues (

  • State of the Art Digital Campaigning, Republican-Style (Fri June 6, 2-3pm): Michael Harinstein, Christy Lewis, Joe Mansour, Patrick Ruffini (moderator). After losing the 2012 presidential election to the data-driven and analytically sophisticated Obama campaign, Republican campaign strategists have redoubled their efforts to master similar techniques. They're catching up fast, as the speakers on this panel will describe.

  • State of the Art Digital Campaigning, Democratic-Style (Fri June 6, 3:30-4:30pm): Josh Cohen, Nicole Titus, Hallie Montoya Tansey, Rachel LaBruyere, Ethan Roeder (moderator). Democratic campaign strategists haven't been standing still since their 2012 presidential victory. As the speakers on this panel will attest, they're busy developing the next level of data integration for their campaign networks, reinventing how organized labor plugs in online, spreading the analytics gospel, and laying the groundwork for 2016.

Civic Tech

  • Making Civic Tech Accessible and Useful: A Maker's Perspective (Thurs June 5, 2-3pm): Hillary Hartley, Dan Melton, Emily Leathers, Jonathan Betz (moderator). This panel will focus on the challenges engineers face in building and scaling new civic products, demonstrate the value of technical voices as thought-leaders and contributors to the ecosystem, and provide the audience examples of the kinds of tech that will be possible in the near future.

  • Hands-on Tech and Civic Engagement (Thurs June 5, 3:30-4:30pm): Shannon Dosemagen, Jeff Warren, John Keefe, Catherine D'Ignazio, Matt Stempeck (moderator). With the cost of digital hardware dropping to the floor, tech-enabled engagement can be far more than asking someone to sign an online petition, make an online donation, or share a link. More groups are using cheap hands-on tech as the pathway to a richer connection with the public, as these speakers from the citizen science and pro-am journalism worlds will describe.

  • Making Civic Tech That Serves Community Needs (Fri June 6, 2-3pm): Mario Lugay, Julie Lein, Nigel Jacob, Catherine Bracy (moderator). The debate about inequality driven by the tech industry has reached a fever pitch. On one hand, some members of the tech industry show remarkable disinterest in corporate citizenship, and a general lack of self-awareness about the inequality their industry creates. On the other, some activists spit on tech workers and throw rocks at their shuttle buses. Neither one of these groups is representative of the larger community, and If we can't bring the conversation back to a reasonable discourse about productive solutions, we may miss an opportunity to build a tech industry that works for everyone. This panel will tackle the following questions: How do we bridge the divide between the tech industry and the rest of us? What are the ways that technologists can use their skills to contribute back to their communities? How do we create a culture in the tech industry that values the communities where they are based? What role do local governments have in fostering industry/community collaborations? 

  • City Labs for Civic Engagement (Fri June 6, 3:30-4:30pm): Tom Tresser, Sharon Paley, Noel Hidalgo, John Paul Farmer (moderator). From HackBaltimore to BetaNYC to Chicago's Civic Lab, more and more we are seeing local community activists and techies figuring out how to join forces and work on tangible ongoing projects that make their city work better. This panel will delve into three different but overlapping models of urban renovation, featuring local catalysts and teasing out common lessons.


  • Sex, Lies and the Internet (Thurs June 5, 2-3pm): Amanda Hess, Emily May, Rinku Sen, Gina Glantz, Allyson Kapin (moderator). "The Internet hates women," is the advice Adam Savage gave his teenage boys as they started to surf the web on their own. Well, some people online clearly do hate women, and their hostile and harassing behavior has turned the web into an unsafe workplace and unequal public space. This panel will wrestle with how to fight online mobs and why it matters to all of us.

  • Defining and Debating the "Sharing Economy" (Thurs June 5, 3:30-4:30pm): Tom Slee, James Slezak, Denise Cheng, Adam Greenfield, Nancy Scola (moderator). Is there such a thing as the "sharing economy," or are some people more interested in sharing, while others are interested in the economy? How can we usefully distinguish between "sharing economy" enterprises that empower their users and those that may actually seek to exploit them? A critic, an advocate and an academic observer will take a close look at these questions and try to get to the bottom of what is good and what is hype about this emerging phenomenon.

  • Governance Design for the Future Participatory Workshop (Fri June 6, 2-3pm and 3:30-4:30): Facilitators: David Evan Harris, Bettina Warburg, Lindsea Kemp-Wilbur, Jaclyn Friedman, Kate Krontiris, Matt Stempeck, Rhett Bradbury, Antony Declercq, Shruti Sannon, Robyn Caplan. Choose your own adventure in governance design! Today’s governments are using 18th century tools to solve 21st century problems. These failures not only perpetuate suffering today, but also ripple through time, constraining choices for generations to come. But while governments remain stuck, people are evolving. We are witnessing the rise of a global movement to rethink the relationship between citizens and governance. Now is the time to explore the widest range of future possibilities and to reimagine society for an age of planetary challenges and human responsibility. In this two-part participatory workshop (attendance in both sessions required and space will be limited), participants will engage in a governance design process using the Institute for the Future's Governance for the Future: An Inventor’s Toolkit. The goal of the workshop is to help participants become more effective social inventors, and to generate some exciting new governance designs in the process. The session will move through a carefully facilitated small group four-step process to investigate, re-think, design, and prototype new forms of governance. Assignments will include topics like:

    • Design a governance system for Mars
    • Redesign the governance structure of the NSA
    • Create a governance structure for a transnational network of cities
    • Redesign the United States legislative bodies
    • Restructure the United Nations security council and general assembly
    • Write a preamble for a new constitution for the United States
    • Redesign a “government” service

Activism and Policy

  • The Present and Future of Privacy and Security Policy (Thurs June 5, 2-3pm): Rainey Reitman, Trevor Timm, Ben Wizner, Angela McKay, Sean MacDonald, Christopher Wong (moderator). Leading activists and policy mavens will focus on current efforts to challenge the NSA's mass surveillance programs, enhance user privacy and security on private platforms, and develop stronger standards for government and industry alike.

  • Frontline Tech for Anti-Censorship and Anti-Surveillance (Thurs June 5, 3:30-4:30pm): Shauna Dillavou, Michael Carbone, Nathan Freitas, Felicity Ruby, Sandra Ordonez (moderator). Activists and journalists on the ground are facing digital threats never seen before. As a result, many more individuals are using security and privacy tools to circumvent the censorship and surveillance they experience. However, many obstacles exist that prevent people from adapting digital security measures, thus leaving them at risk. This panel of digital security experts will explore: 1) case studies that illustrate the biggest obstacles activists and journalists are currently facing in their attempts to circumvent online censorship and surveillance on the frontlines, 2) the community behind open source anti-surveillance and anti-censorship tools, and the biggest issues they face in delivering usable, effective tools, and 3) the future of digital security, and current initiatives that are reshaping how we approach it.

  • The Present and Future of Net Neutrality (Fri June 6, 2-3pm): Craig Aaron, Steven Renderos, Sarah Morris, Holmes Wilson, David Isenberg (moderator). Is "paid prioritization" the death knell of net neutrality, or are we on the verge of seeing Internet service being reclassified under the Telecommunications Act and treated like other "common carrier" communications services? Has the movement for net neutrality succeeded in becoming more of a broad-based coalition, beyond the usual (white, nerdy) suspects? What will it take to win this fight? This panel of on-the-ground activists will offer a "report from the trenches" of the current fight over the FCC's rulemaking, and a look ahead at what's next.

  • The Ukraine Crisis and #EuroMaidan (Fri June 6, 3:30-4:30pm): Mariya Soroka, Kevin Rothrock, Andrea Chalupa (moderator).
    How did DigitalMaidan, an online movement that made the Ukrainian pro-democracy protests a worldwide trending topic on Twitter, week after week, until the corrupt president was overthrown, succeed? And how are activists using social media now to fact-check and respond to Russian propaganda about events in Ukraine? This panel of local pro-democracy activists connected to the #EuroMaidan movement will bring an up-to-date look at the online war in Ukraine.

[UPDATE] Sponsored Sessions:

  • Policy Responses to the Snowden Revelations: NetMundial and the Future of Internet Governance,sponsored by Thoughtworks (Thurs June 5, 2-3pm) Julian Assange (by video), Mishi Choudhary and Felicity Ruby (moderator). Edward Snowden’s revelations catalyzed the recent NetMundial meeting which provided a first step towards recalibrating the relationships in cyberspace – both between states and citizens as well as between states themselves. It was not a business-as-usual meeting in the cycle of Internet governance meetings which are increasingly stalemated. This panel will discuss whether the NetMundial was able to seize the moment and whether it advanced the debate about protecting of human rights, internationalizing decision-making processes and establishing a more balanced and democratic model for how the benefits of the Internet are shared and governed.

  • Measurement and Benchmarking on Facebook, sponsored by Facebook (Thurs June 5, 3:30-4:30pm): Casandra Marburger, Scooter Schaefer, Beth Carpenter, Kaiya Waddell (moderator). Join Facebook and some of their leading measurement-focused partners for a discussion about evaluating impact and benchmarking success on the platform. Panelists will focus on creative testing and optimization, branding and awareness, and thinking beyond last-click as a measure of digital success.

  • Re-Imagining the Future of Advocacy to Protect the Free and Open Web, sponsored by the Mozilla Foundation (Friday June 6, 2-3pm): Kaiya Waddell, Sina Khanifar, Michael McGeary, Tiffiniy Cheng, Dave Steer (moderator). The past year -- the year since the Snowden revelations -- has taught us that people everywhere are concerned about the state of the Internet. With dwindling trust in the Internet, people are looking for productive outlets to channel their outrage on issues like government surveillance, net neutrality, and other areas related to maintaining a free and open web. Now is the time to explore methods of tapping into this desire to engage. What can we learn from other movements and how do we apply these insights to build a sustained, global movement for the open web? For civil society, how can we organize a collective movement while retaining our independent focus, and what advocacy techniques will enable us to best advance the cause. For websites that reach a mainstream audience, how do we use our megaphone to engage with people without scaring them away. This will be an interactive roundtable discussion during which we will explore: online organizing -- what is the state of the art, who is doing it well; physical world techniques: sit-ins & teach ins; building the talent pool — fellowships and other techniques; and new tools -- what does civil society need to be stronger and more organized.

  • Towards a More Collaborative Democracy: Software Development as Public Service, sponsored by Github (Friday June 6, 3:30-4:30pm): Matthew Burton, Erie Meyer, Samantha Simpson, Ben Balter (moderator). Government initiatives tend to be heavyweight, resource intensive, and typically provide stakeholders both inside government and out with little day-to-day visibility into an effort's status. However, some government agencies today are looking to avoid these pitfalls by borrowing workflows, tools, and philosophies from the open source community. During this workshop, looking at democracy from a product, process, and people perspective, speakers from the private sector, White House, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will explore how more open and efficient communication across both sides of the firewall can empower bureaucrats and civic hackers alike to help build a more collaborative democracy.

  • Climate Change Data, Public Policy, and Sustainable Cities, sponsored by Bloomberg (Friday, June 6, 2-3pm). Curtis Ravenel, Seth Schultz, Audrey Choi, Brain Forde, and Andrew Rasiej (moderator). As climate change data becomes more publicly available, its impact is altering and creating new public policy, markets, and investing as well as divesting strategies. This panel will feature leading figures working at the front lines with climate change data who will explore: 1) What constitutes climate change data and whether it can it be standardized when its very existence and credibility is politically and publicly debated 2) How federal and local governments, businesses, investors, and the public are responding to the avalanche of climate change data that is now available, and 3) Will investing based on this data help or hurt efforts to control climate change?

We're also adding a "birds of the feather" informal session during the lunch hour on Friday June 6 for anyone who wants to discuss the New York Times' "Innovation Report" and its broader implications for organizations going through the digital transformation, moderated by Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman and Rachel Wiedinger.