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[#PDF15 Theme] Imagine All the People: The Future of Civic Tech

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, March 17 2015

Edward Snowden and John Perry Barlow, "A Conversation Across Cyberspace" at PDF 2014.

One of the enduring values of the Personal Democracy community is the belief that people using the Internet and other connection technologies can make civic participation easier and more effective. Not only that, we think that activism and community action enabled by tech can involve much more than the "thin" kinds of engagement that are so prevalent today in the advocacy sector. Tech can enable much deeper kinds of connections between people, communities and those with power, and make everyday life better for people in the process. At scale.

That, in just a few words, is the essence of today's civic tech movement. It includes any tool or process that people may use to help themselves solve their own problems, influence people with the power to help them, change who is in charge of decisions, or alter the ways that government works. Think of organizing platforms like NationBuilder or; community platforms like SeeClickFix, Front Porch Forum or NextDoor; political engagement platforms like PopVox or DemocracyOS; community service platforms like or; government reinvention efforts like the United States Digital Service, 18F and Code for America; and the whole myriad of problem-solving innovations that civic hackers are making using free open data and low-cost hardware.

Tech for civic good isn't a given, of course. Without an open and free Internet, accessible to all, it may just widen the economic divide. Built inside walled gardens or using digitally locked devices that prevent their users from truly mastering them, it may actually enhance the power of the already powerful. And without real connection to the communities it aims to serve, civic tech could just be a fancy marketing phrase and not a real force for change.

For all these reasons, the theme for this year's Personal Democracy Forum, our twelfth since 2004, is "Imagine All The People: The Future of Civic Tech." We want to take you into a future where everyone is participating, a future that we build together using technology appropriately, powering solutions to shared civic problems. The future is what we make it; at this year's PDF we'll gather to hear from the people who are making civic tech that genuinely matters, and fighting to ensure that everyone gets to benefit. Register now to attend--this is the last week to save $100 on conference registration, our early bird rate has been extended through Sunday March 22nd.

Our first wave of confirmed speakers, we're pleased to say, are doing stellar work on these challenges. They are:

  • Sunil Abraham, executive director, Center for Internet & Society, Bangalore

  • Malkia Cyril, founder and executive director, Center for Media Justice

  • Cory Doctorow, author and blogger, BoingBoing

  • Harold Feld, senior vice president, Public Knowledge

  • Tristan Harris, design ethics and product philosopher, Google

  • Sandy Heierbacher, cofounder, National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

  • Michael Khoo, senior vice president and director of digital strategies, Spitfire

  • Sally Kohn, CNN contributor and Daily Beast columnist

  • Kate Krontiris, fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society

  • Xavier Leonard, public technology and data strategist, San Diego Civic Innovation Lab

  • Eric Liu, founder and CEO, Citizen University

  • Nancy Lublin, CEO,

  • Pia Mancini, co-founder, DemocracyOS Foundation

  • Laurenellen McCann, fellow, Open Technology Institute at New America

  • Daniel X. O'Neil, executive director, Smart Chicago Collaborative

  • Nanjira Sambuli, research manager, iHub, Nairobi

  • Santiago Siri, founder of The Net Party and co-founder, DemocracyOS Foundation

  • Marc Smith, co-founder and director, Social Media Research Foundation

  • Josh Stearns, director of journalism and sustainability, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

  • Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, founder and executive director of

  • Astra Taylor, author of The People's Plaform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age

  • Zephyr Teachout, professor of law, Fordham University

  • Lila Tretikov, executive director, Wikimedia Foundation

For more detailed bios on these speakers, go here. We'll be announcing more speakers and panels over the coming weeks. If you have a proposal for either, write to me at msifry at gmail dot com and include the words "PDF 2015 proposal" in the subject line. And get ready for a great PDF!