The Graphika team had the opportunity to attend this year’s Personal Democracy Forum at the beginning of June.  We thought we’d share some things we learned there.

PDF is a fantastic conference at the convergence of technology and politics, with a strong focus on  contemplating how to get citizens involved to change the world for the better.  Founded by Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, the staff that puts PDF together is thoughtful, elegantly efficient, and kind.  The speakers are experts in their field from diverse social and political backgrounds, and they are applying their wisdom to improving citizen engagement with issues that matter most.  The guests are inspired and inspiring, looking for projects to connect with and support.

Below are seven takeaways to ponder (sprinkled with hyperlinks to videos of talks from the conference) as we work to evolve the technical and political systems that shape our country’s future.

  1. "Build with, not for" - A practice of co-design put forth by Laurenellen McCann at PDF 2014 and amplified this year by Sifry and many speakers at the conference.  We should strive to collaborate with communities to co-create the systems of governance and representation (from online voting to the town hall) that will affect people's everyday lives.
  2. In case you didn't know, Harry Potter is actually all about taking on hierarchical systems of control.  "It's no coincidence that J.K. Rowling used to work at Amnesty International."  Andrew Slack talks about The Harry Potter Alliance, and using media narratives to inspire collective action.
  3. "If you want to be successful, you don’t have to be original. You just have to be really good at noticing other people’s good ideas." Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman suggests that we shouldn't reinvent the wheel with social engagement strategies that work.  We should draw on the wisdom of every industry and discipline (from behavioral analysis in marketing to UI design in software development), and utilize those lessons to educate and motivate the populace.
  4. Deanna Zandt reminded us (in her talk: "Imagine All the Feelz") that we need to find ways to be authentic, vulnerable, empathetic, and intimate in an age of social media.  
  5. If government is an operating system, citizens are its users.  Santiago Siri discusses "Building a New Operating System for Democracy."
  6. "Instead of building another social network for our civic activity, let's all get together and redesign the public meeting." (Catherine Bracy, Code for America)
  7. Interested bystanders make up about half of the US population (48.9%) and are ready at any moment to join with a cause they can believe in (Kate Krontiris presented the Google Politics team’s recent research on this subject).

Find more videos from the conference and information about Personal Democracy Forum at  For year-round work on civic tech, get involved with Civic Hall.