PDF Europe, a first impression

Back from Barcelona, and time for a wrap up of Personal Democracy Forum Europe – also in response to a request for feedback from PDF Founders Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry. The conference is brand new to Europe, so it’s still in beta – and it has every right to be. Here’s what I experienced:

Personal approach of the organizers. Although somewhat of an outsider, I was made feel welcome at all times, thanks to a great team (though I do have a weak spot for Antonella).

Inspiring American presence. As seen from Europe, PDF has the great advantage of bringing over many interesting Americans that we can interact with – on our home turf! The American/European dualism kept surfacing and peppering the conversation.

High level of speakers. PDF EU convened some pretty bright people, with interesting things to show. Well worth getting to know.

High level of attendees Some really interesting people showed up, and we were able to have good conversations out of the spotlight.

Format issues. However, I did not always manage to make the most of those interesting speakers. The conference was mostly formatted into four-speakers panels with 6-8 minutes presentations and Q&A; presentations were in general too short to really delve deep into individual stories; Q&As were too short to morph into a real conversation. It ended up being, at times, annoyingly superficial. For example, when I got Irish blogger Mick Fealty to tell me about his story, his community and his vision it took me the best part of an hour to understand it well enough that I could make suggestions to him, and compare his project to other stuff I have seen or done. Mick and I did that over breakfast on Sunday morning: in the panels there was no time.

Two crowds or one? PDF EU had sessions on e-activism and sessions on e-government, and I am not sure that the two really belong together. Spin doctors and political advisors can be very interesting (think the Obama campaign, well represented in Barcelona), but I am not so sure that people like me belong with the same crowd as people like them. I see my role as that of a technical person. I designed Kublai to improve the effectiveness of regional development policy: whether I think regional development policy is a good idea or not is completely irrelevant. The democratic process resulted in laws and regulations saying there should be one, my job is not questioning it but making it work. The credibility of people like me – and ultimately our usefulness to society – depends on our ability to argue our cases without being suspected of partisanship. Of course, the skill set – if not the value system – overlaps across the two crowds, I guess we need to work out the conditions for they to be at ease with each other.
Finally, my presentation was a hit 😉, having done my homework. The funniest remark I got (from two different people) is that Kublai is the first project they have come across which has actually found a use for Second Life! Just when did the Lindens get such a bad name?

5 thoughts on “PDF Europe, a first impression

  1. Pingback: Spindoc | Post Pdf. Cosa rimane dopo Barcellona

  2. Niels

    Good observations, however I disagree on your comments on the format. I actually think the presentations were generally too long and should have been shortened to make up time for discussions, comments from the audience and practical examples of success and failure stories. The break-out sessions was to me the best part…

  3. Alberto Post author

    Niels, my point is: either you focus on presentations, and then you allow time for them. Or you focus on the discussions, and then you allow time for them. I think trying for the middle of the road is not going to please most people.


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