#PDF Analytics Election 2016



“Journalists should be pushing campaigns to answer ethical questions about the work they’re doing.”

  • Personal Democracy Forum is in less than three weeks, and we’re reaching out to some of the speakers for a quick preview of their respective talks and panels. First up is Ethan Roeder, who ran the data department for the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012. Roeder stopped by Civic Hall yesterday to lead a brown bag lunch talk on political campaigns and data. We caught up with him afterwards to ask a few questions about the PDF panel he’ll be moderating, on the future of political analytics.

    You’re moderating a bipartisan panel at Personal Democracy Forum on the digital politics of 2016, featuring campaign consultants and analysts Scott Tranter, Kass Devorsey, and Masa Aida. What questions are you going to raise?

    The thing that I’m most interested in is the relationship between outside actors (like I360, Civis, and BlueLabs). The second thing would be innovations in analytics. One of the things I’ve heard is that building an individual-level candidate support model is a trivial affair in 2014. If building an individual-level of support model is no longer an advantage, what is?

    Roeder mentioned that he hasn’t yet figured out if he’s going to ask a framing question to get the panel started, and if so, what it will be. Perhaps people with strong opinions on the subject could offer suggestions in the comments.

    What questions should the media ask campaigns about their use of data this election cycle?

    Here’s what I hope doesn’t happen. As I mentioned in the talk, in 2012 we did a very effective job at hosing the media. And as a result they just came up with their own narratives. It wasn’t necessarily in our best interest but we effectively deflected all of their questions

    What I would hate to see happen is the media learn all the wrong lessons from that. Like Micah said, I hope they just don’t ask, “Does he have a Pinterest page?” There is a “Does he have a Pinterest page” equivalent for data, technology, and analytics. For example, “Are you using online data to target people?” Of course they’re using online data to target people.

    I think that journalists should be pushing campaigns to answer ethical questions about the work they’re doing. “Is there a line you won’t cross?” That’s the question I would ask. If you can’t give me a definition of your own understanding of the lines you won’t cross, it probably means you’re crossing a line.

    I’m less interested in the privacy question than Micah is, although that is a conversation that should happen. I’m more interested in the ethics.

    Did you run into any ethically dubious activities when you were working on campaigns?

    No specific instances.

    Campaigns exist to win. The only motivation of a campaign is to win. The only ethics of a campaign is whatever won’t hurt their chances of winning. I’m less interested in naughty things a particular campaign staffer did, and more interested in asking “What is your ethical compass? How do you determine what you will or won’t do?” I don’t think campaigns have an answer to that.

#PDF Civic Hall



The Civic Hall Fellowship will cover full registration costs to the conference for ten innovators in the fields of creative, social, or political tech. Apply now!

With Personal Democracy Forum 2015 just four weeks from now, we’re excited to share some updates on the conference program, a slew of new speakers, and the launch of the Civic Hall PDF Fellowship Program, which is now taking applications.

The big theme for PDF 2015 is “Imagine All the People: The Future of Civic Tech,” and we have an amazing array of speakers addressing that subject from a variety of angles. The main hall schedule is posted here.

On day one, June 4, the morning plenary talks will focus first on how to best engage citizens and governments in meaningful ways. Then we’ll look at the relationship between tech, civic engagement, equality and empowerment, covering everything from new efforts to uplift workers to the civil rights and police reform movement to the net neutrality victory. And then, before lunch, we’ll pivot to consider how tech can help design a more civil and nurturing society. After lunch and two rounds of breakout sessions, we’ll reconvene at the end of the day for a series of provocative talks about the future, and what we should (or shouldn’t) be worried about as big data and the Internet of Things further permeate our lives.

On day two, June 5, the morning plenary will focus again on the core work of civic tech, starting with a set of talks addressing several promising efforts to make our representative democracies work better. Then, after the morning coffee break, our speakers will focus on what it means to “build with, not for” and how to best listen to and serve our communities. After that, as we head into lunch, we’ll hear from several champions of real change. Following the lunch break and two more rounds of breakouts, we’ll return to the main hall for one more round of plenary keynotes, this time focused on the future of civic tech.

We’ve confirmed more than 30 new speakers: Craig Aaron of Free Press, Kenneth Bailey of the Design Studio for Social Intervention, Liz Barry of Public Lab, Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post, Hannah Calhoon of Blue Ridge Labs, Tom Dougherty of Knowwho, Demond Drummer of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, Tiana Epps-Johnson of the Center for Technology and Civic Life, Bridgit Antoinette Evans of Fuel Change, Christopher Gates of the Sunlight Foundation, John Paul Farmer of Microsoft, Erhardt Graeff of MIT Media Lab, Ted Henderson to Capitol Bells, Kerri Kelly of CTZNWELL, Josh Koster of Chong & Koster, Seamus Kraft of the OpenGov Foundation, Luciana Lopez of Reuters, Mike Mathieu of FrontSeat, An Xiao Mina of Meedan, Andres Monroy-Hernandez of Microsoft, Rufus Pollock of the Open Knowledge Foundation, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), Trebor Scholz of the New School, Nancy Scola of Politico, David Segal of DemandProgress, Andrew Slack of Imagine Better, Anne-Marie Slaughter of New America, Jessy Tolkan of Working Families Party, Jenn Topper of the Sunlight Foundation, John Webb of Google, Rachel Weidinger of Big Here, Paul Wescott of L2, Derek Willis of the New York Times, and Deanna Zandt of Lux Digital. And more are coming—watch this space for updates, including details on the more than two dozen breakout sessions we have in the works.

Last but not least, we are pleased to announce the Civic Hall 2015 PDF Fellowship program, which will cover full registration costs to the conference for ten innovators in the fields of creative, social, or political tech. To apply, fill out this brief survey. Applications are due by midnight May 17; all applicants will be notified on May 20.