When PDF really means “Pretty Darn Fast” – Public Democracy Forum 2009

If given a wish today, I’d be selfish and ask to be placed in the front row of all the discussions underway at the Personal Democracy Forum ‘09 underway in New York.

I am trying to keep up with the “tweets” around hash tag #pdf09 on TweetDeck that run in the double digits upon each refresh -pretty much an impossible task. Many of the daily news media sites I read are also recapping PDF events. I am appreciating the excitement and activity underway at the forum and finding myself caught up in the comments.

What is occurring at this forum is a gathering of informed, empowered and enthused people who are focused on, or have an interest in making democracy (governance and politics) more transparent primarily through digital, or Web 2.0 means.

With so many like-minded folks (including me) hearing from other like-minded folks including many with formal and implied leadership standing within this gathering, PDF, which stands for Personal Democracy Forum, is looking more like “Pretty Darn Fast” in getting Web 2.0 solutions fully integrated into the business of online governance. The level of excitement is high and it would be very easy to get caught up in the furor.

One quote I read in an article today on NextGov from an attendee was particularly revealing of the types of discussions occurring. It is from Ali Felski, senior designer with the wonderful organization Sunlight Foundation in Washington DC. She was commenting on the state of web development in the federal government compared with what has been achieved in the private sector: “Industry is racing ahead and the gap is widening for government,” she stated.

While I have no disagreement with her statement, I’m thinking of the different constituencies served by these two industries. There is a big difference between inclusive and all-inclusive. When it comes to government, it should always be all-inclusive. And the option for inclusion should always be our decision, not the organizations -a privilege enjoyed by Corporate America.

So, I hope those attending PDF ‘09 are keeping things in perspective by taking a step back every once in a while to survey the canvas upon which they are painting this new picture of democracy.

The reality is that many, many citizens are not even a part of this form of communication let alone the interaction that is being sought after. According to the Pew Research Center, a number of adult Americans (37%) do not have broadband Internet connections, which is an important element to accessing, viewing and downloading much of the government data. Then there is the matter of those citizens who simply do not have access to the Internet.

Still, I am very encouraged about the developments and dialog underway at PDF ‘09.

The term “Beltway Mentality” is used to imply that people living in Washington DC, particularly federal government officials and employees, are out of touch with citizens outside the metro area. I hope this concept does not creep into PDF ‘09 and limit the thoughtful and enlightening discussions and ideas that are emerging there.

Dan Bevarly

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Agreed. Been impressed with awesome PDF tweets. I really wanted to be up there but couldn’t make it in the end. I also love their site techpresident.com which always has cool news.

I like how Gov 2.0 is bringing together different crowds. O’Reilly brings the Silicon Valley types. PDF gets a lot of the new media and politics folks. Both both are really connecting and learning and sharing with government employees, web managers, govloopers, contractors, and more. A cool ecosystem is forming.

Stephen Buckley

Actually, the “beltway mentality” is just another example of what I call “headquarter-itis” which is a normal human condition when a small group of “true believers” get so excited about a new perspective (sometimes justifiably) that they go charging off in a certain direction without really bothering to get buy-in from the “not-yet-believers”.

Ironically, it is the open-government intiative that recognizes this blind-spot in ourselves when the government fails to engage citizens in the development and implementation of govt. programs.

Yet we have the “true believers” charging off, leaving the rest of us outside-the-beltway/non-PDFers in the dust, saying “Hold on! You forgot to consider ….”