Hackathons, open government discussions, creating ArcGIS for local government are all events that seem to be using a particular technological tool in order to convene people – meetups! Meetup.com is a social networking website that makes possible offline group meetings. Users can enter in their zip code to find meetups close to their location. Usually, these meetups are arranged around a particular topic, event, or interest. In 2004, they were used to organize people for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign and now is a primary way of organizing for the tea party.
There are a variety of ways the government could use Meetups for civic activities. Already, it has been used for civic hacking in terms of creating apps or crowdsourcing contests. Some argue that Meetups could encourage more civic participation, collaboration, innovation, and education between citizens and the government.
Some wonder if government should be the primary organizer of Meetups or if they should only participate in existing Meetups as there could be confusion about potential lobbying and negative public relations that could result because of a particular group. Others fear that some Meetups general purposes are more social-oriented rather than action-oriented.
DigitalGov University (DGU), the federal government’s training program for digital media and citizen engagement, seems eager from the discussion on govloop.com to provide a training video and talk about the potential benefits of meetup (you can find their classes at this address: http://www.howto.gov/training/about). Meetup seems like a great way to have more citizen participation if designed and managed in an effective way.