(pardon the long text and my English, especially where political terms are concerned)
I liked the discussion about political parties being organised as open source-like communities. I am from the Netherlands, so our system is quite different than the UK or the US and I think most of our parties already are quite similar to open source communities. Now, I’m not an politically-active citizen, but I like to think I have somewhat more of a clue what’s going on than the average Jan Klaas over in the Netherlands.
Crash course Dutch politics: Our system is based on cooperation and finding common ground between parties. During election times we can vote for some 25 different parties. There is a bar, so we generally end up with 7-10 different parties in our versions of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The winner of the election gets to name the prime minister and tries to find a number of parties to collaborate with in the government and they generally try to find collaboration that gets then a majority in both Houses. They agree on their policy for the next four years and this policy is a mix of the ideologies and plans the different parties had during election time. Basically the same system is in place in the lower levels of government: provinces, municipalities and something called “waterschappen”, an ancient (some say outdated) level of government tasked with water management, protection against floods and such.
Anyway, I feel like much of the community sense is already in place in our system. Everyone can become an active member of a party. You generally start at the municipality level of your party and once you do you get invited to join party discussions, voice your opinion about policies and ideologies, vote for representatives and even nominate yourself for a position in the party. Of course, to be elected within your party you need some history within the party, a vision people can get behind and be able to communicate. In that, things are very alike an open source project in my opinion: everyone can contribute and if you do a good job you can opt for a more official, central position (project leader as opposed to party leader or member of Parliament) in the community, but there are other (less visible) positions people can go for as well (QA engineer vs Writer/guardian of part principles).
This system is of course more direct in the lower levels of government. Local parties are small, so the influence of one person is relatively big. likewise, in small open source project one person can more easily push the rest of the community towards a certain direction. Interestingly though, the system is also in place on the national level. People who do well in local government may find their way to national politics (though that probably happens everywhere), but more importantly the average party member (and once again: everyone can become a party member. Heck, you can even join several parties) still has influence on policy and decision making. When new party policy is developed, all members can vote on it and even submit amendments (patches, if you like) to alter policy. But party member not only influence their party, they can also influence the government. I explained how the party winning the election forms a government by making an agreement with several other parties. this agreement is then votes upon by the party members of each of the parties and this can lead to patches to the original Government Agreement. With mayor decisions by the government, like for instance the purchase of new jet fighters, the governing parties may also seek approval from their party members before making a decision.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still quite a lot wrong with the system and it is nowhere near as open source-like as Jono envisioned, but compared to what I know from the US and UK systems, it is much more alike. The big national parties are subject to internal politics and tend to lose their connection to the voters or even the members, but you could say the same thing from some big open source companies/projects. Also, you can make a strong case for the average Joe not having the power to alter national government, just like it’s probably for the best that I’m not allowed to make some direct changes to the Linux Kernel.
Lastly (as I already typed enough and won’t bore you with details on one party that doesn’t follow this traditional members-based party governance and is slowly falling apart as a result): because the only recruitment to participate in elections is a couple of thousand signatures (the number depends on the level of government you’re enlisting your party for) I think we may be a suitable country for an experiment on a truly open source based political party.
Edit: I forgot to add. @sil had the idea to vote for MPs directly, in his example an MP for birdwatchers. Because in our system it is very easy to get a party in the elections, you can basically do that. As a result we now have an “Animal Party” (I kid you not.). Their policy focusses on protection of animals and the environment and stuff like that, though they also have ideas on foreign policy and what not.