I have recently taken a look at the idea of Open Source Governance. Much is made of collective wisdom and power of online societies. Implicit is the idea that the institution of modern networking technology is inherently good for all. I view this as a dangerous misconception.
The idea of open source government is a very noble and egalitarian one; however, as one moves past theory towards application the infeasibility of the approach becomes apparent.
1) The Hardware Barrier: Open Source Government (OSG) is predicated on the existence and functioning of technological hardware. This hardware carries a cost that not all, (either individual or societies) can pay, sure there are sources of shared hardware, but Open Source models imply a continuous engagement between citizen and governor. Any equitable Open Source Government model must address this, in a meaningful and not-discriminatory manner.
2) Decentralization: This might be one of the most difficult issues with OSG models. The technology that the web is built upon has allowed people to engage in many discussions over policy that might be outside of their local, state, or nation-state. This may be a net positive in some instances (read middle east), but this belies the potential problems of this approach. What part, if any, should a British citizen play in the application of American Law? I would venture that many people would appreciate non-interference. Any model of OSG must incorporate some check on geography.
3) Anonymity and Honesty: This goes hand in hand with decentralization. How do we know you are who you say you are? This is easy enough in local jurisdictions, as one must present proof of ones identity in order to register to vote. By opening up the discussions to those beyond the local in question we open the door to outside contamination and possible hijacking. Indeed, even the use of electronic voting machines has generated similar concerns. This will be a very difficult barrier to overcome. Or else we risk a conspiracy inside our nascent democracy. It is worth noting that all current attempts at "OSG" have all been within tightly controlled locals, any expansion beyond a small geographic area brings with it an increased likelihood of fraud and abuse.
4) Exclusivity: Aside from the issues revolving around technological hardware, there is a depressing little amount of study of society online. How exactly do we behave online? Is this behavior inherently better or more applicable to governance? I have harped on the lack of roads online, and I think this problem magnifies in importance when we discuss open source government. Open Source projects are exclusive, the amount of contribution that one may give to any Open Source project is relevant to the experience of the contributing individual. A programmer can naturally do more then a simple user. OSG will naturally produce a similar barrier of exclusivity that will undercut its populist rhetoric.
5) Lobbying and Collective Bargaining: So does information technology inherently make it easier to organize? The general consensus is yes; however, I believe it does this too well. In other words the internet allows those who are part of an out-group to join an otherwise insular in-group, as I've mentioned before, it depends on the forum's censor. So should this be allowed? It should not, right? Do we want distant, uninformed, opinions coloring the reality of hard local choices? OSG must address this as well.
I don't want this to be read as anti-federal. My concern here is if one person in California has an opinion on the conditions in a small town of Tennessee, should their opinion be allowed to be voiced in the "open" forum?
6) Prior Existing Institutions: So what exactly is wrong with the current system? It's a question worth asking of our democracy. Is there really a case to be made that our current systems (Representative and Parliamentary) truly and deliberately disenfranchises large segments of the population? If so, have there been any attempts at redress? We must ask ourselves this first, as we deal with what is and not with what we want things to be.