EDIT: This system was used in the hopes of resolving the game rec debate. This experiment has proven to me that it does not work. I accepted Badp's answer because I now believe it is the best option.
Apologies for length. For those who cannot palate an entire page of text, the TL;DR is at the bottom.
Our community is young, and the way this whole StackExchange 2.0 experiment will work is still in flux. However, I've noticed some trends in our policy-making that I'm not terribly thrilled about. While this has manifested itself most notably as The Great Game-Rec Debate of 2010, I believe it's indicative of a larger problem.
To me, our steps for generating site policy look something like this:
- Mandates from On High (i.e. StackOverflow Inc.) must be adhered to. No pr0n, no illegal content, etc. This is fine. We all understand this.
- Beyond the Mandates from On High, there are still a lot of policies to consider. Things like tagging categories and acceptable user behaviors have come up, but most often the question is "what types of questions/answers are explicitly acceptable or unacceptable on this site". For these, a Meta question is created. People are free to suggest courses of action. In some cases there is obvious consensus and this essentially becomes site policy. This is good, and should be the norm.
- Alternately, a Meta question can be highly contentious. In this case, answers are posted and we all rush in and start swinging around downvotes and comments haphazardly. When this happens, it becomes obvious that there is no consensus and no policy emerges. Nothing is accomplished. The topic stagnates. It breaks out regularly in chat, where the same old arguments are rehashed (less-effectively, because people with opinions get heated and the standards of posting in chat are much less rigorous). Everyone becomes entrenched in their positions.
- Finally, a de-facto policy may be achieved when a "side" of the argument gains 5 or more users with 3k rep who are then able to close questions according to their desired policy. However, this still leaves a lot of people grumbling. The remnants of the argument in Meta and chat are unhelpful even to the rare new member who diligently searches them out, because they don't actually resolve the issue. If there are 5 close-voters on more than one side, it gets really messy. This is a Bad Thing.
The above is something of a simplification, but it covers the points I don't like about our current system. In short, we lack a strict policy for creating new policies. This severely hampers the ability of the community to run the site. We have to rely on Mandates from On High, and the only other things we can agree on are "easy" policies that everyone (or very nearly everyone) can get behind. The hard decisions are simply never made.
The Proposed Solution
What I propose is a simple, purely democratic system. When we reach a deadlock, as described in steps 3-4, a new, policy-determining question is created, probably by a moderator. The new question describes the issue. One answer is added for each distinct option for the new policy. The question is open for a week (maybe two), and everyone has the opportunity to vote on the answer they like best. At the end of the time limit, the answer with the most upvotes (NOT upvotes-minus-downvotes) is accepted, and that becomes the site's official policy.
- Why a whole new question? Because, this pushes aside the cruft that tends to develop on these contentious issue threads. In many cases, the issue at hand (and the policy options) will also have been refined in the original question. This system will work best with a question that clearly describes the problem, and a set of answers that clearly describe the options to handle it.
- Why ignore downvotes? Because downvotes allow individuals to multi-vote. Being able to +1 the option I like and -1 every other option only confuses the issue.
- When the community is unable to come to consensus regarding a particularly divisive question of policy, a new question is created on Meta.
- The new question has one answer for each option.
- At the end of some predetermined length of time, the answer with the most upvotes is accepted, and this becomes site policy.
One More Thing and I'll Shut Up
I understand that people may not like this idea. That's fine. However, I think addressing the policy for making policy is something that needs to happen. I welcome other opinions and I encourage everyone else to come up with an alternate solution. This is another one of those "hard" questions, but if we can solve it, all the other questions become easy.