1. I've worked on similar collaborative systems in the past, and the second most effective thing (after providing forums, of course
) was the tieing together of multiple feeds so that they all revealed the same data (as someone already suggested); even those of us (including me, at first) who thought it wouldn't have much effect were seriously impressed by how easy it became to discuss things when you could use whichever interface you wanted from day to day, depending on what task(s) you needed to perform with it.
You have some raw data, and most of the issues people are bringing up in this thread are to do with the presentation of that data, not the data itself. This is a simple problem, architecturally - provide multiple views, and allow people to select whichever they prefer.
FWLIW, it's actually pretty easy to setup, assuming moderately good software. The last time I was doing this was several years ago (NNTP + mailing list + forum all in one, using off-the-shelf free / OS software) and I'd imagine it must be even easier today...although I can think of lots of unfortunate reasons why - in this particular case - it might be hard. Still, I generally found it was easier than I feared
2. The functionality you're trying to set up is voting. Forums are not for voting (although they're great for COMMENTING on a voting process), nor (really) are mailing lists (which are great for keeping people appraised of recent changes. And it's easy to create bots that will take voting data from a mailing list, so they do get used as a easy-to-create voting system).
If you want us to vote on things, I'd love to go to a page where the currently pending projects are all listed, one row each in a table, with columns for:
project name - proposer - votes for - votes against - proposal date
and hyperlinks from the cells in the two "votes" columns into forum topics.
Each of those forums would automatically spew all posts to a mailing list too, and listen on the mailing-list "Reply-To" address for responses that could easily be posted back onto the forum, automatically (surely there's nothing difficult about programmatically posting to a web-based forum!).
Maybe there's already software that can provide this kind of voting front end?
PS: the current incarnation of the forums is excellent, with lots of usability issues improved for mozilla and other non-MSIE browsers, although the broken email-notification and the tiny tiny text size are a bit of a pain. Still, it's definitely been improving monotonically IMHO