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FRONTIERS of GOVERNANCE: THE OECD as an INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION (Review of Ch. 1)

Posted on the 29 April 2014 by Callumgg @callumgg

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), Pal states, is “an organisation deliberately engaged in policy transfer”. He illustrates the OECD’s role through interviews, survey data, survey responses from academics, and other sources through a mixed-method approach which gives a deep qualitative background. However, this makes the work much less open and concise, meaning it may not suit a generalist academic audience.

Emergence of governance and public management as a “policy area”

This section outlines how some universal standards of good governance emerged through ideas of ‘modernisation’, the global importance of state governance, and the new challenges that states faced with globalisation and greater accountability. This is an ongoing development, as though modernisation is not such a concern as it was in the 1990s and 2000s, the challenges in the aftermath of the financial crisis play a larger role.

Public sector reform in the past was mostly believed to be a domestic matter, and it was not until the 1990s that organisations such as the World Bank showed much interest in reforming domestic state institutions. This is similar to part of Pal’s view of the OECD, as an organisation that increasingly engaged public management issues in response to member state’s demands from the 1980s onward.

International government organisations and policy transfer

Pal argues that the collapse of the Soviet Union enabled an unprecedented level of policy transfer and implementation from the West to post-Soviet states. It was disappointing that the author did not use this as an opportunity to make more conclusions from comparative analysis, given the range of different states and policies implemented over the same time period. However, the section is brief and broad, giving a useful overview of international policy transfer and borrows heavily from relevant literature.

Multilateral organisations, NGOs (non- governmental organisations), foundations, and states themselves, all play active roles in spreading policy and promoting values or ideas such as democracy in Eastern Europe.

A study of international organisations such as the OSCE and the EU highlight how the universal standards of good governance are not well-defined. In the study, there were conflicting aims held when introducing markets and the democratic process.

Nuanced views of foreign models implemented in Central and Eastern Europe are highlighted, which show that there were different motivations for countries to adopt reforms. Poland, for example, worked on a ‘shock’/bold  programme that enabled it to later join the EU. Overall, economic and political reform were classed as more urgent than administrative, which slowed the process of administrative reform.

 

Reform is not exclusive to the 20th and 21st centuries. The Meiji restoration in Japan (modelled after Western states), or Peter the Great’s administrative reforms in Russia (influenced by Germany and Sweden). However, there is a heavy association to contemporary globalisation due to the post-World War II world order and improvements in communication/travel.

Outlining four causal mechanisms of policy transfer, we can understand better how policy diffusion/transfer occurs:

  • Coercion: can be applied through subtle/open threats of physical force, economic pressures, and so on.This is a centralised and hierarchical mechanism, and organisations such as the IMF and the EU are examples of this.
  • Competition: demands states to adopt ‘market friendly’ reforms to attract investors and capital.  This is informal, uncoordinated, and decentralised. Whilst this often entails economic reforms, institutions are also vulnerable to the pressures of competition.
  • Policy Learning: involves countries learning from the experience of other states.
  • Emulation: occurs when policymakers are keen to copy the practice of ‘leading’ countries.

From these four causal mechanisms, it is understood that the OECD lacks coercion. However, this has enabled a good reputation when compared to other organisations such as the World Bank or IMF that impose strong conditionalities on developing countries which are often not met. The mechanisms of competition, policy learning, and emulation, however, are evident (NB: see Ch.4 on lesson drawing/emulation and the OECD). Member states use the OECD to develop standards of governance, draw lessons from the experience of other states, and the OECD itself conducts reviews on countries. The OECD is unique because many different civil servants and observers from around the world attend meetings and forums that help spread ideas and expertise.

The OECD as an organisation

The raison d’etre of the OECD, according to Pal, is “policy development, policy learning, and policy transfers through learning, research, and emulation.” Pal outlines the history of the OECD and its focus on governance in this section.

The OECD is a bureaucracy in its own right, and develops agendas that are not entirely consistent with its members, claiming instead to uphold certain values.

The OECD was founded in the 1960s as an organisation for the world’s 30 richest countries, and exchanges information with another 100 countries and has opened membership talks with others. It has no control over its members, but is a significant publisher of public policy research and analysis and aims to develop converging standards. Publications such as Governance in Transition (1995) are highly influential outside of academia.

See also Pal, L. A. (2009). The OECD and Global Public Management Reform. (Short link to PDF – tiny.cc/pal2009)


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