Peer reviews among states are an increasingly used instrument of global governance, and are used in the context of many international organisations. They build on the regular collection of information on the policy performance of states, the evaluation of this information by other states (the ‘peers’), and eventually the assessment of such performance against specific standards of ‘good policy’. In many peer reviews, the assessment is followed by the formulation and publication of recommendations to the reviewed state.
The proposed paper discusses why peer reviews in different international organisations and different policy fields possess different degrees of authority. Authority is understood here as a relational concept, denoting the extent to which the target audience of review outcomes considers the mission, the procedures and the outcomes of such performance assessments as legitimate, and acts in ways that reinforce such authority. If authority exists, target audiences are more likely to seriously consider implementing the recommendations made during the reviews – be it because policy makers feel that it is right to comply with the policy standards or benchmarks institutionalized within peer reviews (logic of appropriateness), or be it because other state or societal actors exert peer and public pressure to improve policy performance and ‘name and shame’ laggards (logic of consequences). If authority is absent, it is improbable that either logic will work and the outputs of peer reviews are therefore likely to be ignored by target audiences.
We present empirical results from a comparative study of eight different peer reviewing schemes set up in four different policy fields (fight against corruption, sustainable development, macroeconomic policies, and human rights) and in different international organizations (the OECD, the United Nations Family, and the Council of Europe). Data comes from an online survey and a large number of qualitative interviews with members of IO secretariats and representatives of participating states. In some cases, participant observation and documentary analysis were used to augment findings. The focus of our empirical work is on the authority beliefs of participants as well as the behavior of state representatives during the conduct of the review. We show how beliefs and behavior differ between the peer reviews under research and we discuss possible explanations for the differences observed, focusing on a) institutional design of the reviewing schemes, b) the respective policy field, and c) variables pertaining to the membership (size, heterogeneity) and legalization of the respective international organizations. In concluding, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the various peer reviews among states and offer observations on how their strengths and weaknesses compare to expert reviews.