Project summary:

No carrots, no sticks: How do peer reviews among states acquire authority in global governance?

Thomas Conzelmann, Valentina Carraro, Hortense Jongen & Martina Kühner

The project focuses on peer reviewing procedures among states as an increasingly widely used, yet poorly understood, instrument of global governance. Think about the peer reviews of the OECD in the field of economics, corruption control and the environment, about the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review that seeks to change the observance of human rights for the better, or about the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism.

The key feature of peer reviews is the regular collection of information on the public policy performance of states and the assessment of such information by other states (‘peers’) in the light of commonly agreed standards. We explore how and under which conditions peer reviews develop authority in their field despite the lack of enforcement mechanisms. Such authority is researched empirically by looking at: a) the beliefs of participants in the appropriateness of the procedure; and b) the interactions of participants within peer reviewing procedures.

Several case studies are conducted, covering three organisational contexts (OECD; United Nations family; Council of Europe) and four policy areas (the fight against corruption; protection of human rights; sustainable development; trade and economic policies). Following conjectures of the rational institutional design approach, it is hypothesized that a) homogeneous membership and a low degree of legalization at the level of the international organization, and b) informational transparency and a wide distribution of the costs of policy changes have an impact on the way in which peer reviewing procedures are designed. Organisational and policy context as well as institutional design are expected to influence both the way in which reviews are conducted and the authority beliefs of participants.

The project goes beyond existing scholarship in three ways: firstly, its focus on authority offers a more reliable and useful way of measuring the effectiveness of differently designed peer reviews compared to looking at domestic policy change. Secondly, the project is the first to identify conditions under which peer reviews among states will be more or less effective governance tools. Thirdly, the project will help policy-makers arrive at informed choices regarding the use of this policy instrument in comparison with other ‘softer’ or ‘harder’ governance tools at the global level.

Within this ‘umbrella project’, three PhD projects are conducted, combining the overarching interest in soft governance instruments with detailed research on specific policy areas and some additional questions: a discussion of the complementarity and differences between peer reviews and expert-driven monitoring approaches in the field of human rights (Valentina Carraro), research on the development of institutional designs of monitoring instruments in the field of sustainable development (Martina Kühner), and an analysis of different peer reviews in the field of anti-corruption policies and the factors impacting on their authority (Hortense Jongen).