50 years of peer reviews by the OECD's development assistance committee: an instrument of quality assurance and mutual learning

Ashoff, Guido
Briefing Paper (12/2013)

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

In December 2012, the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC) celebrated 50 years of reviewing its members' development cooperation. The reviews form part of the DAC's initial mandate, which called for an increase in resources for development, an improvement in their effectiveness and periodic reviews of the members' aid programmes. Although the DAC mandate has been repeatedly updated (most recently for the period 2011–2015), it has remained basically unchanged. In fulfilling its mandate, the DAC performs four tasks: (i) It records all resource and official development assistance (ODA) flows to developing countries in line with common criteria. (ii) It sets ODA standards (e.g. definition and terms of ODA; list of ODA recipients; rules on aid-tying; evaluation principles; anti-corruption proposals). (iii) It develops principles and guidelines for important areas of ODA (policy coordination). (iv) It reviews the application of the common standards, principles and guidelines (referred to as DAC standards in the following) and of other international and national commitments made by its members in relation to development cooperation.

The DAC has 25 members from the ranks of the OECD plus the European Commission representing the EU's ODA. The work of the DAC is largely done by the members and supported by the DAC Secretariat (a directorate of the OECD

Secretariat). The DAC takes decisions by consensus, i.e. all agreements reflect the consent of all members.

The aim of the Peer Reviews is to improve the quality and effectiveness of ODA through the DAC members' individual and collective learning. They assess the entire ODA system and are unrivalled in this respect. Each member is reviewed every four to five years by the DAC Secretariat and one or two examiners from each of two other members. The team's main findings and proposed recommendations are submitted to the DAC for discussion and approval, whereupon they gain DAC status. The implementation of the recommendations is checked 18 to 24 months later at a mid-term review and at the next Peer Review.

The Peer Reviews are meant to be critical and constructive. In an evaluation of the DAC, more than three-quarters of its members assessed the quality of the Peer Review reports as high or very high. The Peer Reviews have an impact: over 90 percent of DAC members rated their policy impact as "medium to very high". According to the DAC Secretariat, 88 percent of recommendations have been partly or fully implemented in the last two years.

The DAC has repeatedly adjusted the Peer Reviews. In doing so, it has not always been able to avoid trade-offs. The Peer Reviews have also met with interest outside the DAC and OECD (requests from non-DAC OECD donors for special reviews, participation of non-DAC and even non- OECD countries and institutions as observers).

International development cooperation is experiencing changes which not only require adjustments to the Peer Reviews but also affect the basic role of the DAC and its Reviews. But, as long as there are no equivalent alternatives, the DAC should retain its Peer Reviews, since they have proved their worth as a quality assurance and mutual learning instrument.

About the author

Ashoff, Guido

Political Scientist

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