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Preface and Outline

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Best Practices Project


Channels of Influence: Canada, the OECD and Best Practices Advice

Preface and Outline (September 7, 2013 Draft)

Themes and Approach

This monograph will be an in-depth analysis of the policy relationship between Canada and the OECD, with comparisons to the practices of two other international organizations, the World Bank and the IMF. These organizations are in the business of spreading “best practice” advice on a wide variety of policy sectors and management themes. The term “best practice” is somewhat out of favour at the moment (it seems arrogant and presumptuous), and preferred terms are “best fit” or “good practice,” but the idea is the same: through their research and their member-country experiences, these organizations try to spread global standards of governance. 

It is only recently that international governmental organizations have been recognized for the role that they play in both policy transfer and policy coordination among states (Barnett & Finnemore, 1999, 2004; Evans, 2004; Risse-Kappen, 1994, 1995). The OECD is a unique player in the global public policy network around public governance. It is an international governmental organization (IGO), but unlike the development banks it provides no loans or financing. It is a member-based organization, composed originally in 1961 of the richest and most developed countries. It now has 34 members, in 2010 adding Chile, Israel, Estonia, and Slovenia (Russia is currently undergoing the accession process). It operates primarily by consensus, and issues very few binding agreements or recommendations. Its primary tools are research, knowledge generation and circulation, measurement, assessment and “soft” standards, both within its membership and among the 70 other states with which it interacts (e.g., MENA – Middle East and North Africa). It has a large secretariat (2,500), but some 45,000 public servants from around the world walk through its doors every year. It has the character of a think tank, but is also an international organization with all the foreign policy constraints and opportunities that that implies. It is now a member of the G-20. The day-to-day work of the OECD takes place in its committees, working groups, and expert committees. There are over 200 of these, making the OECD a very complicated organization to understand.

As we note below, the OECD has attracted more scholarly attention in recent years, but it is still unclear how much influence it wields in domestic policy sectors. There have been various approaches to answering the question, but the one in this book is unique. Based on extensive interviews among Canadian government officials responsible for liaising with the OECD, and at the OECD itself, this will be the first detailed, 360-degree analysis of one country’s (a reasonably important one in the OECD membership roster) interaction with the organization.

We avoid a heavy overlay of theory, and instead will run the following themes through the chapters:

  1. What “best practice” advice is offered by the OECD? How is that advice processed within the Canadian federal government?
  2. How does Canada pursue its agendas within the OECD?
  3. How does the OECD compare with the World Bank and the IMF in the way it develops and offers policy advice to countries?


We believe the monograph  will make several distinct contributions:

  1. It will be the first detailed and sustained analysis of the OECD’s interaction with a member state – Canada. Canada is a founding member of the OECD, and as a middle power has paid more attention to the organization than many other members. The literature on the OECD is surprisingly meager. There has been some work on the OECD as an organization (Alasuutari & Rasimus, 2009; Armingeon & Beyeler, 2004; Aubrey, 1967; Carroll & Kay, 2013; Carroll & Kellow, 2011; Deacon & Hulse, 1997; Huerta Melchor, 2006; Maddison, 1963; Mahon & McBride, 2008; Marcussen, 2004; Martens & Jakobi, 2010; Pal, 2012; Premfors, 1998; Sahlin-Anderrson, 2001; Sahlin-Andersson, 1996, 2000; Sullivan, 1997; Tan, Fukasaku, & Plummer, 1995; Trondal, Marcussen, Larsson, & Veggeland, 2010; Woodward, 2004, 2009; Ying, 2005),  but there is no detailed analysis of the interaction between a member state and the organization.
  2. It will be based in large part on confidential interviews with Canadian and OECD officials. On the Canadian side, there will be two distinct groups: (1) middle to senior level departmental officials who are responsible for liaising with the OECD, including those who participate in OECD committees and other working groups; and (2) senior officials (at the deputy minister level) to get an idea of how OECD research is channeled into the domestic policy process. On the OECD side, interviews will be conducted across all the directorates of the Secretariat (Pal has a network of contacts built up during research of his 2012 study of the OECD).
  3. It will explore the development and spread of “governance standards.” There has been a strong surge in the last decade (spearheaded by international organizations) in monitoring and measuring governance (Arndt & Oman, 2006; Bovaird & Loffler, 2003; Buduru & Pal, 2010; Cassese & Casini, 2012; Davis, Fisher, Kingsbury, & Merry, 2012; Pal & Ireland, 2009).




Important Notices
© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance