What is peer review?

 

Peer review is basically an examination of one state’s performance or practices in a particular area by other states. Increasingly, civil society, business and labour are invited to contribute to reviews. The point of the exercise is to help the state under review improve its policymaking, adopt best practices and comply with established standards and principles. The system relies heavily on mutual trust among the states involved, as well as their shared confidence in the process. OECD staff experts also play an important role in supporting and stimulating the process.

The peer review is a discussion among equals, not a hearing by a superior body that will hand down a judgement or punishment. This makes them a more flexible tool; a state may be more willing to accept criticism, and its neighbours to give it, if both sides know it does not commit them to a rigid position or obligatory course of action. Peer reviews are not intended to resolve differences among states, but they may play some of the role of a dispute settlement mechanism, by encouraging open dialogue that can help clarify positions in a non-adversarial setting.

OECD peer reviews cover a wide range of topics, from economics and governance to education, health, environment and energy. One longstanding type of peer review, the OECD’s regular Economic Surveys, covers the overall economic performance and policies of an individual country. But peer reviews can also examine several countries with respect to a particular theme, such as environmental protection or regulatory reform. Whatever the topic, such exercises are generally carried out on a regular basis, and result in a published report that assesses accomplishments, spells out shortfalls and makes recommendations. So if one review of a country’s economy expresses concern about inflexible labour markets, or high budget deficits, the next will examine whether the state has acted on its peers’ advice and whether the situation has improved.