Information Note on the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Peer Review Process


This note is intended to outline and give guidance on the process for preparing Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer reviews. It is for the use of all parties involved in the review – the reviewed member, the examiners and the DAC Secretariat. 

The Peer Review of the Development Assistance Committee

The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) functions as a forum where bilateral donors come together to exchange experience and to address issues of common interest or concern. Its overarching objective is the continuous improvement of member efforts in all areas of development co-operation, through the exchange of good practices and the promotion of co ordination and collaboration. Every four to five years on average, the DAC reviews and assesses each member’s development co operation system. The Review makes recommendations and suggestions for improvement and a follow up process ensures that lessons are translated into policies, programmes, and practices of the DAC member. 

The objectives of DAC peer reviews are:

  • to improve the quality and effectiveness of development co-operation policies and systems, and 
  • to promote good development partnerships for better impact on poverty reduction and sustainable development in developing countries. 

DAC peer reviews therefore promote individual and collective behaviour change of DAC members to ensure their development co-operation policy framework and systems are fit for purpose.

This is achieved through:  

  • holding DAC members accountable for the commitments they have made, and reviewing their performance against key dimensions of development co-operation and other domestic policies with an impact on developing countries; and
  • learning and sharing good practice.

Use of Peers

Membership of the Development Assistance Committee obliges members to undergo peer reviews, and to serve as “examiners” in the review of other members. The peer review process relies upon two DAC members as examiners for each review. 

The examiners are considered representatives of the DAC as a whole, both contributing to and learning from the Peer Review process. They should be senior managers from headquarters or field offices and/or DAC delegates. They need to have experience in development co-operation and must participate actively in all aspects of the peer review process. It is important, for substantive and logistical reasons, that the team is kept as small as possible.

The Review team consists of one or two representatives from each examining country and three to four Secretariat staff members, including a humanitarian assistance expert.

A donor not a member of the DAC may participate as an observer in the review process on condition that prior agreement is given by the reviewed country, the examiners, and that the DAC has been informed before the review begins. The Committee has agreed a separate procedure, “Code of Conduct”, for observers which must be followed both by members wishing to host an observer, and by those wishing to have a peer review experience.  On a case-by-case basis, the Secretariat facilitates the observerships, and any requests to serve as an observer as well as offers to host, should be sent to the Secretariat, who will ensure that the DAC procedure is followed.


The Secretariat designates well in advance the members to be reviewed and those members to serve as examiners in a given year. The Secretariat takes care to select for each review examining members with a programme of similar size and complexity to the programme being examined, and which can offer lessons as well as benefit from the learning opportunity that a peer review provides. Language and geography are other factors taken into account in matching examiners to each review.

The Process

The Review, Evaluation and Engagement Division of the Development Co-operation Directorate is responsible for conducting the review process. A lead administrator is assigned to each peer review with responsibility for the day-to-day facilitation of the process and for drafting the report. The Head of the Review, Evaluation and Engagement Division provides overall guidance and quality assurance.

The Peer Review involves five stages. Throughout the process, the examiners, the reviewed country, and the Secretariat interact in a spirit of team collaboration, sharing information at all levels in order to facilitate both the organisation and the successful outcome of the peer review.

i) Preparation and planning

To start the process, the Secretariat agrees with the reviewed member and the examiners, a plan including provision of documentation by the reviewed member and timing of all missions.

At the latest one month before the team undertakes mission travel, the reviewed member submits to the Secretariat a country memorandum (maximum 40 pages), based on the outline of the DAC Peer Review Reference Guide. This is the reviewed member’s opportunity to provide the peer review team with information on the national aid system, including any reforms since the previous review and the challenges still outstanding. The memorandum serves as the basis for the consultations between the reviewed member and the reviewers and is published on the OECD On-Line Information System (OLIS). This, and other background documentation, must be submitted to the Secretariat in either English or French.

It is important that the member under review submits its annual statistical report to the Development Co-operation Directorate’s Statistics and Development Finance Division not later than three months before the Review in order to ensure that the review is based on up-to-date information.

The Secretariat consults a wide variety of sources: key written documents, evaluations, audits, think-tanks and media. It also conducts interviews with key multilateral organisations on the member’s performance as a multilateral donor.

The reviewed member makes funds available to the DCD in the form of a voluntary contribution to cover essentially the cost of field missions. The cost will be estimated as a lump sum, depending on the number of partner country visits. Hence, pledges and funds should be received, ideally, at the beginning of the biennium, or latest at the beginning of the year in which the review will be initiated.

ii) Fact-finding, analysis and report writing

Methodology: Fact-finding, analysis and report writing are all guided by the DAC Peer Review Reference Guide which sets out the key dimensions of analysis of interest to the DAC in reviewing aid programmes. The Reference Guide is approved by the DAC for a biennium and contains seven dimensions: (i) Towards a comprehensive development effort; (ii) Policy vision and strategic orientations; (iii) ODA allocations; (iv) Organisation fit for delivering the development co-operation programme effectively; (v) Delivery modalities and partnerships help deliver quality aid; (vi) Results management, transparency and accountability; and (vii) Humanitarian assistance. The analysis of a member’s humanitarian assistance portfolio is undertaken by a humanitarian assistance specialist within a framework agreed by the DAC and the Good Humanitarian Donorship Group. The report also contains a Statistics Annex in standard format.

Consultations: While the Secretariat collects and analyses material from a variety of sources, consultations between the member and the review team are invaluable to the process in which a Senior Secretariat official plays the role of lead facilitator. Such consultations are held both at headquarters and at the field level with the key institutions and partners. These consultations form the backbone of the fact-finding stage of the Peer Review process. 

  • Mission to the Capital/Headquarters: The mission to the capital seeks to cover all relevant areas of the reviewed member’s development co-operation system. The Secretariat works directly with the reviewed member co ordinator to organise a mission which normally lasts four to five days with the participation of all team members. The reviewed member is responsible for making all the arrangements for the visit including meeting schedules, hotel reservations and local transport.

    Opening and closing sessions are commonly held with the head of agency and there are a range of meetings within the aid ministry/agency and with other departments of the government, the national audit authority, Parliamentarians, civil society, NGO umbrella groups, academics and the research community. The review team presents preliminary findings or “key impressions” to the reviewed member's representatives at a closing session, providing an opportunity for discussion and response.

  • Field Mission: Following the headquarters’ visit, the review team normally pays one or two visits to partner countries - depending on the size and characteristics of the member’s programme - in order to gain an understanding of how policies are implemented. These missions are not intended to assess, in a comprehensive way, the relevance and effectiveness of the country programme of the reviewed DAC member, or to evaluate individual projects. Rather, the review team focuses on generic or system issues and lessons that are representative of the reviewed member’s development co operation and which may be applicable elsewhere. The team meets with member representatives, as well as with a wide range of local stakeholders - partner government officials, parliament, civil society representatives and other donors. As for the HQ visit, at the end of the mission, the team presents its “key impressions”. A separate report of the field visit is included as an annex to the peer review report. Field visits are organised by the Secretariat directly with the reviewed member representative in country who is responsible for all logistical arrangements.

Drafting the Report: The Secretariat consolidates information gathered during the missions as well as from other sources. In consultation with the examiners, it drafts the two parts of the peer review report including the annexes. A draft of the Secretariat Report (Part 2) is first shared with the examiners for comments and is subsequently sent to the reviewed member who has one to two weeks to undertake a factual check of the text. The Part 2 report (Secretariat report) is posted on OLIS four weeks ahead of the peer review meeting. The Secretariat encourages the examiners to collaborate particularly closely on the text of the Main Findings and Recommendations (Part 1) which is posted on OLIS two weeks before the review meeting. Unlike for Part 2, the reviewed country does not receive this document prior to submission to OLIS. 

iii) The Peer Review meeting

The review process culminates in a peer review meeting, led by the DAC Chair, at OECD headquarters in Paris. The review team’s findings are presented by the examiners who include proposals for recommendations from the DAC to the reviewed member. Thematic discussions are organised on key aspects of the reviewed member’s development co-operation to allow learning and sharing of good practices. The Committee then discusses the draft DAC Main Findings and Recommendations (Part 1). The Secretariat Report (Part 2), including the annexes on the field visits and the humanitarian assistance activities, may also be discussed.

The Delegation of the reviewed member is normally led by the head or deputy head of the ministry/agency with other relevant staff present, including their DAC Delegate. The Delegation is given an opportunity to present its response to the report, and to engage in a debate with the DAC. While the examiners take the lead, other members of the Committee are invited, indeed encouraged, to raise questions, offer comments and draw on their own experience in the course of the debate in the interest of mutual learning. Ultimately, the DAC agrees recommendations to the member under review.

iv) Approval and publication

The morning after the peer review meeting the Secretariat organises an editorial session in order to incorporate any comments from the DAC into the Main Findings and Recommendations (Part 1). The editorial session is attended by the examiners, the reviewed member representatives and the Secretariat who chairs. As appropriate, corrections to the Secretariat Report (Part 2) are also made to ensure coherence with Part 1.

Changes in any of the documents are factual or strictly reflect an adjustment agreed by the DAC during the peer review meeting. For purposes of transparency, any change in language or disagreement with conclusions or recommendations suggested by the examiners should be raised by the reviewed member in the peer review meeting itself in order to ensure that only issues that seem legitimate to other members will be considered. The edited Part 1 text is sent to DAC delegates for final approval and after the three-day deadline the Secretariat cannot consider any further amendments.

At this stage, the Main Findings and Recommendations and the Secretariat report are posted on OLIS in final form. The complete report is subsequently placed on the DAC website along with a press advisory and - subject to the country’s approval - its memorandum. This release is usually timed with a launch in the reviewed member capital, held within four weeks of the review itself. The report is published through the OECD iLibrary, and it can also be published separately as a “pre-print” at the request – and the expense – of the reviewed member.

It has now become practice that the reviewed member invites the DAC Chair or the Secretariat to join in an event to launch the report to the media, civil society and other stakeholders. This serves to increase accountability at home and to increase awareness about the development co-operation efforts among the public.

vii) Follow-Up

A senior representative of the Secretariat visits the capital of the reviewed member 18 to 24 months after the peer review meeting to discuss implementation of the recommendations made by the DAC. Prior to the visit, the reviewed member presents relevant information on actions taken, or planned, as a consequence of the Peer Review. Following the visit, a report is submitted to the committee. Having been piloted in 2009, such mid-term reviews are now part of the standard peer review process. Members may opt out of mid term reviews if circumstances dictate this.