The OECD and urban governance reform.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Urban policy (Management)
Urban policy (Social aspects)
Public administration (Social aspects)
Author: Krawchenko, Tamara A.
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs; 360 Services information; 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Product: Product Code: 9000110 Public Administration-Total Govt; 9100010 Public Administration NAICS Code: 92113 Public Finance Activities
Organization: Organization: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Canada Geographic Code: 1CANA Canada
Accession Number: 229218929
Full Text: Abstract

The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) has had an urban affairs program since the late 1970s. The Organization has in recent years positioned itself as strongly supportive of an entrepreneurial paradigm for urban governance. This paper explores the role of the OECD in disseminating policy advice and its influence in the area of urban governance by focusing on the content of the OECD's territorial reviews and descriptions of its policy network and role in policy transfer. The OECD's influence in urban affairs is a particularly prudent topic for Canada, which has participated in a number of territorial reviews: Canada (OECD 2002a), Montreal (OECD 2004b) and Toronto (OECD forthcoming).

Keywords: Urban governance, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Policy transfer


L'Organisation de Cooperation et de Developpement Economiques (OCDE) a un programme des affaires urbaines, ayant etait etabli depuis la fin des annees 70. Recemment, l'OCDE est devenu partisan du paradigme entrepreneurial pour la gouvernance urbaine. Cet article explore le role de l'OCDE dans la diffusion de conseils strategiques et son influence dans le domaine de la gouvernance urbaine en se concentrant sur le contenu des revues territoriales, sur les descriptions de son reseau politique de meme que son role dans la politique de transfert actuelle. L'influence de l'OCDE sur les affaires urbaines est un sujet particulierement circonspect pour le Canada, qui a Deja participe a un certain nombre de revues territoriales: Canada (OECD 2002a), Montreal (OECD 2004b) et Toronto (OECD a paraitre).

Mots cles: gouvernance urbaine, L'Organisation de Cooperation et de Developpement Economiques, le transfert de politique publique


A common theme in the literature on policy networks is the role of multi-scalar policy transfer, networked modes of governance and the influence of global organizations in disseminating policy advice and advocating specific policy reforms (Dolowitz & March 2000, 2003; Hooghe & Marks 2001, 2003; Stone 2004; Wilkinson & Hughes 2005). While organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are often mentioned as key actors (1), there is far less literature on the role of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in this area. The OECD has a broad network: it currently has thirty member countries and is further involved with over seventy countries with developing and emerging economies through various networks and sharing of expertise. This paper examines one specific area of the OECD's functions--the territorial reviews and policy recommendations conducted by the Working Party (2) on Territorial Policy in Urban Areas (WPURB, est. 1999).

The WPURB is a sub-group of the OECD's Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate (GOV), which is concerned with public sector governance and reform. The OECD has had a program of work on urban affairs for some time (since 1979) with the WPURB being its latest manifestation. The public sector work program of the OECD has been closely tied to New Public Management (NPM) practices. This approach has not been without criticism, particularly of the uniformity of its advocacy for certain reforms, since this allows little attention to differing jurisdictional contexts. (3) Recent organizational changes in this area would appear to reflect a movement in the OECD towards more place-based, multi-level and context-specific policy development. At the same time, the OECD's work in the area of urban/regional policy remains very much grounded in an 'entrepreneurial governance' approach which follows NPM guidelines--embracing private sector principles in pubic sector reform. The main outputs of this Working Party include territorial reviews on urban regions (metropolitan areas and city-regions), specific chapters in National Territorial Reviews and thematic publications on globalization and city competitiveness and attractiveness, infrastructure, housing and environment, as well as social cohesion and distressed areas. The group also seeks to facilitate multi-level government interaction on urban issues and to present internationally comparable indicators and best practices. (4)

This paper examines the Working Party's urban territorial reviews, paying specific attention to policy advice and advocacy for urban governance reform. The questions explored are: what types of urban governance reforms/recommendations are being made by the OECD/WPURB in the area of urban development; how are these recommendations put forward (e.g., who has policy input, what is the process); and finally, what is the impact of the WPURB in this policy sphere?

This paper is organized into three parts. The first section briefly explores the role of the OECD in disseminating policy advice. The second section focuses on the content of the Working Party's territorial reviews to elucidate the types of governance recommendations that are being advocated. The third section describes the membership of the WPURB, how it networks and the peer review process. Finally, some conclusions are made as to: the influence of the OECD in the area of urban governance reform; its role in policy transfer; and recommendations for future research.

i) OECD: Influence and Role

There has been a growing interest among academic and policy communities in how international organizations and their global networks (e.g., IMF, WB, UN, OECD) influence public policy and government reform. There has been much criticism of the 'Washington consensus' reforms of the early 1990s and their narrow focus on efficiency, privatization, smaller government, deregulation and coercive tools. (5) The hard-handed conditionalities imposed by such organizations as the World Bank and the IMF have given way to more nuanced and soft-power forms of influence. This soft-power approach best characterizes the work of the OECD. However, its concrete influence on governance reform is more difficult to assess because of this.

Linked to the issue of soft-power, a common theme across the literature on the OECD and other such international organizations is the trend towards multi-scalar and networked modes of governance and public policy, driven in large part by the complexity of emerging issues. While the OECD recognizes these emerging trends (and its own role) in networked governance, the nuanced and collaborative nature of the work of the OECD makes its influence and outcomes difficult to show empirically. It can at once be thought of as a body that collects information, compiles data and identifies trends as well as one that disseminates policy advice and facilitates knowledge sharing among member and non-member states and organizations. In this, the OECD pursues a dual function: expertise in comparative research and data combined with advocacy for policy reform--e.g., through the adoption of regulatory frameworks or best practices and country surveys.

The OECD describes itself as a forum to bring together countries "committed to democracy and a market economy." (6) In the area of public sector reform, the work of the GOV directorate has been closely associated with NPM. A number of the GOV Directorate's policy documents in the 1990's advocated this approach (e.g., Governance in Transition 1995). While such reforms were never singularly espoused for all member states, common trends in policy recommendations signify an overall approach consistent with NPM objectives. Since this time, the public governance reforms recommended through the GOV Directorate appear to indicate a more nuanced approach--one that goes further in recognizing national and territorial differences requiring context and scalar specific policy.

A literature review on the OECD and its role in policy transfer has found that while the organization is often mentioned as an influential global actor, specific examples of its roles, functions and influence are rarely discussed; while the OECD's role in disseminating policy advice, promoting best practices and conducting peer evaluations is often recognized, there is very little written about how they concretely network with governments, international institutions and civil society/NGO actors and influence public policy (Blair 1993, 9; Ougaard 2004, 92). Also, despite its longevity as an institution, there are relatively few books that examine the history of the OECD. (7) The remainder of this section briefly examines how the OECD and its policy influence have been studied to date. In doing so, methodological issues inherent in examining the role of the OECD in policy transfer are illustrated.

In The OECD and European Welfare States, Armingeon and Beyeler (2004) examine the consistency of OECD recommendations to member states in terms of policy advice and country surveys. In doing so, they highlight the methodological limitations of an approach that considers how ideas impact policy outcomes--e.g., there are time lags between the dissemination of ideas and their eventual adoption and it is very difficult (if not impossible) to definitively prove that the OECD has concretely influenced national policies. Whereas Armingeon and Beyeler (2004) assess the OECD's influence in the area of policy adoption, Mills, in "Ethics Goes Global: The OECD Council Recommendation on Improving Ethical Conduct in the Public Sector" (1999), examines the theoretical assumptions underlying the recommendations and aheir implications for implementation and effectiveness. Specifically, Mills explores the OECD Council's Recommendation on Improving Ethical Conduct in the Public Service (1998) that came forward through the work of the GOV Directorate (then known as the Public Management Committee, PUMA). Mills' assessment implies that the OECD is extremely cautious with its recommendations and, because such recommendations are reached by consensus, their implementation is a foregone conclusion. The extent to which this can be said of all policy areas is of interest. For example, it is possible that the OECD is a 'leader'/policy innovator in some areas, while a 'follower' in others. This theme is explored in Political Globalization, State Power and Global Forces (Ougaard 2004) where political globalization is examined through a theoretical and empirical analysis of global institutions with particular attention paid to policy coordination on economic development between the UN, WTO, OECD, G-7 and IME

In an earlier book, Ougaard (2002) discusses the OECD and PUMA (the precursor to the GOV Directorate) and its role in promoting NPM practices and policies. He writes that the OECD has "taken the lead in developing NPM notions" (Ougaard & Higgott 2002, 112). Ougaard describes the development of PUMA and the ideological creep of NPM practices into its work, despite earlier insistence on ideological and cultural neutrality (Ougaard & Higgott 2002, 118). The infiltration of NPM practices is evidenced through a discourse analysis of the reports of PUMA from 1993 to 1999, which describes it as a shift from the 1980s maxim of national specificity towares a one-size-fits-all approach (ibid., 119). Pollitt (2001) also examines the issue of policy convergence in public management practices and the role of international organizations and policy networks. (8) He specifically mentions the role of OECD/PUMA and links it to NPM practices and policy advice, finding that while there is "discursive evidence of convergence towares NPM/entrepreneurial concepts and vocabulary," some member countries have not participated enthusiastically in this discourse, notably Germany, France and the Mediterranean States (ibid., 489). Pollitt specifically mentions Anglophone countries, the Netherlands and the Nordic groups as the most enthusiastic participants in NPM discourse (ibid.).

In New State Spaces: Urban Governance and the Rescaling of Statehood, Brenner (2004) develops an interpretation of the transformation of statehood under contemporary globalizing capitalism and biscusses the OECD in the context of administrative reform and territorial competitiveness (Brenner 2004). The OECD, along with a host of other international institutions, are described as "important agents of the so-called "Washington Consensus," which attempt to diffuse neoliberal policy agendas such as fiscal discipline, regulatory downgrading, trade liberalization, labour-market flexibility, the privatization of public service, and unrestrained foreign direct investment on a global scale" (Brenner 2004, 200).

Questions common to the literature surveyed here are: what ideas are being privileged; who is driving these ideas and in whose interests; and, how are the resultant policy recommendations being adopted and by whom? While much of the literature on the OECD examines emerging forms of governance and discusses the role of networks, there is very little empirical work that explains how policy influence is achieved and how ideas are disseminated. This topic has largely been explored through a discourse/content analysis of reports and publications and a quantitative analysis of decisions and recommendations, sometimes used to establish links between organizations. Taking a different approach, Armingeon and Beyeler (2004) have sought to contrast OECD recommendations with policy implementation in European welfare states. Direct quotations from OECD Committee members or senior officials from government have been rare in the literature, suggesting that key informant interviews have been uncommon. Given my own research limitations, I too focus on a dextual analysis of reports and territorial reviews as a method of understanding the WPURB's role in constructing and disseminating policy advice. Documentation related to the WPURB's activities (e.g., notes, meeting agendas, conferences, list of attendees) have also been reviewed in order to gauge the extent of its network and decision making apparatus. The limitations of this approach stem from the difficulties in concretely linking the OECD's recommendations to policy change, and in understanding the nature of its policy networks sithout speaking with the actors themselves.

ii) Entrepreneurial Urban Governance

Writing in 2004, Neil Brenner states "... the most subtle deconstructions and critiques cannot occlude the mounting evidence that territorial competitiveness has become a pervasive concern among policymakers at all scales of political authority, from the OECD and the European Commission to national governments, regional administrations and entrepreneurial municipalities" (207). Indeed, the OECD's policy recommendations in this area require no subtle deconstruction whatsoever; their approach has been clearly outlined in two horizontal synthesis reports titled Competitive cities in a global economy (OECD 2006) and Competitive cities: a new entrepreneurial paradigm in spatial development (OECD 2007). As evidenced through these documents, the OECD has become a vocal supporter of a management and planning movement that has been gaining momentum since the 1970's.

In "From urban entrepreneurialism to a revanchist city'?: the spatial injustices of Glasgow's renaissance," MacLeod (2002) describes the emergence of urban entrepreneurialism as a response to such circumstances as deindustrialization, the suburban "flight" of high-income earners, and a concurrent concentration of impoverished residents in inner areas (604). At the same time as these factors were placing great strain on urban governmental administrations, there was a decline of national fiscal support for city governance in North America and Western Europe. Summarizing this transformation, MacLeod writes: "... in accordance with a neo liberal syllabus, the entrepreneurial regime is essentially concerned with reviving the competitive position of urban economies, especially through the "liberation" of private enterprise and an associated demunicipalization and recommodification of social and economic life" (604). The WPURB's research program in urban governance builds upon these traditions.

The OECD's paradigm of entrepreneurial governance is grounded in its understanding of what it calls "the irreversible trend of global economic integration," where the only way that policy planners can secure competitive advantage in the face of inter-city competition is by pursuing market-oriented entrepreneurial strategies (OECD 2007, 8). The primary aim of this approach is to foster economic growth through 'proactive' planning--that is, to initiate economic growth rather than manage/control it. This approach advocates market-driven processes to achieve public goals and implies less public sector intervention; it promotes collaborative and strategic alliances between the private and public sectors and particularly advocates public private partnerships as "the essential institutional framework for cities to compete in the global market by combining private resources and expertise with local governmental powers" (ibid., 8). It further encourages private sector behaviours in policy planning, described as risk taking and innovation with a profit motivation (ibid). Urban entrepreneurialism invites a fragmented institutional framework focused on privatization, deregulation and multi-actor policy, which the OECD describes as "shifting the balance away from the public sector and more towards the private sector" (ibid., 24).

This approach commodities the city--the urban entrepreneurial paradigm entails city promotion, branding, image-enhancing and place-based marketing initiatives. The city is treated as analogous to a firm "whereby the self-interested actions of cities competing for economic growth are supposed to generate benefits for all urban residents and, ultimately, for all the cities involved in the competition" (Leimer and Sheppard 1998, in OECD 2007, 19). The entrepreneurial paradigm sees all policy spheres, environmental and social, through the lens of market competition; environmental sustainability, social cohesion and equality are important only in so much as they impact the attractiveness of the area to investment. In this way, the focus on city competition frames all policy issues from an economic perspective--determining problem definition and policy recommendations.

While the OECD supports the entrepreneurial approach as a spatial development policy paradigm--the implementation of this approach raises many issues, such as the trade-off between the pursuit of economic growth and the need to address social and environmental concerns. Many of these issues are raised in the 2006 WPURB document Competitive Cities in a Global Economy, which focuses on seven core dilemmas facing urban policy makers. Each dilemma weighs the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches, drawing on academic literature and evidence from case studies/territorial reviews. Rather than summarizing these arguments, this section focuses on the types of policy recommendations in the seven thematic areas. In most cases, the policy recommendations are directed towards larger metro-regions--defined as those with populations above 1.5 million.

The first dilemma considers whether large metro regions can be said to generate positive or negative spillovers overall. If metro-regions are found overwhelmingly to generate negative spillovers, then urban/regional policy should focus on reducing such large concentrations of population and vice versa. The document asks: does the association between urbanization and economic growth peak at a certain point and what is the impact of metro regions on development in other parts of a country (OECD 2006, 93)? A balanced approach is recommended--one that entails "assisting metro-regions to maximize their economic and environmental possibilities, but without artificially promoting the growth of heavy population concentrations or inhibiting the development of other growth models in other kinds of region" (ibid., 99-100). This suggests that market forces alone should not determine relations between metro-regions and other parts of a country. Rather, public-policy measures to address congestion or to co-ordinate land-use policy within a metro-region are required to ensure the attraction of labour, firms and capital. It is further recommended that policies focus on "capturing differentiated regional competitive advantages" rather than on providing direct subsidies to lagging regions (ibid., 100).

A common theme among the policy dilemmas that are presented in the 2006 Competitive Cities in a Global Economy document is the delicate balance between market forces and public intervention, where the dividing line is often unclear. The OECD's answer to the first policy dilemma appears to be that metro-regions are positive forces overall--but require careful management by multiple stakeholders to ensure long term economic vibrancy and the reduction of 'negative externalities'. Related to this, the second policy dilemma concerns the adoption of a strategic vision for a metropolitan region--a central component of the entrepreneurial paradigm. Strategic visions are deemed necessary to marshal public support for a business environment, including infrastructure support for economic activity and links between the business sector and higher education and research institutions to drive innovation and creativity. Specifically, cluster development policies are advocated for their economies of scale and the production of tacit and unformalized knowledge flows (locational advantage and knowledge feedbacks). Specific policies related to cluster development will differ depending on industry sector, but they have generally tended to focus on infrastructure and human capital development--the most high profile examples of these approaches are in the science and technology sectors (9)

The adoption of strategic visions is presented as a policy dilemma by asking how one can promote a public strategic vision in a market context without substantively involving public authorities in economic planning. The approach advocated by the OECD implies collaborative governance involving the private and not-for profit sectors as well as civic engagement. There are examples of such approaches, but they are for the most part relegated to specific policy spheres--e.g., the formation of Competitiveness Councils in Singapore and Ireland. There are obvious coordination dilemmas where existing governance arrangements do not match functional territory. The OECD's support of comprehensive long-term strategic visions for metro-regions suggests vastly different governance arrangements than currently exist in most OECD countries--and ones that may not be politically feasible.

Even in the most prosperous metro-regions, the negative consequences of population concentrations persist--e.g., traffic congestion, pollution, urban sprawl, generally high levels of criminality, lack of open space and other deficiencies of the physical environment, low income housing shortages, and the residential and social segregation of the immigrant populations who are attracted to large urban centres (OECD 2006, 136). In this way, the OECD's position presents itself as an inherent tradeoff between economic growth and environmental sustainability and social cohesion. On the one hand, wealth distribution or environmental compliance policies could be seen to dampen economic growth and city competitiveness, while on the other hand, the resolution of environmental and social problems are viewed as necessary for long-term city competitiveness and economic growth.

This vastly important and complicated area of policy appears to be the most underdeveloped, both within the Competitive Cities (2006, 2007) documents and in regional/city case studies. Many of the policy recommendations focus on what can be achieved through urban planning and design. Comprehensive multi-modal transportation policies are recommended along with urban regeneration, particularly of historical and cultural cities (e.g., Athens and Istanbul). The OECD acknowledges that metro-wide economic growth "depends not only on economic interdependencies but also on social cohesion, for which policies have to be designed" (OECD 2006, 145). However, it is in this crucial area that the policy recommendations are weakest and least able to resolve the seeming tradeoffs between city competitiveness and environmental and social considerations. The OECD Territorial Review of Stockholm (2006) provides evidence that even in a welfare state as comprehensive as Sweden's, vast urban inequalities remain, particularly for immigrant populations. The economic lens that is the entrepreneurial paradigm views populations in distressed areas as not fulfilling their potential labour productivity. It is in this way that they "constitute resources for development in the next stage of growth" (ibid., 146). This perspective implies policies that focus on skills training and investment in educational institutions. While the OECD recommends a more comprehensive governance model--one that coordinates actions between national, regional, county and municipal governments--comprehensive policy recommendations in these areas are lacking and an 'economic competitiveness' lens limits the range of policy solutions considered.

The three policy dilemmas presented so far have implied the need for new types of governance arrangements--ones capable of comprehensive and long-term planning across multiple policy spheres and involving different levels of government as well as the private and not-for profit sectors and citizens. The remainder of the policy dilemmas presented in the Competitive Cities in a Global Economy (2006) document elucidates the nature of such governance arrangements and their implications for citizen involvement, the balance of responsibilities between different levels of government, issues of accountability, and the tradeoffs between spatially targeted policies and national priorities. Different governance models are presented, from those deemed institutionally heavy (e.g., functional models in the metropolitan reform tradition) to those deemed institutionally light (e.g., information coordination and new regionalism). While no one model is recommended above the others (different institutional mechanisms will need to be tailored to specific metro-regional circumstances), the necessity for some type of institutional coordination across a functional area of a metro-region is implied--at minimum, in certain policy spheres.

Regional institutions for urban governance, such as the OECD advocates, can put distance between citizens and popular representation. Issues of representation are seen to be greatest for highly flexible institutional structures that do not have direct election. The OECD states: "better forms of institutional legitimacy and popular representation" are needed, particularly when reforms entail increasing funding responsibility, becoming a regional service provider or levying taxes (OECD, 2006, 196). Co-operation through policy networks are advocated, but a caution is given regarding the extent to which these actors have the legitimacy to represent the local population--an issue particularly problematic for private sector involvement. Few concrete policy recommendations are presented specifically relating to the issue of representation in metro-regional governance models--instead there is a focus on illustrating the tradeoffs between different approaches. However, in the case of citizen involvement, several case studies are highlighted--e.g., the involvement of civil society in the Stuttgart Regional Association (Germany), Seoul's (South Korea) attempts to encourage citizen input into public management, and community participation through the conseil de Developpement for France's Urban and Agglomeration Communities.

The appropriate balance between the roles and responsibilities of metro-regional governance and central/state governments are also considered--as the fifth policy dilemma. In the past few years, the WPURB has been focusing its research program on national urban policies. In 2007, a "high-level debate" amongst OECD member countries was held on this issue during the OECD International Conference on Globalising Cities: Rethinking the Role of Central Governments (Madrid, March 2007). This can be a contentious area for the OECD; while the organization is composed of member states and its research program is largely state driven, it at the same time collaborates and networks with policy makers across multiple levels of government. The entrepreneurial paradigm implies a need for greater local autonomy and particularly greater control over resources to affect competitive metropolitan policies--a recommendation often at odds with central/state objectives and authority. (10)

As yet, the WPURB's policy recommendations in this area are rather underdeveloped. The role of central/state governments in urban affairs can be very problematic, particularity in the case of a federated state like Canada where municipalities are 'creatures of the provinces'. (11) The OECD writes that while central or state governments (depending on constitutional authority) have tended to play a dominant role in metropolitan reforms, they have also "tended to maintain a solid grip on the management of new bodies" and in doing so, have sometimes "overlooked institutional solutions" (2006, 203). Strong metropolitan areas can be a political threat to the central state and may impede balanced territorial development (ibid., 203). The OECD document does not recommend institutional reforms in this area relating to the division of responsibilities between different levels of government, focusing instead on tools for vertical public policy collaboration such as "urban partnerships" where contracts or territorial pacts are recommended as the institutional vehicle for this approach. Examples of this include: French City Contracts (est. 1993) to foster cross-sectoral collaboration for public policy; Local Development Agreements in Sweden for neighbourhood development; and Canada's Urban Development Agreement programs. It will be interesting to follow how the tensions inherent in the OECD's implicit favouring of increased local autonomy is resolved through its research focus in this area in the future.

The OECD's entrepreneurial paradigm recommends greater involvement by the private sector in constructing regional partnerships. The sixth policy dilemma questions how public authorities can involve private interests in economic development policies and the construction of regional partnerships without this leading to "improper lobbying and squeezing out of small and medium sized enterprises by large corporations"--i.e., how can accountability to the public and transparency in transactions be maintained? Representation of business interests through commerce or trade associations are recommended instead of inclusion of individual firms in a collaborative process; this is meant to "level the playing field" and negate the "temptations for insider lobbying" (OECD 2006, 213). Examples such as the Madrid Autonomous Community cooperation arrangements with Chambers of Commerce, trade unions and business associations and the Greater London Authority's London Business Board made up of representatives from the business sector are highlighted. However, even these cases are problematic. In this vein, Newman and Verpraet (1999) are quoted as warning "about the relationships between fragmented partnerships and urban differentiation, a potential dissociation of partnerships from existing institutions and the priority in leading partnerships to economic valorization which raises legitimacy and accountability issues" (ibid., 215). Furthermore, such public-private collaborations often focus on "a shared desire to secure economic development rather than resolve spatial or social imbalances" (Savitch and Vogel, 1996 quoted in OECD 2006, 215). These critiques are raised as a caution to policymakers without elucidating institutional/ governance solutions.

Finally, the 'right' balance between the financial needs of metro-regions and national priorities are considered--phrased as the question of "unequal burdens or distorting subsidies"? The WPURB's research program on competitive cities was spurred by just this issue; at a 2003 High Level Meeting (HLM) of the Territorial Development Policy Committee (Martigny, Switzerland, 25-26 June), it was decided that there was a need to shift territorial policies away from subsidies and towards a more open policy stance promoting regional competitiveness through private and public investment, entrepreneurship and reliance on local assets. The 2006 Competitive Cities document outlines fiscal tools available to metro-regions and states that national equalization schemes are a "burden for competitiveness in metropolitan regions" (OECD 2006, 229). This clearly suggests a favouring of "unequal burdens" in addressing this dilemma, rather than what is deemed to be "distorting subsidies." Other fiscal tools such as 'local own revenues', intergovernmental grants, fiscal autonomy and the role of public private partnerships in financing infrastructure and services are discussed. The language and recommendations in this area are tentative. They write, "[w]hatever policies are eventually chosen, the most important goal is to reorganise public finances so that they can assist cities and regions to improve competitiveness..." (OECD 2006, 232). At a minimum, it is suggested that a plurality of participation (and greater involvement of local actors) is necessary if appropriate strategies for development are to be implemented. A favouring of "unequal burdens" clearly raises equity concerns where strategic investments in certain locales may be prioritized over transfers and grants based on an equalization rationale.

The WPURB's work program in urban policy is more assertive or developed in some policy areas than in others. For example, the entrepreneurial paradigm is particularly problematic in dealing with the social consequences of urbanization and policy recommendations are weak in this area. Environmental issues are largely dealt with through market mechanisms such as congestion pricing. In other areas, the nature of the OECD's collaborative process of document production may limit its scope for policy recommendations. Balint and Knill, in "Explaining variation in organization change: The reform of human resource management in the European Commission and the OECD" (2008), comment that the OECD is often "stifled due to the current internal decision making structures which are based on uniformity and, from the committee level, the requirement of consensus on issues (20). This feature of internal decision making could in part explain why several of the policy dilemmas have been presented as more or less just that--dilemmas--with an absence of concrete policy recommendations.

iii) Ideas, Elites and Policy Transfer

The OECD is often referred to as a global economic think tank--but is it a leader in the area of urban policy? The entrepreneurial management approach has been around for some time and would appear to have been driven in part by bottom-up processes. How then can we interpret the OECD's policy impact in this research area? Are they a late adopter of these ideas? What is their role in policy determination? This section describes the OECD/WPURB's networks and peer review process and draws some conclusions on the nature of their policy influence in the area of urban policy.

The WPURB has a vast policy network. All committees, working parties and networks under the GOV Directorate are open to all OECD members. Working Parties under the TDPC have regular observers from the non-member countries of Chile and Morocco, but no ad hoc observers. The network contributing to the WPURB's research is broad and varied, with input from a series of international conferences where participants include international experts, politicians, mayors and ministers, bureaucrats, practitioners, journalists as well as representatives from international organizations, the business sector and civil society. The WPURB's research is further complemented by territorial statistics and indicators collected for the purposes of cross-cities comparability and analysis and evaluation of policies.

The OECD's electronic documentation is extensive--notes and agendas for high-level meetings and conferences are posted online, as are the lists of event attendees. Often these read like a 'who's who' in the influential policy community. In some cases this documentation provides evidence for how some key decisions have been made. For example, the strong shift towards an entrepreneurial approach in the research program for territorial development would appear to have come out of a 2003 high-level meeting. (12) In terms of the inclusion of influential actors in the OECD's policy network, there can be no doubt that top decision makers, particularly central/state bureaucrats, are often involved in the research process.

It is the decision-making apparatus and particularly the peer review process that gives further meaning to the scope of the OECD's influence. Like other international bodies (e.g., UN bodies, the IMF country surveillance program and the WTO Trade Policy Review Mechanism), the OECD employs peer review mechanisms, which it describes as "the systematic examination and assessment of the performance of a State by other States, with the ultimate goal of helping the reviewed State improve its policy making, adopt best practices, and comply with established standards and principles" (Pagani, 2001). It further notes that the effectiveness of peer review relies on the ability to effect peer pressure through i) a mix of formal recommendations and informal dialogue by the peer countries; ii) public scrutiny, comparisons and ranking among countries; and iii) the impact of all of the above on domestic pubic opinion, national administrations and policy makers" (Pagani 2001, 5).

The WPURB uses all of these approaches to effect policy change with the exception of territorial rankings. However, in contrast to some other policy spheres where peer reviews may be an obligation of OECD membership, the WPURB's territorial reviews are requested by subnational authorities (local or regional) with the agreement of national ones. In this way, members voluntarily open themselves up to criticism and cooperate in the peer review process by "making documents and data available, responding to questions and requests for self-assessment, facilitating contacts and hosting on-site visits" (Pagani 2001, 9). (13) The WPURB's territorial reviews follow a standard methodology and conceptual framework for comparability. (14) The approval of final documents, such as the territorial reviews, is done by consensus of the whole body. (15) This process is then followed by "soft enforcement," where follow-up reports are done to assess the extent to which recommendations may have been adopted. The peer review process can be understood as a tool for policy diffusion as well as a way of brokering ideas among member states to arrive at consensus on issues. This approach is, however, not without its tensions--particularly in the case of the WPURB's work program.

The most obvious tensions come from recommendations of local government/ governance empowerment on behalf of the WPURB in correspondence with the entrepreneurial paradigm. To date, recommendations have tread carefully in this area so as not to appear subversive of the sovereignty of 'higher order' governments. A further tension stems from the OECD's focus on economic development and concurrent efforts to address social and environmental issues. In the WPURB's Terms of Reference (1999), the first directive of this research program states that it will examine: "the nature, scale and complexity of economic, social and environmental challenges which urban regions in OECD countries are facing, and potential sources of long-term development." However, its paradigm of development is overwhelmingly economically-oriented and its focus on market processes arguably involves an incompatible or incomplete lens under which to address social and environmental policy spheres. The OECD's various research programs, including that of the WPURB seem to struggle with the right balancing and inclusion of these priorities and the inherent contradictions and tradeoffs within them.

Further tensions stem from the WPURB's work in providing ranking indicators; how it provides overall policy recommendations versus context specific ones; and the extent to which it assesses city-regions against one another. For example, by disseminating comparative rankings of cities and city regions on a range of indictors, the OECD facilitates city competitiveness. The Territorial Development Group's research program for territorial indicators is launching a biannual publication that will provide a range of data on good governance and the 'efficient' provision of services. (16) The terms of reference state that the project will not provide an overall, single score measure, nor will it rank or evaluate countries on the basis of overall governance performance. However, the indicators could easily be used to do so (despite the wishes of member countries). (17)

How can we interpret the OECD's influence in the area of urban/regional policy? The WPURB and its vast network are clearly influential--but to what extent? The question could be answered in a number of ways, either broad or narrow in scope. For those metro-regions that have participated in territorial reviews, policy recommendations could be assessed against policy adoption to determine influence (something that is beyond the scope of this paper). But even so, it would be difficult to attribute all policy correspondence to the role of the OECD. More broadly, the question of the OECD's influence in this area concerns its role as a broker of ideas in the context of a global organization with a dense network of actors. Ultimately, how one interprets the influence of the WPURB comes down to one's interpretation of the confluence of processes of globalization and the roles of institutions, ideas and interests in the study of policy and political change. (18) Differing theories of globalization will place different emphasis on the role of the OECD in policy (e.g., theories of global capitalism). In this way, differing interpretations of the processes of globalization will conceptualize ideas, institutions and interests in various ways and offer sometimes-conflicting accounts of social reality.

iv) Conclusions

This paper has explored the research program of the WPURB, described its policy recommendations and, finally, attempted to arrive at some understanding of its role in policy transfer. However, its role as a leader or a laggard in urban governance reform remains difficult to ascertain. The organization is undeniably influential--its network of policy actors is broad and includes national and local domains, senior bureaucrats and influential academics. A research program that makes use of the literature on epistemic communities to focus on the role of the PWURB in disseminating ideas may be a fruitful way of exploring this question in greater depth. Canada is now entering into its third territorial review with the OECD--a review of greater Toronto (OECD forthcoming). Some states engage with the OECD's work program in urban affairs more so than others (e.g., the United States has never participated in any OECD territorial reviews). Further research on the OECD's influence on urban reform and policy agendas is merited, particularly in a state such as Canada, which appears to be more open to such engagement. As a final observation, the role of the OECD and of the WPURB more specifically may best be understood as having an exponential effect: once the organization projects strong direction through a research program, as it has done with its advocacy of the entrepreneurial paradigm, its resources and networks have a snowball effect on policy adoption.


I would like to thank Dr. Leslie Pal for engaging me with this topic and facilitating my research in this area through a research assistantship on his "Modernising Governance" project. I would also like to thank the Carleton School of Gradate Studies and School of Public Policy and Administration for providing me with a travel/research bursary that enabled me to present an earlier version of this paper at the 19th annual conference of the Urban Affairs Association (Chicago, March 4-7, 2009).


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Tamara A. Krawchenko

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Carleton University


(1) For example, see the work of Coleman on the World Bank (2002).

(2) A Working Party is a committee established to examine a specific area or policy.

(3) For a summary of criticisms of NPM see Greve and Kragh Jespersen, "New public management and its critics: Alternative roads to flexible service delivery to citizens" (1999).

(4) The OECD's collaborative way of working means that while the WPURB may be the main Working Party for urban policy development, they do co-author publications and coordinate research with other OECD units.

(5) For example, see the work of Stiglitz (2002), which strongly criticizes of the global economic policies of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization.

(6) OECD, "About OECD," accessed online Feb. 7, 2009:,3417,en_36734052_36734103_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

(7) Literature that examines the history of the OECD in whole or in portion includes: OEEC, 1996; Aubrey, 1967; Blair, 1993; Fuhrer, 1996; Griffiths, 1997; OECD, 1963; OECD, 1985; Sullivan, 1997; Tan, Fukasaku, & Plummer, 1995.

(8) This issue is also explored in a later book by the same author, Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004).

(9) The OECD is particularly supportive of policies that focus on entrepreneurial development and SME growth (e.g., the public-private partnership resulting in Helsinki Culminatum Ltd.).

(10) The OECD is composed of federal, regionalized and unitary countries with different national-sub national relations.

(11) Under section 92 (8) of The Constitution Act (1867) municipal institutions are included as one of the "Classes of Subjects" for which each province "may exclusively make Laws."

(12) 2003 High Level Meeting (HLM) of the Territorial Development Policy Committee (Martigny, Switzerland, 25-26 June).

(13) Cape Town is the first city-region to be assessed that is not an OECD member country (Source: Meeting notes of 10th Session of the Working Party on Territorial Policy in Urban Areas, June 10, 2008, OECD Headquarters).

(14) The examiner countries in the peer review process are generally chosen through a system of rotation among member states, though sometimes country expertise in a specific area will also be included as a criterion. The staff of the research unit oversees the peer review process, manages the information, and normally carries out the most labour intensive parts of the review.

(15) In the case that consensus by members has not been reached, the procedures may call for the final report to state the differences among participants (Pagani, 2001, p. 11)

(16) The publication is titled "Government at a Glance." The planned release of the first issue is late 2009.

(17) Source: 0,3343, en_2649_33735_37688524_1_1_1_1,00.html

(18) The definition of these concepts is contested. Whatever one's approach (e.g., rationalist) they can be considered related concepts rather than exclusive ones where the framework under which one considers one concept will then impact how the others are defined and understood.
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