5. Maximising the opportunities for co-ordination across IOs

IOs provide a permanent framework for IRC at the international level. They extend the reach of national governments to offer platforms for sharing data and experiences; as well as consensus-building and the adoption of common approaches (OECD, 2020[1]). In recent decades, the emergence of new business models, the scale of technological change, and the pace of globalisation have blurred the boundaries of their traditional portfolios and generated increasing interaction between the activities of IOs.

Numerous IOs have been created to respond to the diverse policy needs of their members. The great number of IOs reflects the ever-growing need to conduct activities at the international level. Country representatives, being members to several IOs, have a comprehensive vision of their existing complementarities, the specific strengths of each IO, and potential areas of overlap. With the increasing realisation that “orchestrators” need “orchestration”, co-ordination1 among IOs has become a strong centre of interest in the search for greater coherence and effectiveness of collective action.

At a minimum, co-ordination can serve to ensure that the operations and instruments of IOs are not in direct conflict. At best, co-ordinated international activity has the potential to unlock the combined strengths of IOs, by maximising expertise, administrative capacities, economic resources, and rulemaking capabilities. Ultimately, co-ordination among IOs is essential to effectively addressing the needs and priorities of members, and country representatives participating in several IOs have an important role in fostering such co-ordination.

Despite these opportunities, the current co-ordination practices of IOs remain largely informal and concentrated in the initial phases of the rulemaking cycle (OECD, 2019[2]). There remains significant room to accelerate and deepen co-ordination in international rulemaking.

To support this process, this chapter of the IO Compendium aims to enhance understanding of the variety of mechanisms that can underpin co-ordination among IOs, and to help them co-ordinate more systematically, maximise their respective strengths and work together towards common global objectives. In the absence of a structured body of knowledge for how IOs can co-ordinate effectively, this section builds on the practices of IOs collected through the framework of the IO Partnership and existing academic research.

IOs were created with different mandates and for different purposes, with different membership structures and varying geographic coverage. The richness of the international system is in its diversity, with IOs that have respective technical expertise, networks and working methods bringing their own added value. Nevertheless, with time there is inevitably growing interaction among them. Today, while the global rulemaking landscape is increasingly diverse and dynamic, it is at the same time characterised by strong linkages across issue areas and intersections between various domains of activity (OECD, 2013[3]).

Most IOs operate in fields where many other IOs and international entities are also active (OECD, 2016[4]). In a fragmented international legal order, two or more IOs or legal regimes frequently purport to govern the same individuals, activities, or policy domains. For example, at least a half-dozen international bodies currently address international financial issues, no less than ten international bodies claim regulatory authority over internet infrastructure, and roughly two dozen international bodies address climate change (Cerf, Ryan and Senges, 2014[5]); (Keohane and Victor, 2010[6]).

Collective action among IOs is fundamental to manage shared policy challenges and ensure the effective achievement of joint objectives. Collective action to achieve common objectives was the very reason for which IOs were created: in order to support countries to join their efforts towards shared approaches to advancing goals and addressing challenges. As a result, IOs were set up as platforms for dialogue and negotiation between a broad range of actors with very different positions. They are therefore predisposed towards multi-stakeholder collaboration, consensus-building and ‘orchestration’, as opposed to more centralised and top-down modes of operation (Hale and Roger, 2014[7]) (Abbott et al., 2015[8]) (Box 5.1). This experience in fostering dialogue, encouraging peer learning and developing a level playing field among stakeholders with different interests and priorities can and should be used by IOs themselves to learn from each other, exchange information and share best practices. Ultimately, co-ordination among IOs is beneficial for the effective achievement of common goals, collectively and individually: when two international bodies collaborate on issues of mutual concern, their interactions effectively reaffirm the stature and legitimacy of each agency to operate in the area under consideration (Dunoff, 2015[9]).

Peer learning and dialogue among IOs is a fundamental building block of effective international rulemaking. Each IO has an established body of expertise, policy community and process that is well-adapted to develop a policy response to specific international needs and challenges. In certain cases, however, the expertise of one organisation is not enough to address a complex policy challenge. It may need confronting with the scientific evidence of another IO, or may benefit from exchanges among policy communities that are constituencies of several different IOs. Through more systematic, purposive co-ordination from the early stages of international rulemaking, including when information is exchanged and policy analysis is conducted prior to the development and negotiation of international texts, IOs can pool efforts to develop better international instruments with broad relevance and reach.

Joint IO approaches are also crucial to help improve the overall clarity and coherence of the international rulemaking landscape. This allows IOs to agree on a common “language”, an important baseline both to align approaches among IOs and for their respective constituencies to access coherent international tools. The development of common approaches, terminologies and classifications among IOs helps to minimise confusion and misinterpretation among constituents regarding applicable rules, and maximise use of international instruments (OECD, 2016[4]) (see Chapter 1).

But co-ordination among diverse actors in a decentralised landscape is not easy. Each IO must operate in accordance with its specific mandate and governance processes. Despite IO complementarities, sharing of purposes and intersecting mandates, the different constituencies and specific rulemaking processes of each IO lead them to develop international instruments mostly in silos, with a tendency to co-ordinate mainly ad hoc among peers. This may result in sometimes overlapping – and in worse cases duplicative – instruments. It can also produce inefficiencies in the use of members’ resources, particularly when they are members of several IOs working in parallel. Most importantly, it can fail to effectively achieve the intended objectives of international instruments.

IOs working in silos may create analytical duplication, with research, data collection or analysis conducted in parallel instead of in common; regulatory duplication, where several international instruments with overlapping objectives are adopted without cross-linkages; or administrative duplication, with country and IO representatives needing to participate in several meetings in different countries for example. It should be noted that in any given country two IOs with overlapping or strongly-related mandates may well have different constituents within government (for example, energy and environment portfolios). To prevent such inefficiencies, country representatives and other relevant stakeholders (for example, regional organisations) with membership in several IOs have a key role in highlighting inconsistencies and fostering co-ordination among IOs.

The membership and mandate of IOs frequently overlap, and the coverage of their instruments often coincides (Hofmann, 2011[10]) (Urpelainen and Van De Graaf, 2014[11]). IOs have frequently confronted concerns regarding the risk of overlap and gaps, with a view to improving effectiveness. In some cases, this has induced them to include a breakdown of their activities within the framework of co-operation agreements, which lists the responsibilities of each organisation as well as the activities that are subject to joint action (Boisson de Chazournes, 2016[12]). Co-operation among IOs aims to enhance problem-solving in a given issue area, including the added value achieved through merging complementary competences and avoiding costly duplication in order to free resources for other activities. In practical terms, co-ordination among IOs also helps the members who fund and mandate their activities, by streamlining resources and achieving more effective results.

IO relationships can range from dyadic, involving just two organisations, to multiplicitous, involving networks of many organisations. Relations between two or more IOs can develop along a continuum of formal or informal channels of interaction. Formal relations are based on at least a minimum level of institutionalisation (Cerf, Ryan and Senges, 2014[5]) (OECD, 2016[4]) and (Biermann, 2017[13]) (Box 5.2). Concretely, responses to the 2018 IO survey show that co-ordination can be operationalised via different practical tools. These range from soft mechanisms such as exchange of information, observation in respective bodies, joint meetings, technical platforms for co-operation and joint task groups; to harder co-operation mechanisms such as Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs), exchanges of letters or other agreements, joint work programmes, mutual participation in a co-ordinating institution, or the development of joint instruments (OECD, 2016[4]) (OECD, 2019[2]).

To help IOs target their co-ordination efforts, this Compendium distinguished between co-ordination mechanisms depending on their objectives and outcomes, and based on the phase of international rule-making at which they intervene. This encompasses co-ordination in the preparatory work; co-ordination in the development of instruments; co-ordination in the provision of assistance; co-operation in the monitoring activity; and co-ordination to ensure compliance of international instruments (Figure 5.1).

This section highlights a set of key principles to guide the co-ordination activities of IOs. It builds upon the responses to the 2018 IOs Survey. These principles are not exhaustive. However, they shed light on some of the most important steps that should be taken by IOs in pursuing co-ordination activities.

To know who to co-operate with, IOs need to identify who is active in the area they are working in. With the growing number of international actors of different nature and often overlapping mandates, this is not always self-evident. Therefore, to help identify the right players to co-ordinate with, IOs can greatly benefit from systematically mapping the IOs undertaking normative activities in areas of relevance to them. Partners for co-ordination may be differentiated on the basis of the type of organisations (such as regional, private, sectoral, etc.) and the envisaged forms of co-ordination:

  • Inter-institutional co-ordination: refers to jointly-established, institutionalised structures (usually at inter-secretariat level) and processes between two or more autonomous international organisations, created with the explicit aim of facilitating inter-organisational relations. In such a co-ordination arrangement, partner IOs develop and formulate international instruments and oversee their implementation through inter-agency mechanisms such as joint committees and/or working groups, including ensuring effective communication. IOs may also appoint a staff member to act as inter-organisational liaison in order to facilitate co-ordination, exchange information, and build trust.

  • Multilevel co-ordination: occurs across the policy cycle with regional organisations, facilitates implementation, and enhances the impact of international instruments.

  • Public/private/academic co-ordination: capitalises on the combined strengths of public, private and academic entities, involves the clear designation of roles and responsibilities, and is subject to an oversight mechanism. The advantages of network co-ordination in both public and private sectors are considerable, including enhanced learning, more efficient use of resources, increased capacity to plan for and address complex problems, greater competitiveness, and better services for clients and customers (Provan and Kenis, 2008[17]). Network co-ordination with academia, whilst less common, can also be advantageous where academia play an important role in the development of international instruments and best practices in policy-regulatory environments. Academia may also share some objectives with IOs and contribute to the dissemination of information to a broader public.

  • Thematic or sectoral co-ordination: occurs within a given area of activity, minimises duplication, promotes common approaches, develops inclusive channels of sharing context specific knowledge and expertise, enhances rule credibility, and proceeds on the basis of shared objectives and organisational mandates. Such a type of relationship embodies the principle of the division of labour – considering each institution’s expertise and the resulting comparative advantages – but in a co-ordinated upstream framework based on specific and identified purposes. Co-operation is therefore carried out primarily through the identification of specific goals. The activities recognised as being essential to achieving these goals are subsequently distributed among the various agencies with a view to making their co-ordination truly effective (Boisson de Chazournes, 2016[12]).

  • Horizontal (or heterarchical) co-ordination: takes advantage of issue-linkages across similar or related activities existing among autonomous organisations and cultivates an integrated approach to tackling a given challenge.

  • Logistical co-ordination: allows IOs to co-ordinate and monitor supply chain operations by sharing resources and pooling costs of certain activities (e.g. organising events, participation in meetings).

IOs often pursue different goals that are directly related to their mandate and constituency. However, to co-ordinate normative action effectively, IOs need to find the shared objectives which will help structure their collaboration. Indeed, collective goals of co-ordination are essential for tackling complex global issues adequately. Agreeing on common objectives is therefore a prerequisite for initiating detailed steps for co-operation. Dialogue on mutual objectives early in the international rulemaking process – and as a first step for co-ordination – provides for a meaningful way to define the common objectives for the collaboration exercise. These common objectives can then be used throughout the collaboration, and offer a benchmark for evaluating its effectiveness going forward. Once common objectives are identified, IOs may want to bear in mind the following points to build on the common objectives and make the best of them:

  • Identifying collective concerns and practical necessities to tackle them, which can induce new forms of co-operation;

  • Recognising the multiple ways in which a common objective may be pursued, and the different policy instruments available to IOs with regard to their mandates, competencies and capabilities. Particular consideration may be given to organisations operating at different regional scales, for example those with global, intra-regional (IOs operating in specific regions or with a shared set of countries) and inter-regional (IOs operating among regions different or partially-overlapping sets of countries) scope;

  • In certain cases, IOs may identify broader needs and shared interests within global, inter-regional or intra-regional settings, while the pursuit of common objectives could happen at different levels and through different policy mechanisms, as allowed by IOs mandates and competencies.

Still, individual organisational goals are also fundamental in the survival and success of any co-operation. While collective goals are necessary conditions for co-ordination, the collaborators must recognise that each one of the participating organisations benefit and fulfil individual goals. If all members are to partake in and assign resources to the co-operation, they must see a contribution in the joint effort to their individual mandates.

Each IO has its mandate established through its constituent documents (and subsequent plenary decisions). IOs should make efforts to respect not only their own mandate but also those of existing or potential partners. Such respect a prerequisite for successful collaboration. Challenges arise when the mandates themselves leave room for the overlap or duplication of responsibilities and activities. Clearly, in such circumstances interfaces and boundaries need to be established and agreed early, and at senior level.

Preparing a whole-of-organisation guidance document on co-ordination possibilities can help IO staff identify the right approach. Having such a guidance document may help to ensure close co-operation between IOs by using of existing platforms for co-ordination, which would help them to minimise duplication and overlap of work, and create more clarity for their constituency and interested stakeholders on the use of their instruments. In particular, the guidance document on co-ordination could include specific principles to support staff in selecting the instruments, stages and procedures for collaboration, and facilitate joint development of international instruments by allowing for improved co-operation between IOs:

  • Selecting instruments for co-ordination – an overview of the existing instruments available for the IO and the respective strengths and weaknesses of these instruments will provide staff with a useful understanding on how to engage in co-ordination and adapt their collaboration with peers to desired outcomes;

  • Identifying the right stages for co-ordination – highlighting the phases of the policy cycle at which co-ordination initiatives presently occur, as well as those at which it is possible within the mandate of the international organisation in question, can help IO staff in deciding when to co-ordinate;

  • Following specific procedures – outlining the processes and modalities for co-ordination with other IOs will help IO staff co-ordinate consistently with their peers according to their needs and objectives and better predict the outcomes of the collaboration that would most effectively contribute to the fulfilment of strategic objectives.

The guidance document on co-ordination may provide practical support to IOs in ensuring both the stability and flexibility of co-ordination with other organisations. Stability is critical for maintaining legitimacy, both inside and outside the network. Stable networks mean that participants can develop long-term relationships with other members, so that each understands the other’s strengths and weaknesses and acts accordingly to maximise network outcomes. At the same time, flexibility allows networked organisations to respond quickly to competition and other environmental threats, as well as to opportunities. Essentially, flexibility is important for ensuring rapid network responses in ways that meet changing stakeholder needs and demands.

Finally, the review of past and on-going co-ordination activities can help identify pathways toward their enhancement and adaptation to new circumstances, as the context or external environment evolves. A frequent reassessment of structural mechanisms and procedures in light of new developments, together with a willingness to make needed changes even if they are disruptive, are key to continuously guarantee that co-ordination among IOs is both stable and flexible. The same organisations can reduce or even rescind their current relationships and develop ties to others, as needs and tasks change (Provan and Kenis, 2008[17]).

In their everyday work, many IOs first and foremost act as data and information hubs. They provide the framework to “orchestrate” the sharing of evidence among their constituencies within their respective areas, in various forms (raw, compiled in databases, analysed in thematic or country reports). To mutualise the benefits of this sharing of information and make even broader evidence available to the wider public, IOs may find it useful to co-ordinate their data collection and research activities. This may help expand the evidence base underpinning international instruments, ensure efficiency of services, avoid or reduce duplication, and maximise synergies in IO activities. IOs can therefore establish and actively participate in information-sharing agreements which facilitating access to the collected data, for instance by:

  • Cross-referencing their respective work, which is publicly-available information on their dedicated websites;

  • Engaging in research initiatives that seek to further common objectives across interlinked themes to ensure the comparability of information retrieved, and ultimately adopting shared processes of classification, benchmarking and performance assessment;

  • Pooling resources to support mutually-advantageous research initiatives as far as possible and gathering available data and information within a shared portal (including open-access portals) across IOs engaging in a co-ordinated approach, to facilitate the production of collaborative reports in cross-cutting policy areas.

This section describes the current status and practices commonly used by IOs to exercise co-ordination. It covers key trends in co-ordination practices, challenges IOs face when engaging in such practices and efforts undertaken to co-ordinate more closely using integrated and innovative means. It also reflects some illustrative examples of existing co-ordination practices used by IOs and the intersections between this chapter and others in the Compendium.

Many of the interactions outlined above are designed to permit IOs to achieve their objectives more effectively or in some cases more efficiently. In the face of strongly intersected domains and memberships, co-ordination is more than ever critical to support international rulemaking that operates as a system. Most IOs operate in fields where many other IOs and international entities are also active, or where activities of one IO may impact upon objectives of another IO (or IOs). In areas as disparate as peacekeeping, fighting HIV/AIDS, monitoring trade in dangerous chemicals, offering debt relief, protecting endangered species, co-ordinating international criminal enforcement, and providing humanitarian assistance, actors from different IOs and regimes routinely collaborate to jointly address issues of common concern (OECD, 2016[4]) (Dunoff, 2015[9]).

Certain IOs with broad mandates may find themselves working in parallel with a number of international and regional actors whose mandate may be different or more specific, but still coincides. For example, although the WHO for instance is the specialised agency for global health within the United Nations system, the institutional landscape in which international health co-operation takes place has become increasingly complex. As such, specific health-related matters also fall within mandates of other international or regional bodies such as the FAO, the WTO, the OIE, or WIPO. The WHO therefore has a variety of collaboration practices in place with these organisations and with other specialised UN agencies, as well as with regional and intergovernmental organisations. Modes of interaction span a broad range of instruments, including co-sponsored programmes, MoUs, joint meetings and exchange of information (OECD/WHO, 2016[22]). Similarly, while the WTO has a comprehensive mandate to regulate the conduct of international trade relations through multilateral agreements, countries also negotiate bilateral and regional trade agreements and adopt international technical standards to facilitate trade in bilateral or regional contexts. This creates a diverse landscape that complements and intersects with the work of the WTO. In this view, the WTO co-operates with a number of international organisations and institutions. This involves including them as observers to the General Council and WTO Committees, participating in various partnerships with other IOs to support capacity building in developing countries (e.g. Aid for Trade with the OECD, the Standards and Trade Development Facility, and the Enhanced Integrated Framework), and developing joint instruments (e.g. with WIPO) (OECD/WTO, 2019[23]).

Other examples include the Global Protection Cluster (GPC) and the United Nations Country Team (UNCT). The mission of the GP is ensuring well co-ordinated, effective and principled protection preparedness and responses, and that protection is at the core of all humanitarian action and recognised as essential in any nexus with development and peace. UNHCR is the Global Cluster Lead Agency for Protection and in light of their thematic expertise, other agencies (UNICEF, UNFPA, NRC, UNMAS) have been designated as focal point agencies for specific Areas of Responsibilities (AORs) within the GPC. The UNCT exists in 131 countries, covering all of the 162 countries where there are United Nations programmes. The UNCT encompasses all the entities of the UN system that carry out operational activities for development, emergency, recovery and transition in programme countries. The UNCT ensures inter-agency co-ordination and decision-making at the country level. The main purpose of the Country Team is for individual agencies to plan and work together, as part of the Resident Coordinator system, to ensure the delivery of tangible results in support of the development agenda of involved governments.

IOs mostly rely on informal and/or soft tools of co-ordination to overcome co-ordination difficulties from engaging with different constituencies, rules of procedure and bureaucracies, and to avoid long negotiations. For the most part, co-ordination related to international instruments consists in agreements to co-operate or specific co-ordination meetings. Over a quarter of IOs responding to the 2018 IO Survey report co-ordinating with other IOs via Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) (OECD, 2019[2]), which establish a formal structure for joint work or observing action of respective bodies. Such agreements list the responsibilities of each organisation, establish the nature and arrangements which will frame it, display the agreed objectives informing co-operative initiatives, and outline the activities that are subject to joint action. For instance, the OIML has a number of MoUs in place with IOs, to avoid contradictory or duplicate requirements and to establish common interpretations and understanding in the field of legal metrology. In some cases, MoUs can form the necessary basis for stronger forms of collaboration in the future, as illustrated by relations between IAF and ILAC and the Tripartite Arrangement between OIE-FAO-WHO. While serving as an important baseline for co-ordination and opening up possibilities for joint action, such instruments do not in themselves result in the integration of international normative action. Most often they serve as a common roadmap to co-ordinate activities. A similar number of IOs co-ordinate via joint meetings with their peers (26% of IOs responding to the 2018 IO Survey), typically by observing action of relevant bodies or holding joint co-ordination events (OECD, 2016[4]). For example, OTIF and the UNECE hold joint meetings twice a year, while IAF and ILAC organise joint annual and mid-term meetings.

Albeit less frequent, a number of IOs also engage in co-ordination activities which entail closer engagement in their respective work and a greater regularity in following the work that other IOs active in similar areas conduct. Nearly a quarter of IOs responding to 2018 IO Survey set up technical platforms for co-operation or some form of joint task groups or committees with other IOs having common interests (OECD, 2019[2]). Such bodies allow IOs to pursue more concrete action towards common objectives. For example, the goal of the Joint Committee for Traceability in Laboratory Medicine (JCTLM) created by the BIPM, IFCC and ILAC is to provide a worldwide platform to promote and give guidance on internationally recognised and accepted equivalence of measurements in Laboratory Medicine and traceability to appropriate measurement standards. The WCO/UPU Contact Committee deals with issues of common interest and, in particular, seeks to speed up and simplify Customs formalities in the postal service. The WCO/IATA/ICAO Contact Committee on Advance Passenger Information (API) & Passenger Name Record (PNR) Data in particular, seeks to keep the API Guidelines and such other instruments and tools current and reflective of the needs of Members and of the air transport industry. The Tripartite FAO-OIE-WHO collaboration aims to jointly develop global strategies and tools to ensure a consistent, harmonised approach throughout the world and to put the “one health” vision into practice.

Despite of the existence of various forms of co-ordination among IOs to foster coherence in the international normative landscape, the agreement on joint work programmes or the actual development of joint instruments among several IOs still remains limited (OECD, 2016[4]) and (OECD, 2019[2]). Indeed, these entail close convergence of mandates and vetting from respective constituencies of the involved IOs, which may have different backgrounds, expertise and interests, thus making agreements difficult to achieve. Some cases do prevail, in which the common objective provides sufficient incentive to bring together constituencies and Secretariats to elaborate joint instruments.

Co-ordination among IOs takes place mostly in the ex ante preparatory work (including research, mapping, stock taking, etc.) as part of the development of instruments. (OECD, 2019[2]). For example, ASTM International/ISO co-operate through A Partner Standards Developing Organization (PSDO) agreement for developing joint standards. The JCGM composed of broadly-based eight international organisations working in the field of metrology, maintains and promotes the use of international reference documents (VIM and GUM). ITU and the World Bank co-operated in the preparation of the ICT Regulation Toolkit.

Co-ordination among IOs in the implementation of instruments, for instance through harmonised templates or a common reporting format to facilitate implementation of international instruments is mostly occasional, if done at all. Such co-ordination creates an environment that facilitates the adoption of joint programmes and share implementation responsibilities by relying on other international organisations for the provision of relevant expertise, assistance and support for the effective implementation (2018 IO Survey) (see Chapter 2). For instance, UN Alliance of Climate Change contributes to the work under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement and UNCITRAL has a partnership with other IOs to design joint implementation tools.

There are some combined co-operation efforts in providing assistance to foster the use of normative instruments and for monitoring them (see Chapter 2). A majority of respondents to the 2018 IO survey co-ordinate with other IOs for assistance, on a varying frequency, whether to pool financial assistance or reinforce capacities (OECD, 2019[2]) and 2018 IO Survey. For example, INetQI, OIE/WHO, and WCO/WTO members closely collaborate in providing capacity building activities to their constituencies where necessary.

Co-ordination in monitoring activity can help IOs share efforts in gathering information about the use of their instruments. For example, IOSCO and CPMI jointly monitor the implementation of the principles for financial market infrastructure and IAF/ILAC jointly evaluate regional groups of accreditation bodies. ILAC and WADA’s complementary roles and activities provide a sound and robust framework for effective laboratory assessments based on ISO/IEC 17025 and the WADA “International standard for laboratories” (ISL).

There is still untapped co-operation potential in the areas of compliance assessment and support for collective action in case of non-compliance. Some of IOs responding to the 2018 Survey indicate they do so occasionally or frequently, but the majority of respondents indicated they never do so (OECD, 2019[2]). For instance, In the Central American Economic Integration Process, there is a monitoring mechanism on the compliance of regional commitments. For such purposes, a six-monthly action plan is defined, which includes specific actions, goals and responsible for compliance (regional bodies). The Council of Ministers of Economic Integration (COMIECO) oversees the compliance of such plan. This mechanism allows monitoring progress and guiding actions among regional bodies to achieve the fulfilment of the objectives.

Scholars have identified multiple factors that help explain why international organisations often fail to co-operate effectively (Biermann, 2015[15]). Rationalist accounts stress resource dependence and insufficient environmental pressure (Biermann, 2007[45]). Constructivist and psychological accounts point to a lack of openness to co-operate due to diverging organisational cultures, incompatible identities and norms among organisations, adverse legitimacy assessments, antagonistic relationships, and distrust (Biermann, 2015[15]).

IOs and regimes are typically created in response to specific problems and hence have been formed at different times by different actors for different purposes. Thus, each IO comes with its own constitutive text, legal rules and principles, subsidiary bodies, and expertise, all designed to pursue specific tasks and advance certain values. These bodies operate in a highly decentralised and largely non-hierarchical environment. Activities and decisions in one regime are often taken with little knowledge of or regard for decisions in neighbouring regimes, and there are few formal rules to govern their relations or mechanisms to promote accountability or co-ordination (Dunoff, 2015[9]). Differing administrative requirements among organisations can also add time and cost for the implementation of instruments.

Conflicting domains of IOs can create certain challenges as IOs might unilaterally expand into the domain of others and impact another organisation with little or no co-ordination. This might be accidental and even unintended or not. When IOs expand their domains by duplicating another organisation’s mandates or tasks, they affect the relevance of the other organisation, stimulating domain conflicts (Biermann and Koops, 2017[21]). When operating in the same work area co-ordination between donor IOs helps to avoid both confusion for recipients and duplicating efforts. Co-ordination is equally valid for bilateral and regional support projects, irrespective of the type of assistance.

Agreeing on coherent and co-ordinated approach with other IOs can be particularly difficult as each of them must follow its own specific mandates, objectives and procedures. In such cases the ‘dual consensus rule’ which implies that co-operation can only proceed when consensus has been reached both within and among organisations, should be applied. Lack of sufficient level of flexibility in IOs mandate derived from constituent or other instruments for co-ordination actions can lead to lengthy negotiations of, for example co-operation agreements and/or joint instruments. It is natural that IOs find it challenging to become comfortable with the necessary relinquishing of some degree of control when pursuing joint initiatives. Lack of mapping of potential partners and the limited shared understanding of the scope and modalities of co-ordination can lead to difficulties. Only seven IOs responding to the 2018 IO Survey report mapping potential partners systematically (OECD, 2019[2]), although many IOs will be aware of at least some potential partners through other mechanisms and the key major players in the field. The number and nature of organisations of regulators and private/mixed bodies may also make the precise monitoring of their existence and activities difficult. Likewise, 15 IOs responding to the 2018 IO Survey report written guidelines or formal instruments addressing co-ordination with other IOs, and these remain usually targeted to co-operation on specific activities, projects or with individual organisations (for example, through MoUs) (OECD, 2019[2]).

At times, co-ordination across IOs may mirror silo-ed approaches among their constituencies. For example, few countries have a systematic and whole-of-government strategy promoting international regulatory co-operation and a co-ordinated approach to participation in international organisations (OECD, 2021[46]). Effective co-ordination at national level among line ministries resulting in a common perspective, can aid promote co-operation among IOs. Some states may also want to be able to leverage the tools developed by different IOs for different priorities, thus strengthened co-ordination might not be desirable or at least not a priority for them. The concept of forum shopping among instruments developed by different international bodies typically emerges as states have a choice between multiple international organisations they can turn to in pursuing goals (Biermann and Koops, 2017[21]).

Finally, IOs may also face certain challenges to optimise expertise and allocate sufficient human, financial, etc. resources for the co-ordination of joint actions with other IOs, when this is not their priority/core area of activity.

The continuous expansion of mandates and activities of IOs and the ever increasing interactions among them have highlighted the need for a better grasp of the relationship between them. In the various areas of international concern there is a common dynamic toward the increased involvement of international organisations (Boisson de Chazournes, 2016[12]). Global challenges such as global financial crises, pandemics, climate change, refugee crises, or peacebuilding endeavours seem to increasingly exceed the resources of individual states or organisations, necessitating a co-ordinated response. This task intensification stimulates resource pooling and provision as well as division of labour, allowing actors to share tasks and responsibilities (Biermann, 2007[45]). Having a dedicated staff and allocation of adequate budget can become helpful to overcome resource inefficiency, but above all helps to ensure the self-sustainability of the task. IOs may also appoint a liaison officer who acts as their organisation’s representative (without committing their organisation) to ensure effective communication between partners. For example, IAF/ILAC have a logistic co-ordination in organisation of joint meetings or liaisons who occasionally to represent both organisations in the context of meetings with other IOs. It remains to be seen whether the more recent move towards unilateralism impacts on the trends towards the increased involvement of international organisations in a longer term.

Where an IO identifies an opportunity to collaborate with another IO, unless pre-existing, it will wish to seek a mandate from its own constituency to initiate such a collaboration. Informal information exchange and advocacy through effective channels of communication is important both for IOs involved with their own constituencies and between IOs. Where such channels exist the formal process of obtaining mandates run far more smoothly. These same channels of communication will help IO constituencies better understand opportunities derived from co-ordination and get a greater level of engagement to support co-ordination itself and its implementation.

When guidelines or written procedures for co-ordination exist, these can help overcome the practical difficulties of integrating normative activities, and the co-ordination to be more effective and systematic and create common roadmap and organisational structure. The ISO/IEC joint principles for drafting ISO and IEC documents are a good example.

Perhaps the most extreme example of IO co-ordination would be a merger of two IOs by forming one single international organisation. This is rare but not without precedence. For instance, IAF/ILAC joint work lead to form one single international organisation for accreditation which will minimise the duplication of work and improve the opportunities for presenting one accreditation “voice” in international fora, with other IOs and stakeholders.

Virtual tools can also facilitate systematic co-operation among IOs, particularly by helping overcome the practical difficulties of setting up joint meetings (finding timing, location, etc.).

More recently, the COVID-19 crisis has seen a surge in calls for and implementation of co-ordination efforts among IOs (OECD, 2020[47]). Joint efforts have taken place to support their constituencies in a range of traditional and new areas but generally in alignment with traditional co-ordination practices. IOs have mostly joined efforts with existing partners and resourced to existing co-operation tools, focusing on data collection, definition of good practices, conducting analytical work and assisting countries in the implementation of international instruments. For instance, historical co-operation between FAO, OIE and WHO around the “One Health” concept has proved particularly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, the WCO and WHO developed a HS Classification List for COVID-19 Medical Supplies and List of priority medicines for customs during COVID-19 pandemic. The WCO has also worked closely with the WTO to maintain the continuity of global supply chains. The WTO has made various joint statements on responding to the COVID-19 crisis with partners including WHO,2 FAO,3 WCO4 and IMF.5 Co-ordination has also aimed at ensuring implementation of instruments in unprecedented circumstances. WADA has worked with the Council of Europe to ensure complementarity of guidance to countries on anti-doping regulations. Some international standard-setting bodies (ASTM International, IEC and ISO) agreed together to make available standards on medical devices, respirators and personal protective equipment at no cost (OECD, 2020[1]).

The crisis has built momentum to renew co-ordination efforts among IOs avoiding inertia and adopting innovative approaches. The lessons learned from co-operation during the COVID-19 crisis may well be relevant in the longer term to ensure that IOs stand ready to provide joint solutions for emerging challenges.


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