Glossary of key terms used in the Compendium

The description of the key terms are used for the purpose of the Compendium only and are without prejudice to the meaning of these terms in individual international organisations of the IO Partnership, including the OECD, as well as in their respective members.

International regulatory co-operation (IRC) can broadly be defined as “any agreement, formal or informal, between countries to promote some form of co-operation in the design, monitoring, enforcement or ex-post management of regulation” (OECD, 2013[1]).

There is no agreed definition of “international organisation”. The academic literature acknowledges the diversity of IOs and offers several classifications based on functions, membership or purpose (OECD, 2016[2]). For the purpose of the IO Partnership, the term has been defined broadly to encompass a variety of organisations regardless of their mandate, sector, legal attributes or nature, engaged in normative activities, i.e. the development and management of “rules”. These organisations share 3 critical features: 1) they generate international instruments, be they legal, policy or technical instruments ; 2) they rely on a secretariat; and 3) they are international in that they involve “representatives” from several countries. For the present report, the term of “international organisation” refers to an organisation composed of its members and supported by a permanent secretariat.

In line with this definition, the term “international organisation” used in the IO Partnership, including in this Compendium, covers three broad categories of entities (OECD, 2016[2]) (OECD, 2019[3]):

  • Intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) are classical IOs created by “a treaty or other instrument governed by international law and poss[ess] [their] own international legal personality” (International Law Commission, 2011[4]). Their full members are primarily states and, in some cases, other IGOs or even non-governmental actors. Some may have universal membership. Others limit membership using a number of criteria, such as geographical location or shared values.

  • Trans-governmental networks (TGNs) differ from IGOs by their membership, legal basis, and the nature of their decisions. They typically involve specialised units of national governments (principally ministries and regulatory agencies), but also nongovernmental actors such as private sector organisations or technical experts. They are established by voluntary agreements among regulators and generally described as “networks” because of their “loosely-structured, peer-to-peer ties” (Raustiala, 2002[5]). They make non-legally binding decisions and usually rely on member agencies to implement decisions within their respective jurisdictions.

  • International private standard-setting organisations are generally international bodies established under domestic law and not by a treaty, which differentiates them from traditional IGOs. Their main activity is to produce international technical standards. It is however worth noting that this category gathers quite a variety of IOs with different governance models, be it in relation to the profit or not for profit nature of the IO or to the membership of the organisation (OECD, 2016[6]).

To encompass the broad range of documents adopted by international organisations as part of their normative activity, this document uses the broad term of international instruments. These cover legally binding requirements that are meant to be directly binding on members and non-legally binding requirements that may in some cases be given binding value through transposition in domestic legislation or recognition in international legal instruments; and statements of intent or guidance (OECD, 2016[2]). This broad notion therefore covers e.g. treaties, legally binding decisions, non-legally binding recommendations, model treaties or laws, declarations, international technical standards, statements of intent or any other guidance. They are further delineated in section 1 of this Compendium.

International rulemaking”: there is no internationally-agreed definition for “international rulemaking”. For the purpose of this document, consistent with the analytical work led by the IO Partnership on the topic since 2014 (OECD, 2019[7]) and in the context of international organisations, ”international rulemaking” encompasses the design, development, implementation and enforcement of international instruments developed by international organisations, or by the Secretariats of the international organisations based on mandates received from their members, regardless of their legal effects or attributes and of the nature of the organisation (public or private).


[4] International Law Commission (2011), Draft Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations, Article 2(a).

[7] OECD (2019), The Contribution of International Organisations to a Rule-Based International System, OECD, Paris,

[3] OECD (2019), The Contribution of International Organisations to a Rule-Based International System: Key Results from the Partnership of International Organisations for Effective Rulemaking,

[2] OECD (2016), International Regulatory Co-operation: The Role of International Organisations, OECD Publishing.

[6] OECD (2016), International Regulatory Co-operation: The Role of International Organisations, OECD Publishing.

[1] OECD (2013), International Regulatory Co-operation: Addressing Global Challenges, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[5] Raustiala, K. (2002), “The Architecture of International Cooperation: Transgovernmental Networks and the Future of International Law”, Virginia Journal of International Law Association, Vol. 43/1, p. 5.

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