Good Governance within Global Institutions: accountability, legitimacy and effectiveness

An important part of Professor Ngaire Woods’ research has focused on good governance within global institutions. Woods began her work in this area in the mid-1990s when international organisations (including the World Bank, the United Nations specialised agencies and the IMF) began setting out an agenda for “good governance”.  Woods research was to apply that agenda to analysis of the governance of these organisations themselves.

In a series of scholarly articles she laid out the standards of accountability, legitimacy and effectiveness for international organisations, highlighting where specific international institutions were failing and setting out the reforms to improve them.  A crucial insight given by Woods’ research is that, along with other measures, “positive steps towards independent evaluation, inspection and transparency, would doubtless improve the accountability of the IMF and World Bank” (2001: 100). Woods’ research focuses, among other things on processes and diversification of staff appointment in global institutions in order to ensure their accountability but also to reflect their wide membership in terms of nationality as well as “primary concerns, approach and outlook” (2000:834). Moreover, her research suggests enabling a “stronger role for Executive Boards in overseeing the stakes of the institutions” (2001: 100). Her conclusions on staffing as well as the role of the Executive Board in follow-ups went on to become part of IMF policy.

Woods was invited to put her research into practice when she was invited to serve on the three-member External Evaluation Panel, tasked with reviewing the work of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Independent Evaluation Office (IEO). Many of the Panel’s recommendations were endorsed by the fund’s executive board, and implemented by the IEO.

In response to its recommendation, the IMF Executive Board established a system for tracking follow-up to and implementation of Board-endorsed IEO recommendations in January 2007 (2009: 6). Following the Panel’s recommendation on the strengthening of the IOE’s outreach and communications—welcomed by the Executive Board—23 outreach activities were undertaken between May 2006 and April 2007. (IOE Annual Report, 2007). The Panel’s recommendations on the IOE’s human resource policies were discussed by the fund’s Executive Board in 2008. These resulted in specific changes to the IOE’s staffing policies, geared towards ensuring institutional continuity, and independence. (IOE Annual Report, 2008:2). Such measures included, for instance, the adoption of a norm specifying that any IOE project leader hired in the future would have a cooling-off period of 12 months before being eligible for appointment as an IMF staff member.

Professor Ngaire Woods is the inaugural Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government and Professor of Global Economic Governance.

Further reading and resources:

A response to ‘Global Governance after the Financial Crisis: A New Multilateralism or the Last Gasp of the Great Powers? Global Policy Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 226–227, May 2010

The Globalizers – the IMF, the World Bank and they Borrowers, Ngaire Woods, 2006 Cornell University Press

The Global Economic Governance Programme:


Ngaire Woods