Analyses the World Commission on Dams (WCD) as a model for global public policymaking on contentious issues of environment, development and justice. Traces the WCD's roots in the history of global commissions and civil society organizing.

Executive Summary

"Will governments be running the world in the next century? In this era of globalization, who will make the rules on investment, human rights and environment? How can citizens participate?"

These are some of the questions a team of researchers from World Resources Institute (WRI, Washington, D.C.), Lawyers' Environmental Action Team (LEAT, Dar Es Salaam) and South Asia address in an independent assessment of the World Commission on Dams (WCD).

The WCD was a self-styled "experiment" in global public policy-making. It was set up to produce a set of international guidelines for the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of large dams and options on their alternatives.

The WCD undertook this task over two years, with a pledge to be independent, transparent, inclusive and representative of a diverse body of stakeholders. Participants in the process have included dam-building companies, multilateral development banks, affected people's groups and other non-governmental organizations, private consultants, and the public at large.


p>The high aspirations on which the process was founded mean that the Commission's experience with putting these good governance principles into practice will have significance for the future global policy-making efforts.

The central aim of the Assessment team's research was to assess the World Commission on Dams' experience as an example of global public policy-making at the contentious intersection of environment and development.

The Assessment team examined the recent evolution of global public policy-making, including the experience of other global processes that emerged during and after the Rio Earth Summit. Within this broader context, the Assessment team asked:

  • How successful has the World Commission on Dams been in putting into practice its guiding principles: independence, transparency, inclusivity, and consensus-driven process?
  • What have been the challenges to doing so?

The most valuable impact of this research is to staff of international organizations, national governments, civil society organizations and the private sector who are grappling with questions of global public policy in the face of changing forms of accountability, representation and decision-making structures such as:

  • What were the characteristics of the international large dams debate that did or did not lend it to this type of multi-stakeholder approach?
  • Who had to be at the table?
  • How should such efforts be structured in other issue areas?
  • How might such efforts derive or undermine their own legitimacy through their chosen funding, data gathering, communications strategies?

For this group, the assessment report provides a useful guide on ways forward, and also further stimulates a debate on the local, national and global future of democratic governance.