The overarching goals of the Commission as formulated at the Gland-workshop, were to:
(a) review the development effectiveness of dams and assess alternatives for water resources and energy development, and
(b) develop internationally accepted standards, guidelines and criteria for decision-making in the planning, design, construction, monitoring operation and decommissioning of dams.
The Commission initially had a two-year mandate, which followed a five-month preparatory phase (January-May 1998) and it was expected that the Commission's report would be issued by June 2000. All participants recognised from the outset that a two-year Commission would only be able to reach conclusions on a number of questions, while others would need to be addressed in new initiatives beyond the life of the Commission.
The Commission was independent and its remit was to include issues that address both broader considerations such as water and energy policy as well as more specific technical and case study oriented questions. The latter included project planning and economics, resettlement, compensation of affected communities, ecological impacts, and the cumulative and interactive effects of large dams in basin-wide contexts. The Commission's work was of an advisory nature and not investigatory in the sense of judicial commissions. Although it included the review and assessment of a range of specific cases, the Commission was not mandated to adjudicate on specific disputes.
Its scope of activities included project-specific case studies examined within a broader river basin context, selected national case studies, thematic research, consultations/hearings and panels or task forces on key issues. The WCD case studies were necessarily of a synthesising and policy nature, drawing on existing information and analyses as much as possible.