The World Commission on Dams (WCD) has aroused debate as an innovation in global governance. I suggest that the WCD did, indeed, have many innovative features, but argue that processes such as the WCD are better suited to propagating norms than making rules at the global level. The norm setting and propagating role is critical because there are no other plausible mechanisms of debating the larger ideas that inform decision-making, in a way that credibly brings in voices of the poor and powerless. I develop this argument by looking at three aspects of the WCD: its characteristics as a global governance mechanism; how it sought to achieve legitimacy; and its role as an agent of regulative versus normative change.
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