ABSTRACT: There is increasing interest in using watershed councils to provide information to public natural resource managers, particularly in the western states. Watershed councils are composed of interested governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders that form to collaboratively manage water and other natural resources at the scale of a watershed. This research is the first step in a multi-step policy analysis designed to answer the question of whether watershed councils are an improvement over traditional methods of public involvement in natural resource management. This paper outlines why watershed councils form and discusses their structure and operation. There is considerable variability in terms of watershed councils' goals, their effectiveness, stakeholder composition, their involvement in the “real” decision-making process, types of participation that are allowed, leadership, financing, decision-making procedures, efficiency, and temporal scale. These structural components are presented as a framework that can be used by researchers to develop criteria to evaluate watershed councils.