Despite the growing literature and empirical research on citizenship participation in the elaboration of water resources plans (WRP), little attention has been paid to the Terms of Reference (ToR) for such plans. Such a technical contract sets the targets, stages and activities to be met as part of the development of the WRP. Thus, any analysis of the participation impacts and results must follow the previously agreed terms but the ToR development may not, in itself, be participative. Examined herein are the ToR for the WRP of the Doce River Basin (Brazil) and the Catalonia Fluvial District (Spain), with focus on (i) proposals for democratising debates and decisions and (ii) the very process of ToR development. Historical and institutional aspects of both regions were analysed, which comprised participation mechanisms established by the corresponding national policies and recommended by the relevant international bodies. Despite the distinct features of the two regions, they both share the challenge of implementing a new governance model involving various stakeholders with the common goal of defining the water usage rights in a sustainable way. A comparative analysis of the two approaches revealed different approaches to tackle this challenge and highlighted advantages and disadvantages of each model.