Water management is particularly dependent on strong capacity, a solid knowledge base and awareness at all levels, including those of the individual, the organization, the sector institutions and the ‘enabling environment’. Yet getting all levels to operate in a coherent manner is challenging, and requires vision and leadership. This special issue seeks to further the understanding of leadership in knowledge and capacity development in the water sector but its theoretical and methodological insights will be of interest beyond that arena. This paper presents an introduction to the special issue which resulted from selected papers presented at the 5th Delft Symposium on Water Sector Capacity Development held in Delft, The Netherlands. Collectively, the contributions examine knowledge and capacity development in both the water services and water resources sub-sectors. In order to be linked well to current local realities, the papers rely on both academic analyses based on empirical research as well as practitioners' accounts based on their professional experience. Together, the papers in this special issue and the insights from the recent Symposium summarized in this editorial introduction present an overview of the current state of the art in knowledge and capacity development in the water sector. The paper raises salient policy implications and outlines a research agenda for knowledge and capacity development in the water sector and beyond.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0), which permits copying and redistribution for non-commercial purposes with no derivatives, provided the original work is properly cited (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).