The key to providing sustainable water and sanitation services to communities lies in the proper understanding by all the parties involved of their roles, responsibilities and what the outcomes will be. The extent to which engineers and communities were able to communicate and understand one another was investigated in a number of case studies in South Africa. The findings of the study showed the importance of understanding the nature of communication, the real needs of the community, the explanation of the roles of the participants, the identification of the appropriate level of service and the definition of capacity building.