Best practice in drainage basin management requires consultation and stakeholder engagement in the formulation and implementation of plans. The water management professional, engaging with the political world, is on risky ground, thanks to many stakeholders' accidental or chosen unwillingness to accept science-based advice. Technical specialists produce good advice, yet progress is inhibited because they do not connect effectively with politicians, administrators and managers.

A series of short case studies from three countries in different but related fields provides evidence of the problems that are encountered. Professionals may be cut off from the political world within comfort zones defined by the cultural norms and behaviours of bureaucracy, their profession or their preferred communications style.

The consequence of the professionals' lack of engagement in the political world can be that scarce money and effort is wasted on low priority issues, and the case for sound, sustainable environmental management is discredited. Stakeholder support is worth winning, because it can bring positive benefits in the effectiveness of environmental management programmes. Where outside help is needed to bring about this result, it should be provided by advisers who are sensitive to the culture, at the national, professional and organizational level, of the recipients.

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