Across the world public managers are attracted to the narratives of governance and networks. However, implementing new strategies of policy making is difficult, above all when these conflict with the rules and beliefs of existing institutions. This article explores the barriers public managers encounter, the mechanisms underlying and perpetuating these barriers and possible interventions. Using a theoretical framework based on sense-making theory, three case studies are presented in the field of sustainable agriculture. Five types of barriers are discussed: (1) conflicting convictions about good policy making; (2) stereotyping partners; (3) framing of the situation; (4) fear of undermining existing policy; and (5) cover-up strategies.