This article deals with responses in the Netherlands to a widespread perception within the water sector of crisis, rooted in an appreciation that former ways of managing water could no longer deal with contemporary and possible future events. The crisis and initial responses are first outlined, grounding the SLIM project experience in Dutch water management practice and policy. This leads to the research question formulated by the Dutch SLIM team, and the predictions it gave rise to. The research methodology, case studies and policy analyses at the core of the study are introduced. Empirical observations concerning four aspects of the change process are used to explore the predictions: conflict and confrontation among stakeholders; discovery of interdependence among stakeholders; development of social spaces where stakeholders could encounter each other in shared actions; and the role of facilitators and process leaders in helping stakeholders to go forward. The observations are analysed in relation to the initial predictions and the surprises encountered in the history of the cases. Knowledge management is identified as a key task in the social learning processes analysed. The article concludes with reflections on the role of the environmental sciences in the policy processes and research practices described.