Normative ideals for 'good water management' have proliferated the last twenty years. However, evidence of effective implementation is scarce. This paper analyzes cases from India, the Mekong and Denmark where attempts have been made to translate water management ideals into practice. The purpose is to demonstrate the importance of politics and power for water management processes and their outcomes. The concept of social learning is applied in order to understand the dynamic interplay between actors, institutions and power in the political processes involved. It is argued that the political economy of water tends to vest the stronger stakeholders with an interest in upholding the status quo. Consequently, social learning typically centers on the 'low lying fruits' that does not challenge the prevailing distribution of resources. The authors, Kurt Mørck Jensen, Rane Baadsgaard Lange, and Jens Christian Refsgaard argue that strategic approaches looking outside the 'water box' are necessary to foster deeper changes in water resources management in both developing and developed countries.