In a rapidly changing and ever more complex world, ‘wicked problems’, which traditional, narrowly focused research struggles to grapple with, are becoming more and more common, including in the water sector. Here, numerous good practices derived through traditional research have shown a remarkable resistance towards scaling up. This paper discusses the Learning Alliance approach and its application to try to overcome the twin challenges of solving complex problems and scaling-up innovations in urban water management. Learning alliances are interlinked multi-stakeholder platforms formed at appropriate levels. Critically, the purpose of a learning alliance is to do things differently, rather than to do different things, in order to have more impact on policy and practice. The paper summarizes initial experiences and lessons learned in applying this approach in three urban water management projects.