This paper presents 10 prominent trends, from economic instability to social networking, that have been signalled as likely to challenge the water sector. These trends can be characterised as complex, uncertain, diverse and interconnected. To arrive at meaningful responses to these challenges, actors increasingly employ integrated, adaptive or participatory approaches, or a mixture of these. This paper highlights an example of such an approach in the Netherlands, in which participatory backcasting and social learning have been used as methods to develop response strategies. It appears that, through a process of co-learning, conceptual building-blocks are created for response strategies to deal with the future challenges of the water sector.