As researchers, we live in an era where funding is increasingly difficult to obtain. Political rhetoric, and the resulting changes to funding schemes, pushes us towards research with immediate applications for management. This attitude exists within the wider water management sector as well. A recent survey of water professionals consistently returned the response that research and development systems needed to better align research undertaken with needs identified by managers. However, the majority of research proposals are still completely developed by researchers, leaving them in the uncomfortable position of trying to convince managers of the utility of the work. This process inevitably leads to large amounts of research supposedly able to benefit management, but which is never used for that purpose. In this presentation, I will detail the process that achieved management relevance for our research into the ecological benefits of environmental flows. In this case, and in a growing number of examples from other scientists and disciplines, the ‘push’ for research is coming directly from the managers themselves. This reverses the situation outlined above, but can also take scientists well out of their comfort zone in terms of the research conducted. Through sustained partnerships between managers and researchers, we seem to have (almost) achieved the applied science Nirvana of undertaking research with immediate impacts upon management practices. I conclude by asking the question of whether this was only achieved accidentally, or whether the experience provides any general principles to help us to move from theory to practice in water science.