Many urban centres in the Pacific islands have witnessed rapid growth and considerable cultural transition. Despite well-meaning and considerable efforts to improve water service delivery, there usually remain very real concerns relating to the limited supply of freshwater and notoriously poor water quality. Many water developments fail due to lack of ownership and ultimately from naïve assumptions about the socio-cultural contexts in which solutions are applied. Owing to a range of inter-relations and socio-cultural considerations, water development under these circumstances is a complex task that typically cannot be approached in a simplistic manner. Magnus Moglia, Pascal Perez and Stewart Burn describe three archetypes for water development (techno-centric, micro-credit and companion modelling), but in the end identify the companion modelling approach as being more suitable for developing context-specific institutions. While this methodology is part of the preferred participatory approaches, applying it to a real-world context is not easy, and a number of lessons are described based on previous experiences in the atoll town of Tarawa.