Australian governments have set an ambitious policy agenda for reform. By 2010, water plans were to have provided for the return of all overallocated or overused systems to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction, however many communities do not yet have full confidence in water plans or their processes. In twonational research projects we developed practical tools for transparent and engaging processes to build confidence in water planning. We observe that inherent politicisedrisks in water planning mean that current methods of 25 public participation, such as information giving and allowing written submissions, are 'safer' and more easilymanaged. The next article in this special issue sets out the methodology including performance indicators for the tools that we used in the research. To demonstrate their role in building community confidence using best available science we trialled tools which included agent-based participatory modelling, deliberative multi-criteriaevaluation, social impact assessment, and groundwater visualisation models. The suite of 'good-practice' tools, including Indigenous engagement, is fully described in thefollowing articles of this special issue. Evaluations show deliberative processes have much to offer when applied to questions that have been developed collaboratively and formulated carefully to allow implementation of findings. Interactive tools and those which have high visual impact are consistently rated highly by all sectors of the community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and also by water planners. These results have implications for water planning internationally especially where science is contested, social values are uncertain, and communities are diverse.