In highly urbanised Australia many cities and towns demand may have exceeded existing water supply. In peri-urban areas this can lead to conflict over access to supplies with priority often given to urban users. In an effort to resolve potential conflicts, water management planning often seeks to engage 'community stakeholders' in an attempt to produce a 'harmonised' strategic plan. In this paper we focus on the process of developing one such plan for sustainable water management in a peri-urban area with complex and conflicting stakeholder interests. We subject data from a series of planning meetings and 'stakeholder' workshops to a critical review and analysis against the project's stated aims for this stage of the process of: engaging key stakeholders, developing a common vision, and deciding research priorities. We conclude that the approach was unable to achieve these strategic outcomes. In discussion we explore how this analysis reflects barriers in the engagement process, which highlight more general concerns about this widely accepted model for stakeholder engagement in resource issues.