This social research aims to identify and examine the implementation presumptions of intergovernmental environmental planning programmes and how to improve their effectiveness in future practice. It contrasts and explains the organisational dynamics and implementation responses of municipalities that succeeded and failed in realising the objective of such a programme. The research involved a qualitative multiple-case comparison between four high- and four low-performing municipalities implementing a stormwater programme within metropolitan Sydney, Australia. These two organisational types substantially differed in corporate expertise, environmental leadership, extended relational activity, and overall disposition to learning and ownership of local environmental issues. The paper identified five presumptions underpinning the programme design which privileged the high-performing organisations, but did little to garner commitment and develop capacity among the low-performing group. These implementation insights not only provide guideposts for intergovernmental programme design, but also reveal how policy design can undermine policy intent if empathy to local organisational dynamics is lacking.