A study in three countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Uganda) assessed progress against the Paris Principles for Aid Effectiveness (AE) in three sectors – water, health and education – to test the assumption that the water sector is lagging behind. The findings show that it is too simplistic to say that the water sector is lagging, although this may well be the case in some countries. The study found that wider governance issues are more important for AE than having in place sector-specific mechanics such as Sector-Wide Approaches alone. National political leadership and governance are central drivers of sector AE, while national financial and procurement systems and the behaviour of actors who have not signed up to the Paris Principles – at both national and global levels – have implications for progress that cut across sectors. Sectors and sub-sectors do nonetheless have distinct features that must be considered in attempting to improve sector-level AE. In light of these findings, using political economy approaches to better understand and address governance and strengthening sector-level monitoring is recommended as part of efforts to improve AE and development results in the water sector.