Innovation and understanding hydrological processes are intimately linked. Existing research has demonstrated the role of technological, societal, and political drivers in shaping and delivering new understandings in hydrological processes. In this paper we pose three research questions to explore how innovation can further our understanding of hydrological processes, if working towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs) provides a helpful focus, and whether specific mechanisms can be used to facilitate innovation and research into hydrological processes. First, we examine key aspects of innovation and explore innovation in the context of water security. We then present a series of innovation projects to determine their effectiveness in delivering innovation in managing hydrological processes, but also their contribution to scientific understanding. Our research suggests that product and process innovation were more closely related to increasing scientific understanding of hydrological processes than other forms of innovation. The NE Water Hub demonstrated that the design of the innovation ecosystem was crucial to its success and provides a model to integrate innovation and research more widely to further scientific understanding and deliver behaviour change to address the SDGs.