Hydrological observatories bear a lot of resemblance to the more traditional research catchment concept but tend to diff er in providing more long term facilities that transcend the lifetime of individual projects, are more strongly geared towards performing interdisciplinary research, and are often designed as networks to assist in performing collaborative science. This paper illustrates how the experimental and monitoring setup of an observatory, the 66 ha Hydrological Open Air Laboratory (HOAL) in Petzenkirchen, Lower Austria, has been established in a way that allows meaningful hypothesis testing. The overarching science questions guided site selection, identifying dissertation topics and the base monitoring. The specific hypotheses guided the dedicated monitoring and sampling, individual experiments, and repeated experiments with controlled boundary conditions. The purpose of the HOAL is to advance the understanding of water related flow and transport processes involving sediments, nutrients and microbes in small catchments. The HOAL catchment is ideally suited for this purpose, because it features a range of diff erent runoff generation processes(surface runo ff, springs, tile drains, wetlands), the nutrient inputs are known, and it is convenient from a logistic point of view as all instruments can be connected to the power grid and a high Speed glassfibre Local Area Network. The multitude of runoff generation mechanisms in the catchment provide a genuine laboratory where hypotheses of flow and transport can be tested, either by controlled experiments or by contrasting sub-regions of di erent characteristics. This diversity also ensures that the HOAL is representative of a range of catchments around the world and the specific process findings from the HOAL are applicable to a variety of agricultural catchment settings. The HOAL is operated jointly by the Vienna University of Technology and the Federal Agency for Water Management and takes advantage of the Vienna Doctoral Programme on Water Resource Systems funded by the Austrian Science Funds. The paper presents the science strategy of the setup of the observatory, discusses the implementation of the HOAL, gives examples of the hypothesis testing and summarises the lessons learned. The paper concludes with an outlook on future developments.