Whilst public participation is now accepted as an essential requirement of planning, there is limited literature which considers the effectiveness of participation in practice. In this study, we focus on the perspectives of members of the public and planners/policy-makers, to identify (i) expectations of the participation process, (ii) the extent to which practices meet expectations, and (iii) ways in which participation practices could be rendered more effective. Five key areas of concern emerge: (i) lack of influence on decisions, (ii) lack of professional ethics and expertise, (iii) methods and techniques used, (iv) the nature of information provision, and (v) local cultural influences. Results illustrate the inadequacy of present legal requirements for ensuring effective participation, and a related need for institutionalizing review mechanisms. Results also reveal tension between positivist views of planning as an expert discipline, and public expectations of democracy. Furthermore, the study provides wider insights into processes of assessment/evaluation.