This article generates new insights into what contributes to the effective enactment of public participation policy. It critiques the implementation of recent public participation policy in the UK, focusing on new local governance spaces created in England by Labour governments (1997-2010), and arrangements subsequently enacted under the Coalition and Conservative governments (2010-2017). It reports on a study conducted in 22 local authority areas in one English region, exploring public participation practices in Local Strategic Partnerships, and again seven years after the policy was rescinded. Power and agency feature in the analysis, which demonstrates how the intended impacts of public participation policy is diluted by complex context-specific organisational, cultural and professional factors. The article presents evidence of citizens' continuing enthusiasm to shape and influence policy, through formal structures and non-traditional processes, and argues that public participation policy during 'austerity' should accommodate the potential for progressive outcomes to emerge from both approaches.