Previous research into local participation (often based on in‐depth studies of the most successful examples of the phenomenon) has highlighted its qualities and potential. In this article we adopt a different strategy, in the first part building an explanatory analysis of the procedural qualities of local participation based on a mapping of local processes. This mapping — comprising 103 experiences drawn from Catalonia (Spain) — allows us to make a more accurate assessment, and to get a more plural and diverse (albeit less optimistic) picture of this reality. The second part of the article suggests a multidimensional strategy to capture some of the important democratic qualities of local participation, and discusses the role that several factors play in the explanation of these qualities. We pay special attention to the ideology of political parties in the development of participatory processes, the role of external support from supra‐local institutions, and the role of civil society (which emerges as the most crucial explanatory factor) in the promotion of these experiences.