Critics of participation often examine the undesirable consequences of state-led systems without much analysis of institutional knowledge at the local level. In this paper, we investigate whether smaller institutions could offer useful knowledge for meeting the development needs of local people. Using participation theory and related literature on development and power, we investigate a co-management system in communities around Mount Cameroon National Park (MCNP), in sub-Saharan West Africa. Our study adopts a multimethod approach to survey officials in 16 agencies and locals in 17 village groups. The findings indicate factors that hinder the effectiveness of local participation and avenues by which institutional knowledge can be customized to meet local development priorities. This system of participation, we conclude, could work better through open dialogue that is explicitly accountable and transparent.