Community participation is now widely promoted as an important feature of aid projects in less-developed countries. However, definitions, uses and expectations of community participation vary considerably among professionals (including veterinarians). A lack of common understanding of community participation hinders the comparison of experiences between projects and can lead to false hopes regarding how community participation should be used and what it might deliver. This paper provides an overview of experiences with community participation in animal-health service development and research in Africa. By examining two types of community-based animal-health intervention, the paper also describes how community participation can vary in veterinary projects and relates this variation to project impact and sustainability. Projects that encourage types of community participation such as interactive participation and self-mobilisation are most likely to result in sustained benefits for livestock keepers.