Managers who implement stakeholder participation often have to navigate a complex subsystem of actors, policy-making institutions, and varying problem definitions. This paper examines how these managers’ values affect decision-making and the operationalisation of stakeholder participation, and how the institutional framework in which the managers are embedded affects these values. It is based on the inside views of 23 managers and expert consultants involved in nine projects implemented by international organisations. Their values and preferences were captured through a review of project documents and interviews. The results demonstrate that the managers’ personal value orientations affect the participatory process when there is a lack of control and support from their commissioning organisation, and also in cases where policy is ambiguous. The decision-making freedom accorded to the project manager defines whether they design stakeholder participation in accordance with personal value orientations, the organisation or policy. This study suggests that more stringent regulations and guidelines, as well as improved educational and awareness-raising activities, are required to resolve this problem. It is also suggested that evaluation tools should be improved to account for the impact that stakeholders have. This may encourage managers to become more actively involved in the use of stakeholder input.