This paper initially takes a broad historical scan of key Australian urban planning and governance initiatives which have promoted or at least suggested the need for enhanced citizen participation and local decision making. Key initiatives highlighted include the Commonwealth’s post-war reconstruction program of the 1940s, the Australian Assistance Plan of the 1970s, various regional development and population growth management strategies during the 1990s and more recently a myriad of place based and community centred policies being developed by State and local governments. A key issue for these initiatives was the relationship between the various spheres and institutions of the state and the 'messiness' of civil society. The critical dimensions of this relationship remain unresolved and contested in contemporary international and national public policy. Using a framework derived from network and participatory governance theory and practice, this paper explores this problematic relationship between the state and civil society by examining in- depth qualitative policy research on recent urban and regional initiatives in Queensland where the discourses of community engagement and citizen participation have been evident. Key dimensions such as the sources of democratic authority, innovative forms of public accountability and the capacity of devolved and participatory institutions to deliver community outcomes are examined as a basis for re-conceptualising state-civil society relations and constructing innovative technologies of participatory governance.