This paper outlines a community participation process that was developed to engage rural community stakeholders in designing new health services. The paper explains what led up to the process and provides critique around applying the process for other health services and in other communities. Internationally, community participation is widely invoked, but it is only broadly explained in the literature, other than reviews of outcomes or descriptions of problems. This paper provides an actual process, derived from iterative research, that others could use, but explains caveats in the method and its application. From developing this method of community participation for service design, we conclude that rather than being a benign and inherently 'good thing', community participation is a process into which health services managers and communities should enter cautiously. Stronger parameters around desirable outcomes and awareness of potential pitfalls in the process are important to address.