This article examines the experience of implementing a participatory model of public extension advisory programme in the Republic of Ireland. Focusing specifically on the role and experiences of extension advisers, it draws evidence from an evaluation of the 'Options for Farm Families Programme'. It is argued that, while participatory approaches are increasingly promoted from an institutional perspective, they also raise a number of dilemmas for extension advisory staff that are ultimately damaging to the operation of such extension programmes if they remain outside the discursive framework within which the programme is shaped. Drawing on aspects of Habermas's theory of communicative action and Foucault's perspectives on the nature of power and power relations, this article attempts to provide a framework for understanding the apparent difficulties experienced by advisers in embracing participatory approaches in the case of the Options Programme and their tacit adoption of what might be described as adaptive strategies that have effectively seen the participatory element of the programme circumvented. It is contended that, while participatory approaches open up important new dimensions in extension practices, they can only be successfully applied when cognisance is taken of the full context in which advisers currently operate and when the advisers' own conceptualisation of extension is clearly established.