Over the past half century, it has become commonplace for environmental managers and policy makers to engage the public in decision making, a set of diverse activities known collectively as public participation. Despite widespread support for public participation, there is no explicit consensus on the purpose of this practice. In this study, we developed and tested a first‐of‐its‐kind quantitative measure of public participation goals among a sample of the U.S. public. Survey data indicate a classification of four participation goals' orientations: functionalist‐deliberative, instrumental, emancipatory, and coercive. A subsequent survey with a separate sample of the public explored the antecedents and consequences of these goal orientations. Regression analyses reveal that four common dimensions of the Schwartz Value Survey (altruism, egoism, traditionalism, and openness to change) are significant predictors of these goal orientations. For example, altruistic values predict adherence to emancipatory participation goals, while egoism (i.e., self‐interest) is associated with a coercive goal orientation. In turn, preferences for public participation goals are predictors of respondents' levels of satisfaction with two common public participation techniques, public hearings and public advisory boards. Instrumental participation goals are associated with greater satisfaction with public hearings, but a functionalist‐deliberative goals' orientation predicts satisfaction with advisory boards. This study has implications for the effective design and implementation of public participation programs and indicates a need for greater study of public participation goals among practitioners and participants.