Confronted with complex societal problems, science funding bodies have been calling for the participation of non-scientific actors in the production of allegedly more ‘robust’ knowledge. While in the field of sustainability these trends in science policy have been accompanied by the emergence of diverse landscapes of participation, critical empirical reflections on the meanings and practices of participation in different scientific and political contexts are scant. In this paper, we complement accounts on the ‘what’ of participation with an empirical enquiry into ‘the making’ of participation. Guided by work from the sociology of space, we adopt a relational approach and explore the narrations of scientific and non-scientific actors on what shapes spaces of participation. In this empirical enquiry into five ongoing projects of a German funding programme for sustainability research, we (i) explore meanings that scientific and non-scientific actors attach to participation, (ii) provide insights into the elements that they perceive as constitutive of spaces of participation and (iii) ask how actors position themselves vis-à-vis the respective ‘others’ in participation spaces. We illustrate that elements such as the underpinning understanding of change, funding conditions and the way science is being framed in the funding call, but also physical elements such as geographical distance play a role in how participation materialises. While elements constituting participation spaces depend on the context and the standpoint taken, we show that participation is embedded in societal structures and shaped by (inter-)actions of those involved. We develop first avenues of how to analytically grasp the relational and dynamic nature of participation spaces.