As interest grows in supporting multi-stakeholder forums (MSFs) to address land-use and climate change, it is important to understand how these processes operate from the perspectives of their participants. The academic literature on their equity largely presents a dichotomy: participatory processes either allow for horizontal decision-making with more equitable and effective outcomes for local populations, or they mask technologies of governance that do not address – and may reinforce – structures of inequality. These two perspectives downplay the different, complex and sometimes nuanced perceptions and experiences of participation. In order to better understand these nuances, the authors applied Q-methodology to analyse and compare the perceptions of MSF participants and organisers in four forums in the Peruvian Amazon. The research finds that participants are often optimistic about the forums, but at the same time they are aware of risks; and that groups falling into both camps may be just as likely to fail to address inequality among participants but for different reasons. The results help identify points of convergence and divergence, and potential ways forward to help construct more equitable and effective MSFs.