‘Citizen participation’ includes various participatory techniques and is frequently viewed as an unproblematic and important social good when used as part of the regulation of the innovation and implementation of science and technology. This is perhaps especially evident in debates around ‘anticipatory governance’ or ‘upstream engagement’. Here, we interrogate this thesis using the example of the European Union’s regulation of emerging health technologies (such as nanotechnology). In this case, citizen participation in regulatory debate is concerned with innovative objects for medical application that are considered to be emergent or not yet concrete. Through synthesising insights from law, regulatory studies, critical theory, and science and technology studies, we seek to cast new light on the promises, paradoxes, and pitfalls of citizen participation as a tool or technology of regulation in itself. As such we aim to generate a new vantage point from which to view the values and sociotechnical imaginaries that are both ‘designed-in’ and ‘designed-out’ of citizen participation. In so doing, we show not only how publics (do not) regulate technologies, but also how citizens themselves are regulated through the techniques of participation.