This paper develops a framework based on procedural, methodological and ideological elements of participatory vulnerability and risk assessment tools for placing individual approaches within the wide range of work that claims a participatory, local or community orientation. In so doing it draws on relevant experience from other areas of development practice from which the disasters field can learn. Participatory disaster risk assessments are examined for their potential to be empowering, to generate knowledge, to be scaled up, to be a vehicle for negotiating local change and as part of multiple-methods approaches to disaster risk identification and reduction. The paper is a response to an international workshop on Community Risk Assessment organised by ProVention Consortium and the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme, University of Cape Town. The workshop brought together practitioners and academics to review the challenges and opportunities for participatory methodologies in the field of disaster risk reduction. In conclusion the contribution made by participatory methodologies to global disaster risk reduction assessment and policy is discussed.