UNODC has focused on the role and impact of participation in alternative development as called for in the Action Plan on International Cooperation and Eradication of Illicit Crops and on Alternative Development, endorsed by Member States at the twentieth special session of the General Assembly, in 1998.

Participatory approaches have been UNODC's favoured methodology and an indispensable instrument for sustainability. Encouraging the direct involvement and participation of farmer organizations, cooperatives and community-level committees has helped ensure that UNODC programme interventions and outcomes embody the aspirations of the local community and receive its active support and acceptance, particularly with respect to drug control objectives.

More recently, in 2013, the use of this approach was encouraged in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Alternative Development, which promote "local ownership and participation of the involved parties in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of alternative development programmes and projects".

Opting for a participatory, community-based approach has been particularly relevant in areas characterized by limited government involvement. Community organizations play an important role in alternative development initiatives, not only as economic production units (e.g. cooperatives in Peru), but more importantly as influential social institutions (e.g. village development committees in the Lao People's Democratic Republic). In addition to the obvious financial benefits provided by economies of scale, gaining market power and access to services and lowering production and delivery costs, these organizations can also function as a cohesive platform for social and political action and for influencing individual attitudes towards illicit drug crop cultivation and drug trafficking.