Researchers and policymakers emphasize that people’s involvement in forest management can secure their support of conservation initiatives. However, the evidence on the effectiveness of top-down participation is weak. This study uses cross-sectional household data from 16 villages in the buffer zone of Pench Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh) in India to contribute to the evidence base of such assumption. Using a propensity score matching to control for observable bias, we evaluate the effects of two state-driven incentive-based participatory projects, i.e. the Joint Forest Management and Ecodevelopment, on selected social outcomes. Specifically, we measured local people conservation knowledge, biodiversity attitudes as well as trust in and satisfaction with the tiger reserve management authorities. We found that the effects of participatory management on conservation knowledge were positive, but negligible. We found no significant effects on local people’s biodiversity attitudes, trust and satisfaction with the tiger reserve management authorities. Top-down and externally induced participation may explain our results. Our findings clearly indicate that the effectiveness of participatory conservation interventions is conditional on the level and nature of local participation. Top-down participatory projects may not be sufficient to generate local support of conservation and in some cases, they may even exacerbate local conflicts.