This article reports on a five-day workshop, which took place in Ethiopia on the use of participatory approaches in emergencies. The first section describes factors that can trigger an emergency situation. Examining history, politics, livelihoods, culture and climate all help us to understand the complexities of an emergency. The notion of including all stakeholders, but in particular people at the community level in responding to an emergency situation is also briefly described. The participatory methods and tools used are then briefly outlined, highlighted by a number of case studies. Finally, steps forward are suggested, including the arrangement of further workshops. Details of the participants are listed.