River restoration as a measure to improve both flood protection and ecological quality has become a common practice in river management. This new practice, however, has also become a source of conflicts arising from a neglect of the social aspects in river restoration projects. Therefore appropriate public involvement strategies have been recommended in recent years as a way of coping with these conflicts. However, an open question remains: Which stakeholders should be involved in the decision-making process? This, in turn, raises the question of the appropriate objectives of public participation. This study aims to answer these questions drawing on two case studies of Swiss river restoration projects and a related representative nationwide survey. Our findings suggest that public involvement should not be restricted to a small circle of influential stakeholder groups. As restoration projects have been found to have a substantial impact on the quality of life of the local population, avoiding conflicts is only one of several objectives of the involvement process. Including the wider public provides a special opportunity to promote social objectives, such as trust building and identification of people with their local environment.