In the shift towards the Big Society, it is widely proclaimed that citizen participation and citizens’ initiatives are indispensable to maintaining services that used to be run by local or regional governments. Despite the increased interest in citizens’ initiatives, research has scarcely debated what actually defines the success of such initiatives. Using focus group discussions, this study examined the meanings and norms collectively constructed by government officials and professionals regarding the success and failure of citizens’ initiatives in rural areas. Remarkably, we found that the professional perspective of successful citizens’ initiatives was not dominated by the achievement of actual policy targets or project goals, such as maintaining public services. Rather, an initiative was perceived as successful as long as citizens are continuously active and in charge. Arguably, this somewhat paternalistic professional view of successful citizens’ initiatives could be challenged by the volunteers in those initiatives.