This paper draws on: a) a ten years experience in the use of participatory strategies in urban policies, and b) a six year experience of academic work (in particular the creation and management of the 'urban policy workshop' within the degree course in Urban and Environmental Planning at the Milan Polytechnic). Although these 'routes' are formally separated (IRS being a private, non profit, research and consultancy firm), the links between the two are very strong, because they are originated by the same group of people, and because the interchange between practice and academic work has been considered a relevant resource for the development of both.