This article addresses the construction of professionalism in rural partnerships in Achterhoek, a region in the east of The Netherlands, where public, private and community representatives are involved in the spatial reorganisation of agriculture. In contrast to the dichotomy between `professional' and `citizen' that can be found in the literature, we argue that professional identity is a multi-layered construct. Moreover, professional identity can be seen a source of political capital. Based on a qualitative case study of one partnership, we conclude that it is not just civic or community representatives who are unable to access all the relevant layers of professionalism. Partnership members from small interest organisations also lack the professionalism that stems from scientific knowledge. Even when these actors have access to scientific knowledge, only a few of them can identify with and align themselves with the dominant discourse. Community representatives are particularly prone to question the legitimacy of the professionalism that dominates such partnerships. They are proud of their experiential knowledge and draw on this to contest professionalism, which they disapprove of. If the governance of local partnerships is to be a bottom-up process more lay people and local inhabitants need to be involved. Their experiential knowledge could bring about a cultural change in governance that goes beyond the current decentralisation of decision-making to the local level.