The nature of the relationship between clinical investigator and research participant continues to be contested. The related discussions have largely focused on the doctor-researcher dichotomy thought to permeate the work of a clinical investigator with research participants, whom in turn occupy two corresponding roles: patient and subject. This paper contributes to current debates on the topic by providing a voice to research participants, whose perspectives have been largely invisible. It draws on 42 in-depth interviews conducted in Ghana and South Africa with respondents at different stages of involvement in clinical research, ranging from no experience in clinical research to enrollment in several clinical trials. The perspectives of all respondents were largely congruent and rooted in the common view that clinical research contributed to the improvement of local health. They went beyond the researcher/participant versus doctor/patient dichotomy, long established in research ethics, and preferred to view participants and investigators as partners working together to find ways to address local health needs. The conceptualization of investigator-participant relations as a partnership reinforced expectations of care, transparency and accountability, which were viewed as necessary expressions of mutuality and respect within equal collaborations. It is important to engage with these views in order to avoid antagonizing societal expectations and to build up long-term public trust, crucial for the continuous operation of clinical research.