Dreams Assessment

A tool for participatory formative evaluation created by Courtney Robinson while working for Engineers Without Borders Canada in Ghana


Dreams Assessment is a multi-impact formative evaluation tool for collaborative program design and deep partnership in the international development sector. It was developed in reaction to the common practice of disembodied program design, providing an alternative approach to development work that involves humility, listening, Appreciative Inquiry, and sharing of results.  The three main impacts of a Dreams Assessment are empowerment of local partners, insights for the international partner, and deeper trust and partnership overall. 


Current evaluation tools used to combat ineffective program design are Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) and Impact Evaluation.  These are both summative tools that help individuals understand the ultimate effectiveness or impact of a program, the results of which can be used to tweak or redesign the program for further use.  At the formative stage of a program design process, there are fewer evaluation tools used in international development.  One common one is a Needs Assessment, which focuses on who is in need, what they need, and how the international development organization can meet the need. A Dreams Assessment is in sharp contrast to this - rather than focusing on needs and how we, the international development partner, could meet them, the new process was focused on dreams and visions held by local lecturers and administrators, and how we could facilitate their actualization via a setting of empowerment.  



1.    Design interview questions in the tradition of Appreciative Inquiry

2.    Conduct one-on-one interviews

3.    Supplement with group visioning sessions

4.    Interactive results sharing


1. Interview Question Design

Interview questions should be constructed in the spirit of Appreciative Inquiry, meaning they should focus on recognizing and affirming the strengths, assets, successes, and potential of the interviewee and their community or organization.


2.  One-on-one interviews

The opportunity to participate in a one-on-one interview should be extended to as many people as possible, given budget and resource constraints, in order to facilitate the atmosphere of inclusiveness crucial for building trust with the community and cultivating a setting for empowerment. 


3. Group Visioning Work

Group visioning workshops are an important complement to the individual nature of one-on-one interviews. Group work contributes to the cultivation of an enabling environment where individuals are supported to pursue their ideas and work toward their visions.


4. Interactive Results Sharing 

The results of the interviews and group workshops should be shared in an interactive way, to further build on the momentum and create space for collaboration in real time. It is important to share results publicly, as public affirmation contributes to feelings of success and empowerment. 


For a detailed case study of how the Dreams Assessment was developed and applied, please visit the Dreams Assessment page in My Portfolio.