Environmental pollution, animal diseases, and food scandals have marked the agricultural sector in the Netherlands and elsewhere in the 1990s. The sector was high on the political and societal agenda and plans were developed to redesign the sector into a more sustainable direction. Generally, monitoring of the agricultural sector is done by means of quantitative indicators to measure social, ecological, and economic performance. To give more attention to the normative character of sustainable development, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality requested for a participatory approach to evaluate Dutch agriculture, which was characterized by stakeholder workshops, dialogue, and learning. This article describes and reflects on this approach, using the Fourth Generation Evaluation framework developed by Guba and Lincoln (Fourth generation evaluation, 1989). Although there are several improvements to be made, the evaluation approach was successful in the way that it gave insight into perceptions, visions, and ambitions of agricultural stakeholders with regard to sustainability. It also encouraged learning about ways to make the agricultural sector more sustainable. And it contributed to the development of a monitoring approach that is complementary to the quantitative, indicator-based, evaluation approach that is generally used and that can be used every few years to see how perceptions and ambitions of stakeholders have developed. © 2009 The Author(s).