Conventional M&E and can be differentiated from participatory M&E in terms of three parameters:
1. Involvement and role of stakeholders and rights holders
In these two approaches, the roles and responsibilities of people involved are somewhat different.
In conventional M&E, senior managers, outside experts, and/or donor agencies typically drive the process. They are responsible for planning and managing the project, making key decisions, and so on. Community members or stakeholder participation is extremely limited in the sense that they are not involved in the planning of the M&E mechanisms and content; neither will they be involved in the processing and interpretation of results.
In PM&E, local people, project staff, managers, and other key stakeholders involved in the project are responsible for planning, managing, and decision making. The very essence of participatory M&E is involvement of stakeholders and rights holders in critical steps of the program cycle, even as early as the planning stage. Because they are the ones who have a stake in the whole process or those who have something to gain or to lose by being involved in the program, they are involved in every stage of the process.
It is important to note here that, regardless of the M&E approach taken, rights holders have constitutionally protected rights which require legal consultation or involvement in a project. This needs to occur before the project is initiated. The Government of Canada specifically has a duty to consult (covered in Module 1), and where appropriate, accommodate Indigenous groups when it considers conduct that might adversely impact potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. This requirement applies to federal, provincial, and territorial governments.
2. Focus of data gathering
Conventional M&E attempts to achieve breadth of information, and often relies on using pre-determined indicators to drive data collection. Often, these indicators are quantitative. Furthermore, in the data collection phase of conventional M&E, stakeholders are typically only involved in providing information (for example, by filling out a survey), rather than being involved in the data collection process itself.
PM&E typically focuses on depth of information, and can include a combination of quantitative and qualitative information. In terms of data collection, stakeholders and rights holders are typically involved in decisions regarding the methods used for data collection, designing the instrument, and they may even be involved in collecting the data.
3. Overall approach
Finally, conventional M&E mainly focuses on achieving ultimate system or project effectiveness. The process focuses on utilizing scientific objectivity to make decisions that will improve the effectiveness of the project. It relies heavily on scholarship and pre-determined indicators to determine results.
Comparatively, the concept of PM&E as an experiential learning cycle towards building adaptive capacity serves to emphasize the notion that participants learn together from experience as well as through each other, resulting in action-oriented planning. Stakeholders and rights holders continuously reflect on the impact of their intervention or management plan, learning from their own success and mistakes.