Tensions arise regarding how to conduct M&E because real-world sustainability projects operate in complex and dynamic contexts, and thus different M&E needs require different approaches (Reed, 2008; Stem et al., 2005). The approach chosen depends on the overall goal of practitioners. Essentially, there is no one M&E approach that fits all sustainability efforts (Hockings et al., 2000; Margoluis & Salafsky, 1998; Reed, 2008). In order to determine which approach is most appropriate, practitioners must have a clear understanding of their M&E needs (Stem et al., 2005).
For example, if the goal of M&E for a project is to gain a general sense of the existing condition of the environment at one point in time, also known as a status assessment, it would be less time consuming and resource intensive to have an external expert complete the evaluation (conventional M&E). In contrast, if the goal of M&E for a project is to understand how your actions can improve community sustainability, also known as effectiveness measurement, it would be important to understand the impacts that your project is having on the intended audiences (PM&E).
Lastly, we must also be aware of the need and appropriateness of alternative approaches to M&E. While we touched upon two prominent examples in this lesson, you are reminded that M&E approaches exist along a spectrum. There are many other approaches that focus on or capture specific perspectives, ideas, and ways of knowing.