Although sustainable land management (SLM) is widely promoted to prevent and mitigate land degradation and desertification, its monitoring and assessment (M&A) has received much less attention. This paper compiles methodological approaches which to date have been little reported in the literature. It draws lessons from these experiences and identifies common elements and future pathways as a basis for a global approach. The paper starts with local level methods where the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT) framework catalogues SLM case studies. This tool has been included in the local level assessment of Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands (LADA) and in the EU-DESIRE project. Complementary site-based approaches can enhance an ecological process-based understanding of SLM variation. At national and sub-national levels, a joint WOCAT/LADA/DESIRE spatial assessment based on land use systems identifies the status and trends of degradation and SLM, including causes, drivers and impacts on ecosystem services. Expert consultation is combined with scientific evidence and enhanced where necessary with secondary data and indicator databases. At the global level, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) knowledge from the land (KM:Land) initiative uses indicators to demonstrate impacts of SLM investments. Key lessons learnt include the need for a multi-scale approach, making use of common indicators and a variety of information sources, including scientific data and local knowledge through participatory methods. Methodological consistencies allow cross-scale analyses, and findings are analysed and documented for use by decision-makers at various levels. Effective M&A of SLM [e.g. for United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)] requires a comprehensive methodological framework agreed by the major players. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.