Participatory Mapping: presenting spatial knowledge of local communities

[Someone has asked me about Participatory Mapping – which seems systems thinking-adjacent, or practice-related at least – does anybody know it well and want to recommend technology or methodology? Benjamin]


Participatory Mapping

What is Participatory Mapping?

Participatory mapping – also called community-based mapping – is a general term used to define a set of approaches and techniques that combines the tools of modern cartography with participatory methods to represent the spatial knowledge of local communities. It is based on the premise that local inhabitants possess expert knowledge of their local environments which can be expressed in a geographical framework which is easily understandable and universally recognised. Participatory maps often represent a socially or culturally distinct understanding of landscape and include information that is excluded from mainstream or official maps. Maps created by local communities represent the place in which they live, showing those elements that communities themselves perceive as important such as customary land boundaries, traditional natural resource management practices, sacred areas, and so on.


What criteria is there to recognise and denote community maps? 

Participatory mapping is defined by the process of production.The processes used to create the maps can be as valuable as the maps themselves. Participatory maps are planned around a common goal and a strategy for use and are often made with input from an entire community in an open and inclusive process. The higher the level of participation by all members of the community, the more beneficial the outcome because the final map will reflect the collective experience of the group producing the map.

Participatory mapping is a product that represents the agenda of the community. Participatory mapping is map production undertaken by communities to show information that is relevant and important to their needs and is mainly for their use.

Participatory mapping produces maps which depict local knowledge and information.The maps contain a community’s place names, symbols, scales and priority features that represent local knowledge systems.

Participatory mapping is not defined by the level of compliance with formal cartographic conventions. Participatory maps are not confined by formal media; a community map may be a drawing in the sand or may be incorporated into a sophisticated computer-based GIS (geographic information system). Whereas regular maps seek conformity, community maps embrace diversity in presentation and content. That said, to be useful for outside groups such as state authorities, the closer the maps follow recognised cartographic conventions, the greater the likelihood that they will be seen as effective communication tools.

(CTA and IIED, 2006)

Why is it useful? 

In recent years, there has been a growing effort to promote community engagement in decision-making processes concerning natural resource management. Participatory mapping has emerged as a powerful tool that allows remote and marginalised communities to represent themselves spatially, bringing their local knowledge and perspectives to the attention of governmental authorities and decision-makers. For this reason, participatory mapping is commonly used to create maps that represent land and resource use patterns, hazards, community values and perceptions, to gather information on traditional knowledge and practices, to collect data for assessments or monitoring, to present alternative scenarios and to empower and educate stakeholders.


MappingForRights, an initiative of the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) and local partners, is intended to enable forest communities themselves to demonstrate their presence in the forest; decision-makers and the private sector to take account of and recognise this presence; and to assist the international community in designing programmes concerned with those rights and ensure that forest communities are equitable beneficiaries of future developments.

Since it was launched in 2011, it has supported hundreds of forest communities across the region to produce maps of their lands and resources covering over five million hectares. In 2016, MappingForRights was recognised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as part of the UN Momentum for Change awards.

View this short video to find out more about participatory mapping in the Congo Basin


Source: Participatory Mapping: presenting spatial knowledge of local communities