Participatory Mapping

Participatory mapping is a map-making process that attempts to make visible the association between land and local communities by using the commonly understood and recognised language of cartography. In contrast to the common view of planners and managers responsible for a certain development process, participatory mapping provides the opportunity to represent a socially and culturally distinct understanding of landscape and include information that is excluded from mainstream maps. Therefore, it can become a medium of empowerment by allowing the local community to represent themselves spatially (Lienert, 2019).

Basic Information on the Method
Mode of communication
Group size
1-5, 6-30
Geographical scale
Neighbourhood, City, Region
Skills required
Basic, Average
Resources needed
Low, Medium
Level of Involvement
Level of involvement
Consult, Involve, Collaborate, Empower
Type of knowledge enabled
Divergence (Small groups)
Additional Criteria
Planning phase
Initiatiion, Evaluation & Research
Methodological approach
Diagnostic, Expressive, Organisational, Political

How to use the method

  1. Invite the members of the community to the participatory mapping exercise. Secure the accessible location, preferably within the neighbourhood, and suitable time. Ensure, that people of diverse age, gender, social status and cultural background are present, to represent different perspectives.
  2. The mapping exercise is usually done on paper. For online mapping refer to PPGIS. Alternatively, you can use local materials, such as sand, sticks, stones, or pre-designed tree-dimensional elements, such as coloured flags, cubes, threads. However, you always need a paper copy for later comparisons.
  3. Ask participants to draw the outline of the local area, for example, roads, towns, rivers, and property boundaries. If you resources allow, project an overhead map onto a large sheet of paper and then to trace the required information. The map could be as large as a wall.
  4. Ask participants to add information either directly by drawing, or using sticky notes, coloured flags, etc. Let them record what is essential to them, and then ask for more detail if something you are interested in is missing. Encourage participants to add their perspective.
  5. Use the following guiding questions:
    • Which are the problemsa community is confronted with?
    • Where are these problems located?
    • Where are the hotspots of these problems?
    • Who is responsible for these problems? (Optional)
    • How are these problems connected to each other?
    • Are there good practice examples?
  6. Several modifications to the map may be needed before participants are satisfied with the final result. This map, representing the current state of affairs may be used later to make comparisons.

What are the outcomes

A simple and comprehensive location-based overview of the local issues.

Skills required

Skills required from participants - Basic, Average

  • Mapping exercise aims to involve people of diverse age, gender, social status and cultural background. No specific knowledge or skills are required.

Resources needed

Resources - Low, Medium

  • Costs vary depending on the format and the number of participants
  • Low cost format uses paper, coloured pens, sticky notes
  • Mediums cost format may involve projection to the wall and (pre-designed) three-dimensional elements, such as coloured cubes, flags, threads

Strengths and weaknesses

  • Low-cost, easy to explain and conduct
  • Integrates local residents early on into the planning process
  • Maps local experiential information
  • Produces a quick overview of local issues
  • Indicates points of potential spatial conflicts
  • Enables high levels of involvement
  • The more issues / topics are placed on the map, the more complex it becomes. It is helpful to place 2-3 issues / indicators on the map at a time, to enable establishing relationships between the issues, while avoiding excessive complexity

Use cases

Low cost paper-based participatory mapping are often used in developing countries. In developed countries online mapping tools are increasingly gaining popularity.

Mapping movement - Raleigh, North Carolina, US, 2014

A participatory mapping installation which illuminates the ways that people move through the city. As a city amidst great transformation, the installation focuses on movement, with specific comparison to where existing and future infrastructural developments existed (or where planned.) The goal of this juxtaposition was to compare residents needs with urban planners proposal to see where alignment and gaps existed (Allen, 2012-2014).

Try one of these tools & resources

  1. Allen T. (2012-2014) Research. Participatory mapping. Available at:
  2. Lienert J. (2019) Sustainable sanitation and water management toolbox. Participatory mapping for decision making. Available at:
  3. Puttkamer L. (201() Participatory methods in urban planning: Mapping. Available at: