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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. The methodology has been particularly effective in documenting the impacts of logging, mining, strictly protected areas other ‘land grabs' on forest based communities.

The Rainforest Foundation UK's Participatory Mapping Programme in the Congo Basin

The Rainforest Foundation UK's (RFUK) participatory mapping programme aims to promote recognition of communities' rights to access, control, and use forests in legislative, political and strategic processes of Congo Basin countries. More specifically, it seeks to ensure that forest communities, civil society groups and relevant government agencies have the capacity and resources to accurately map community land tenure and resource use, in order to inform decision making and planning related to forests and forest communities.

RFUK and its partners have pioneered participatory mapping in the Congo Basin since 2000, first supporting a pilot mapping exercise with Baka (often referred to as "Pygmy") communities documenting their presence and forest use in order to inform the development of national forest policy in Cameroon. Since then, our regional mapping programme has extended to the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo, involving members of local civil society and government agencies. In each of the countries, specialist mapping laboratories have been equipped and staff trained in GIS (geographic information systems), along with an extensive network of community mapping facilitators. This has helped to support some 300 forest communities to produce maps of their lands and resources covering over 2,000,000 hectares to date. This work has played an important role in giving remote and disenfranchised forest-dependent communities a voice concerning natural resource management.

View this short video to find out more.


© Rainforest Foundation UK