Participatory GIS Mapping Method


18th January 2024

Lead institution:
University of Manchester

Dr Jonathan Huck

This ‘How-To’ Guide outlines the Participatory GIS mapping methods used by Dr Jonathan Huck from the University of Manchester. The poster was created in collaboration with Jack Brougham.

Twitter: @JonnyHuck @GeographyUoM @UoM_MCGIS

Social scientists from the Methods for Change project came together to discuss the research methods they use and how methods create change in society. Drawing from the expertise in the Aspect network, they collaborated on a series of ‘how to’ guides which are step-by-step instructions and top-tips for adopting these methods in a range of sectors. Visual and multisensory pieces, including comics, illustrations, posters, booklets, short films and animations were then developed in collaboration with creatives to capture the key value of these research methods with a view to being able to convey them to a variety of audiences.

It is hoped that these resources will be useful for people in higher education, commercial, public sector, third sector and community organisations who are interested in experimenting with, and expanding professional skills in, the adoption of social science research methods.

Funded Project:
Methods for Change Phase 2

Participatory GIS (PGIS) is a broad term that refers to a collection of methods intended to collect map-based data from participants using digital platforms. Though there is no universally accepted definition, the term can be applied to any approach that seeks to collect map data from participants using a digital map.

PGIS approaches were created as a way of empowering citizens by incorporating non-expert knowledge into decision making (e.g., for collecting community opinion relating to a planning application) and enhancing democracy within communities. Over time, the methods have broadened in their scope, including their use in advocacy and seeking to provide a voice to marginalised groups.

At a practical level, Participatory GIS can be situated in the broader field of Participatory Mapping, which comprises:

  • Participatory GIS (also Public Participatory GIS, PPGIS), in which participants add data onto a digital map interface (e.g., a Google Map), normally via a website (though sometimes using desktop GIS software.
  • Sketch Mapping, in which participants use pens to draw data onto a paper base map.
  • Mental Mapping, in which participants draw a map on top of a blank sheet of paper.

All these approaches share the same goals (and some approaches can cross or sit between two categories), but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. It is therefore useful to consider the full range to find the approach that best fits your project. This how-to guide will provide a step-by-step guide to a PGIS platform called Map-Me, which is a good example of a general-purpose and easy to use approach to engaging with PGIS.

Explore more Resources View all

Should we spend more time talking about methods?

This blog by the Methods for Change team, illustrated by Jack Brougham, asks if we should spend more time talking about the methods we use as researchers. Drawing on a recent paper, we suggest that researchers need to articulate why methods matter in creating change to global challenges. We share three creative techniques that we have experimented with across the Methods for Change project that can encourage playful, reflective conversation about methods and their role in galvanising change.

Collaborative Zine Making Method

This ‘How-To’ Guide outlines the Collaborative Zine Making Method used by Professor Sarah Marie Hall from the University of Manchester and developed in collaboration with Inspire Women Oldham. The zine was also created in collaboration with Inspire Women Oldham.

Oral Histories of Sensory Memories

This ‘How-To’ Guide outlines the Oral Histories of Sensory Memories method used by Associate Professor Roisin Higgins from Maynooth University, Republic of Ireland. The poster was created in collaboration with Maddy Vian, Maddy Vian Illustrations.

Pop-up Stall Method

This ‘How-To’ Guide outlines the Pop-up Stall method used by Dr Robert Meckin and Dr Andrew Balmer from the University of Manchester. The poster was created in collaboration with Maddy Vian, Maddy Vian Illustrations.