Research Method: Participatory Mapping

17th March 2021

Funded Project:
Methods for Change

This ‘how to’ guide outlines the participatory mapping research method used by Deborah Ralls from the University of Manchester. The video was created in collaboration with Dave Draws.

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.

Research Method: Participatory Mapping

In this method, a map is understood as ‘a space to work in’ that can reveal new possibilities and potential, rather than as a tool for representing data about a place. It involves the researcher working collaboratively with groups of participants to think about a neighbourhood, community or institution, and to locate the things that are meaningful to them within that place.

Maps are created by participants, who may draw their own map of a place or add to an existing map with place markers, text, or drawings, in response to questions from the researcher. A map contains movement, processes, and relationships, it can illuminate the connections between people and place, and it can be seen as a space for interaction. Mapping approaches can help participants and researchers to see and use data differently, and to access types of data that may otherwise remain hidden, including perceptions, emotions and experiences. Through this method, participants are able to show the researcher and one another where they ‘see’ themselves and others on the map, to link different activities and feelings to places, to say where they go and with whom, and where they don’t go and why. Participatory Mapping can therefore tell researchers something about the nature of a place, and can be particularly useful for understanding how various groups in an area or community may use, experience and value places in different ways.

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