Participatory mapping

Integrating Knowledge: PARTICIPATORY MAPPING
Tool authored by: Pablo Pita and Ramón Muiño, University of A Coruña, Spain

Tool Description

Participatory mapping is the most widespread visual participatory method. In marine studies and social research it has been used for many different purposes, especially for natural resource management and to collect indigenous and cultural knowledge. Mapping 7Using this tool is quite simple: individuals or groups of people are asked by a facilitator to draw on a map their (qualitative) knowledge about a spatial issue. Subsequently researchers can integrate information from different informants, also identifying categories, typologies, and concepts, and map them.

Further steps in participatory mapping may include the independent validation of maps from another group of informants, or the establishment of focus groups to discuss/refine maps that synthesize knowledge layers and, where needed, reconcile possible disagreements.

In later years the development of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have provided a full range of new cartographic possibilities to collect such Experience Based knowledge (EBK). Moreover these tools facilitate the comparison and integration of such information to research based knowledge (RBK). In this context we highlight that participatory mapping allows embedded spatial knowledge to be formalised according to an approach that facilitates its integration into the management discourse, thus empowering stakeholders’ participation in management,

It is worth noting that participatory mapping usually complements traditional oral interviews, adding the spatial EBK to the results of the research. Furthermore, this will help to select key informants that are representative of the community. The final map can be a valuable tangible result for research and management purposes. Moreover it should be noted that participatory mapping has a strong interactive component that allows the facilitator to gather other relevant information during the development of the mapping session, where an informant can move from mere description to elaborate holistic explanations for what it is drawn in the map. This information needs to be taken into consideration very carefully when analysing data to extract conclusions.

Expected Outcomes 

The physical results after a participatory mapping session are maps in which the informants provided their spatial EBK on issues of interest (e.g. allocation of fishing grounds, presence and abundance of species, habitats and substrates, nursery areas, conflicts with other stakeholders, etc.). The value of such data goes beyond the simple description of the variables, since they are obtained directly involving stakeholders and thus ensuring legitimacy to the process and its outcomes.

Comparison and integration of such spatial information with RBK are another relevant output of participatory mapping along with the range of information which emerges during the mapping exercises, which allow one to understand, as precisely as possible, the data provided.

What is needed

1) Copies of marine charts to let the informants draw on them with colour markers (as thin as possible: the thicker the marks, the greater errors when digitalized in a GIS). Placing a transparent plastic film over the chart before each session will make working easier and reduce expenses.

2) Scanner/graphics tablet and GIS platform to digitalize results.

3) A digital sound recorder (or video camera) are valuable elements (alternatively take notes to ensure that the final map is fully understood.

4) Informed consent to use the recordings for research purposes are also needed.

How it works

  • Have in mind very clearly what information is needed to avoid getting a lot of unnecessary information with some overly motivated informants.
  • Explain very carefully the objectives, how the session is expected to be developed (duration included) and what the information will be used for.
  • Make sure that the informants feel comfortable to chat and draw.
  • Place the sound recorder and the video camera in their settings as soon as possible and forget about them in order to prevent intimidating informants.
  • Try to be as flexible as possible with the informants but do not forget the kind of information you need; ask that the informant thinks about their own knowledge.
  • Digitises notes and voice recordings as soon as possible to avoid loss of information. There are some commercial (NVivo, Atlas TI) and free (RQDA) software packages that allow you to support and analyse different media.
  • After you get your maps in a GIS by using a graphics tablet, show and discuss results with the informants, highlight inconsistencies and seek help to explain and reconcile them.
  • Proceed by integrating EBK maps to the available RBK to produce relevant information to fisheries management. Discuss outputs and their meaning with informants.


  • Having a facilitator experienced in social tools can be helpful, especially when handling heterogeneous groups of people. The facilitator must build an atmosphere of trust by being clear in the explanation of the purpose of the session and honest with the ownership, processing and safekeeping of information.
  • When mapping in groups it is important to make sure that all people participate in the mapping. Indeed, groups are very useful to improve the results of a previous mapping.

Examples from GAP2 and beyond

In Spain, Dr Ramón Muiño and collaborators of the University of A Coruña are trying to expand the current Territorial Use Rights in Fisheries (TURF) model to fisheries under traditional top-down management by using participatory mappingFig. 1 to integrate fishermen’s EBK on fishing grounds, habitats and species with a vessel monitoring program that can provide geographic information on CPUE. In this CS, highly detailed consensus maps were obtained in individual mapping sessions, and thereafter validated by groups of fishermen. In the habitats cartography, they identified 4 main soft-bottom habitats: sand, mud, gravel and maërl, and 3 main rocky formations, cabezos, laxasand touzas They also identified the contact line between soft and rocky substrates as an important fishing habitat, the beiradas. In the species cartography they mapped the distribution of 48 target species (more at: studies/case-study-2).

In Estonia, Dr Robert Aps and collaborators of the University of Tartu have been using participatory mapping to include the activities of the different stakeholders of an area of the Baltic Sea into a Maritime Spatial Planning that will manage the fisheries and also the other activities (more at: studies/case-study-11).

In Italy, Dr SašaRaicevich and collaborators of ISPRA (and other institutions) have been using participatory mapping to integrate fishermen’s EBK on fishing grounds and species with on board scientific observations and electronic logbook data to understand and manage the fisheries of the Northern Adriatic in a better way (more at: studies/case-study-8).

There are many other practical examples beyond GAP2, but we would emphasize the work of Close and Hall (2006) as an useful technical reference.

What people say about this tool

“The use of maps in the integration of local knowledge of the fisheries sector links practical issues and the management of fisheries on the scale that really matters, avoiding theoretical speculations that are sometimes difficult to justify. The location of the fishing grounds and the use of the gear (which depend on the season), the setting and hauling of the gears and the appropriate timing are designed by professionals for success, that is, for the effective capture. Not taking into account this knowledge does not make much sense”. (Mr Xoán López, Secretary of the Galician Federation of Fishers Associations).

“Sometimes you interview with maps a very, very reluctant fisher and you wonder if you will be able to get any info. May be the fisher is shy or just believes that they are losing precious time with you. Sometimes it works just be quiet. If the fisher finally begins to draw and chat, it is funny to realise that they just can’t stop!”. (Dr Pablo Pita, University of A Coruña).

References and resources

Anuchiracheeva, S., H. Demaine, G.P. Shivakoti and K. Ruddle. 2003. Systematizing local knowledge using GIS: fisheries management in Bang Saphan Bay, Thailand. Ocean & Coastal Management 46: 1049-1068.

Chambers, R. 2006. Participatory mapping and geographic information systems: whose map? Who is empowered and who disempowered? Who gains and who loses? The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries 25: 1-11.

Close, C. and G.B. Hall. 2006. A GIS-based protocol for the collection and use of local knowledge in fisheries management planning. Journal of Environmental Management 78: 341-352.

Davis, A. and J.R. Wagner. 2003. Who knows? On the importance of identifying “experts” when researching local ecological knowledge. Human ecology 31: 463-489.

Hall, G.B. and C. Close. 2007. Local knowledge assessment for a small-scale fishery using geographic information systems. Fisheries research 83: 11-22.

Hill, N.A.O., K.P. Michael, A. Frazer and S. Leslie.2010.The utility and risk of local ecological knowledge in developing stakeholder driven fisheries management: The Foveaux Strait dredge oyster fishery, New Zealand. Ocean & Coastal Management 53: 659-668.

Huntington, H.P. 2000. Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Science: Methods and Applications. Ecological Applications 10: 1270-1274.

Pita, P., J. Freire and A. García-Allut. 2008. How to assign a catch value to fishing grounds when fisheries statistics are not spatially explicit.Scientia Marina 72: 693-699.

Ronggui, H. 2012. RQDA: R-based Qualitative Data Analysis. R package version 0.2-3. Available at [accesed 9 January 2014].

Web resources

Visual references and resources 

Mapping 1

One fisher drawing a map during a mapping session to collect the LK.

One fisher drawing a map during a mapping session to collect the LK.

One fisher drawing a map during a mapping session to collect the LK.

Mapping 3

Mapping 6

Detail of the map drawn by a fisher during a mapping session to collect the LK.

Mapping 7

Detail of the map drawn by a fisher during a mapping session to collect the LK.

Material 1

The video camera installed in a tripod to record a mapping session to collect the LK.

Material 2

General view of the materials just before the beginning of a mapping session to collect the LK.

Results 1

View of a GIS archive after digitizing the maps made by fishers in participatory mapping sessions.

Mapping 5

Detail of the map drawn by a fisher during a mapping session to collect the LK.

Revision 1

Detail of the corrections made by a group of fishers on a cartography previously elaborated in individual mapping sessions