Participatory methods: Sketch Mapping

Following the first post about Ground mapping, I will describe another fairly easy participatory mapping method called Sketch mapping, sometimes also called as mental mapping. It is a method of representing primarily “free drawing” from memory (, 2014). The resulting “map” includes main features that the community enters on the map, and are therefore important to the community. The method is not based on exact measurements and, therefore, the resulting products are not very accurate.

Difficulty: Easy

Group size: medium to large – up to 50 participants (otherwise split into several smaller groups)

Time required: 2-3 hours (including discussion)

Links to other methods: Mostly it is used as introductory method for more technically demanding methods.

The aim of this method is to gather information and spatial knowledge of the individual group members with regard to their personal perception of space and use of the site. This is a group work, which however can be divided into several smaller groups (division may be accidental, but intentional). Subsequent discussion when presenting maps of individual groups can serve as a good introduction for the next steps in solving spatial problems in the community.

History and Present 

Mental mapping  and mental maps are concepts that play an important role in the first stages of participatory research methods.

Lynch and Gould define mental maps differently, according to their definitions, then divide mental maps to maps of preferences (Gould) and maps of perception (Lynch).

Gould type (Figure 1) understands the mental map as a reflection of spatial preferences. These mental maps are formed secondarily transferring verbal information by the interviewer on the map, prepared by the cartographer. Examples include maps where you want to live, or which place would you prefer for summer holidays (Gould, 1986).


Figure 1: A mental map (Gould type) of environmental quality of Moravia and Silesia (Voženílek, 1997).

Lynch type conversely understands mental maps as an individual view of space in which one can express his/her perceptions. Outcome is therefore a particular sketch, diagram or picture that represents one´s vision of the world. Figure 2 presents the mental map of Africa by students’ of the grammar school in Púchov, Slovakia.


Figure 2: The mental map of Africa (Lynch type) (Putalová, 2014).

Drbohlav (1991) defines mental map as a model space that is created in the mind of the individual and its output is drawn map on any media. To create mental maps it is necessary to create a cognitive map – the map in mind. It is transfer to the medium, which in most cases is paper, that transforms the cognitive map into the mental map.

This method is inexpensive and easy to lead. The resulting product is already more stable than the results from Ground mapping, mainly because it is stored on the hard media – mostly on paper. The method is also suitable for the introduction of other activities.

The main advantages of this method are similar to that of Ground Mapping, its technical and financial modesty. The disadvantage is that the resulting map is not georeferenced and its transformation into the coordinate system is usually very difficult. However unlike Ground mapping, sketch maps are permanent products that can be transported from place to any other place (IFAD, 2009).


  1. Clearly define the scope of the area, i.e. the area which will be mapped.
  2. Select the appropriate area and prepare material (see Resources and tools)
  3. Invite the selected group to the meeting place or public meeting.
  4. Select a suitable place with adequate space and materials, select participants – a group of no more than 50 people. The group should equally represent both men and women, all ages and interest groups.
  5. Facilitate the participants in the process of making maps, answering any questions.
  6. Facilitate a group discussion about the creation of maps, but do not interfere with the process of creation itself.
  7. Process/record information arising from maps, observations and suggestions arising during the mapping and/or group discussions. For example, in the form of photographs or writings.
  8. Map may remain in the community as a memory of the whole process of mapping.

Resources and tools

  • The space, where it will be possible to create a map.
  • Sufficient material for the production of maps – large paper, pencils, markers, pens, scissors, glue, sticky notes, etc.
  • Paper for notes – refers to the facilitator.


Given that the resulting map is not in any scale, it is not possible to read the exact values​​, on the other hand it is possible to work with the size and position of the individual elements. Applies here Tobler´s first rule of geography that “everything is related to everything, but close phenomena have greater importance than distant phenomena …” (Tobler, 1970). Also, the larger objects on the map, are more important to the community than the smaller ones (Panek & Vlok, 2013). This allows us to trace the elements that are important for the community and continue discussions of why this is so.

The size of the displayed elements, or their position towards the center, mostly reflecting their importance to the community (Mucha, 2010). Recorded information on the map can be used as final product (Chambers, 1994; Mascarenhas & Kumar, 1991), or as input to the next phases of community mapping (Vlok & Panek, 2013; Vajjhala, 2006; Weiner & Harris, 2003).

Examples experiences, literature, etc.

Bláha, J., & Pastuchová Nováková, T. (2013). Mentální mapa Česka v podání českách žáků základních a středních škol. Geografie–Sborník CGS, 118(1), 59–76.

Drbohlav, D. (1991). Mentální mapa ČSFR – Definice, aplikace, podmíněnost. Geografie–Sborník CGS, 96(3), 163–177.

Gould, P. (1986). Mental Maps. Taylor & Francis.

Chambers, R. (1994). The origins and practice of participatory rural appraisal. World Development, 22(7), 953–969.

IFAD. (2009). Good practices in participatory mapping (p. 59). Rome: International Fund for Agriculture Development.

Lynch, K. (1960). The image of the city (Vol. 1, p. 194). MIT press.

Mascarenhas, J., & Kumar, P. (1991). Participatory mapping and modelling users’ notes. RRA Notes, (12), 1–9.

Muchemi, J. (2010). Ground and Sketch mapping. CTA, The Netherlands and IFAD, Italy.

Pánek, J., & Vlok, C. (2013). Participatory mapping as a tool for community empowerment – a case study of community engagement in Koffiekraal,South Africa. In M. F. Buchroithner (Ed.), 26th International Cartographic Conference (p. 26). Dresden.

Polišenská, V. A. (2006). Mentální mapy: Definice, výzkum a otázka prostorového rozhodování. Československá Psychologie, 1, 64–70.

Putalová, L. (2014). Analýza mentálnej mapy Afriky žiakov gymnázií v Českej republike a na Slovensku. Bakalářská práce, Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci. (2014). sketch map – definition. Retrieved April 17, 2014.

Tobler, W. (1970). A computer movie simulating urban growth in the Detroit region. Economic Geography, 46, 234–240.

Vajjhala, S. (2006). “Ground Truthing” Policy: Using Participatory Map-Making to Connect Citizens and Decision Makers. RESOURCES-WASHINGTON DC, 14–18.

Vlok, C., & Pánek, J. (2012). CAMP for change in the Bojanala Region of North West Province. In GISSA Ukubuzana 2012 Conference Proceedings. Johannesburg.

Voženílek, V. (1997). Mentální mapa a mentální prostorové představy. Geodetický a Kartografický Obzor, 43(1), 9–14.

Weiner, D., & Harris, T. (2003). Community-integrated GIS for land reform in South Africa. URISA Journal, 61–73.


3 thoughts on “Participatory methods: Sketch Mapping

  1. Pingback: Participatory methods: Transect Walk | geoparticipation

  2. Pingback: Participatory methods: Scale Mapping | geoparticipation

  3. Pingback: Participatory methods: GPS Mapping | geoparticipation

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