Participatory methods: GPS Mapping

GPS mapping is one of the methods that already require sophisticated technical tools and technical literacy. In this case, at least the GPS unit and a device for storing and visualizing data – mostly computer. GPS unit can record location in the form of points or lines.

This methods belongs to the group of methods, that places greater knowledge and skill barriers at the user. GPS mapping may be used for the collection of new information (, 2013) or to verify information obtained during some of the less technology-intensive methods (Ground mappingSketch mapping or Transect Walk) (Panek & Vlok, 2013).

Difficulty: technologically challenging

Group size: ideal group size is around 5-6 people for one GPS receiver

Time required: Half-day and more. Depending on the number of objects that you need to map.

Links to other methods: It is mostly independent method. Can be combined with Sketch mapping and Multimedia mapping.

The aim of this method is to gather accurate information about spatial phenomena, which the group intends to focus on or to use in their mapping. Mapping can be individual activity, as well as group work. After collection of points and lines via GPS, the process is usually followed by the visualization in the PC, ideally at the base topographic map or aerial image. The individual points and lines can be connected to additional information – e.g. memorable tree with information about the age and species of tree, the degree of protection, etc.

History and Present

The most important technical part of this method is a GPS receiver that can determine your position anywhere on the earth’s surface. The system of GPS satellites is operated by the Ministry of Defense of the United States of America and builds on previous GNSS Transit project (1964-1996) and extends it’s the quality, availability, accuracy and service. The original name was the NAVSTAR GPS (Navigation Signal Timing and Ranging Global Positioning System). The development of NAVSTAR GPS was launched in 1973 by merging two projects for positioning System 621B (USAF) and for accurate timing Timation (U.S. Navy).

GPS is one of many similar systems. An alternative to GPS builds currently  the European Union (Galileo), Russia (GLONAS) or China and India.

This method is suitable for recording, storing and sharing precise locations of individual sites and for accurate mapping rather smaller sites. Another advantage is the standardized format and usability for external actors. The disadvantage may be that for some communities it may already be a financially and technologically demanding instrument, which requires a computer and special software for further use.


  1. Clearly define the scope of the area and the time that you have to mapping. You should be aware that for each point is needed at least 2 minutes (+ path).
  2. Provide plenty of GPS devices or. smartphones, including spare batteries, or. cameras for further documentation.
  3. Invite the selected group to the meeting place or public meeting.
  4. Present the objectives of the project and the mapping method – explain why it is the most appropriate method chosen and how the results will be used further.
  5. Proviede GPS devices and training to work with the device.
  6. Allow enough time for the group to become familiar with the GPS device.
  7. The actual mapping in the field.
  8. Copy information from the GPS to the computer.
  9. Presentation of results and allow time for discussion group discussion.

Resources and tools

  • GPS receiver or smart phone with GPS module.
  • Camera for photo documentation/stationery.
  • PC with the ability to visualize GPX data
  • Paper for notes – refers to the facilitator.


The entire process is challenging technical literacy and requires further work with the data obtained. Therefore, it is recommended to devote sufficient technical preparation time.

Examples experiences, literature, etc.. (2013). CyberTracker Field data collection GPS System. Retrieved November 24, 2013.

Chapin, M., Lamb, Z., & Threlkeld, B. (2005). Mapping indigenous lands. Annual Review of Anthropology, 34 (1), 619-638.

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


One thought on “Participatory methods: GPS Mapping

  1. Pingback: Participatory methods: multimedia mapping | geoparticipation

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