Participatory mapping in heritage

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Participatory mapping means creating a map representing the community’s relationship within the natural landscape surrounding a cultural heritage site or object. The contents usually describe significant resources and values of the area. The community holds ownership of said map and its contents as well as its advocacy.

Community participation in research and management of cultural resources is growing due to the many benefits and insights surrounding cultural property. Locals often can identify and communicate the area and the attached values while drawing up a map.

Mapping can take many forms requiring different levels of training and knowledge, namely:

  • Ephemeral mapping, drawing on the ground using sticks and other items.
  • Sketch mapping, quick drawing of an area.
  • Scale mapping, creating an accurate map using georeferencing and cartographic techniques.
  • Photo mapping, including aerial photographs.
  • GPS and GIS, using satellite imagery and listing information using information software.
  • 3-Dimensional Modelling (P3DM), creating a scale virtual model.

The process

a) Identify the site and surrounding area.

b) Create a relationship with the community, speaking with all stakeholder representatives.

c) Set up an introductory workshop with participants from each group.

According to which mapping technique you will follow, the process differs in execution, but the principles of participation and inclusion are transitory to all.


  1. Identify the area on the selected software with the community members.
  2. Prompt participants to add points of interests and information using local symbols.
  3. Encourage participants to capture/photograph in person the identified locales.
  4. Compile the information and make them available for use.
  5. Ensure the map is shared and managed by the community.
  6. Verify the inputs by visiting and documenting the area.

3-Dimensional Modelling 

  1. Using carton or maquette paper, create a blank 3-D relief model.
  2. Encourage the participants to develop a map key of symbols representing actual points/areas.
  3. Describe on the model their local spatial understanding.
  4. Compile the information and make them available for use.
  5. Give ownership of the model to the community.
  6. Extract and digitise the data.
  7. Verify the input of the model with the actual site.


Whether is an information-gathering tool or a team-building exercise, both researchers and the community benefit from participatory mapping. Visualisation of a site aids in understanding by overcoming the language barrier, especially when working with indigenous communities. Moreover, this method gives an in-depth knowledge of the relationship between the community and the site. Additionally, this translates into the use of the area, the names and important points of interest. This tool can facilitate, also, work and communication with multiple communities around a site.

Several projects, within and outside the heritage sector, have seen success applying participatory mapping, with more ideas and practices deriving from it such as ICCROM’s game inSIGHT.

I want to learn more:

Participatory 3-Dimensional Modelling: Guiding Principles and Applications

Mapping heritage: A participatory technique for identifying tangible and intangible cultural heritage

Participatory Three-Dimensional Modelling: Guiding Principles and Applications

Using open access satellite data alongside ground-based satellite remote sensing: An assessment, with case studies from Egypt’s delta

Also relevant intangible tool (a different kind of map):  Pacific lntangible Cultural Heritage Mapping Toolkit

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