Pitfalls and Progress in Participatory Mapping

Student thesis: Phd


Participatory Mapping has been used for many years as a way of collecting and collating views on spatial questions from citizens, be it specific stakeholders in a planning decision or the wider public on matters of local importance. The data collected can provide unique insights into spatial challenges that may not be available through other means. With the current climate crisis and need for rapidly updated energy and transport infrastructure in the UK, collaborative knowledge is critical in creating plans that are both effective and acceptable to local people. Whilst there has been a rapid growth in the use of Participatory Mapping since the development of Web 2.0, the methods with which it is conducted have not advanced simultaneously to the technological potential. Challenges including ineffective spatial representation, accessibility barriers and a lack of transparency have restricted replicability and progression in the field. This thesis investigates both the current state of Participatory Mapping as a wide-ranging and rapidly growing field, and also begins to address these issues raised in the literature. The transparency of the field is assessed through the first large-scale systematic review of Participatory Mapping (following the PRISMA Protocol), from which an Open Science framework for best practice in future research is produced. Two novel Public Participatory GIS interfaces are then introduced to demonstrate how citizens' views might be better represented through the use of more complex spatial units, which support and contextualise participant choices to challenge the reliance upon overused and under-considered spatial primitives. Finally, to illustrate how participant accessibility can be improved whilst maintaining high data standards, a case is presented for using notitative sketch mapping, ensuring that the technological requirements remain the responsibility of the researcher and not the participant. The two empirical papers are supported by a case study exploring the potential for local energy and transport planning developments in the Outer Hebrides, UK. It is clear from the systematic review that there are a number of areas of weakness in how Participatory Mapping research is reported, including a lack of transparency around participant numbers, demographics and incentivisation. This research presents a clear milestone, from which the issues articulated can be addressed through use of the subsequent framework, ensuring future work is more transparent and replicable. The empirical studies further demonstrate how the field might advance, both in regard to representation of spatial entities and accessibility in participation. The examples given in this thesis successfully demonstrate that there is real scope for alternative methods to shake up the stagnation in the field without placing further technical requirements on the general public. In a rapidly changing and challenging world, meaningful and inclusive public engagement is critical in ensuring sustainable energy futures, therefore it is of vital importance the methods through which this is done are both effective and veracious to ensure the best outcome for all.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSarah Lindley (Supervisor) & Jonny Huck (Supervisor)


  • Open Science
  • Accessibility
  • Participatory Mapping
  • PGIS
  • Representation

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