Mapping for Change – feet on the ground

A couple of months ago I mouthed off about what I thought was some rather flaky stuff at a CASA showcase. With hindsight I might have been better off not to vent all of my irony, sarcasm and weak wit in a format that endures. So when I saw the London Twitter Map, I kept quiet (maybe I am just too limited to recognise the value of this research project) and fortunately some of the readers of the Daily Mail site expressed reservations that I shared (I hope that does not become a regular event!)

On Thursday evening I went to see the other half of geo at UCL. Mapping for Change is a social enterprise out of the Chorley Institute lead by Muki Haklay, they say about themselves

“Mapping for Change is an innovative social enterprise that exists to support the development of sustainable communities. We specialise in providing participatory mapping services to communities, voluntary sector organisations, local authorities and developers using a suite of innovative tools for communication. Whether you need a map to support a funding application or you want us to develop an online interactive map to engage with communities as part of a consultation process. We can work on school programmes, food growing and distribution, sustainable tourism and much more.”

During the evening we gained an insight into MfC’s methodologies for working with communities – Citizen Science for gathering evidence to support campaigns and intiatives and Perception Mapping (which does what it says). At the beginning Louise Francis, their CEO, opened with a warning “never, never, never rely on getting an internet connection in a community centre when you need one” that sort of set the tone for their lowish-tech approach to community mapping.

Perception Mapping categorises observations and comments in personal Story Maps which can them be grouped together with themes like

“We wish”, “We like”, “We don’t like”, “Memories”, “Environmental”, “Questions” and “Landmarks”

Perception maps tell a story about an area, provide a way to enable individuals to express their views and aspirations and perhaps to identify what is important to different cultural groups within a community.

Citizen Science is a sort of grass roots crowdsourcing of evidence for campaigns and surveys, e.g. gathering sound readings for noise mapping around the City Airport. What perhaps differentiates this approach is combining a noise reading with an emotional question “How do you feel right now?” which asks the observer to pick from a list of emotions. Combining those emotional readings with decibells at different times of day can provide  more meaningful insight into the impact of a source of noise or other intrusion on a neighbourhood than high volumes of automated readings.

The bulk of the presentations were from three projects that MfC had supported –

None of the people presenting came from a geo let alone a neo or tech background so the presentations were about what they did and why rather than how.

Mapping for Change is IMHO a really worthwhile project that lives the tale that many advocates of GIS tell about GI being able to make a difference. MfC  provides a valuable source of understanding of peoples’ perceptions of place and the way they can influence the shape of their local environment and communities.

The shame for me is that it is so small, there are only two full or near to full time staff . This enterprise deserves more funding and support, hopefully those who allocate funding in these austere times (whether from academic research budgets or in the drive to empower and enable local communities) will give priority to projects like MfC.