Borders, Rules and Governance

Mapping to catalyse changes in policy and management

While researchers have long used mapping techniques and satellite imagery to analyse local situations for academic purposes and for making recommendations to donors and government, NGOs are now increasingly bringing this analytical power to the local level for improving local decisions and enabling local analyses to be shared with outsiders in order to improve national level policies. Maps communicate information immediately and convey a sense of authority. Mapping programmes can empower civil society efforts to bring accountability and transparency to local and national governments. This paper uses numerous examples to highlight the power of maps in bringing about such local change.

Maps reveal information about conflicts, overlaps and trends in areas where rights and responsibilities are cloudy. They raise questions and trigger action. Maps serve as evidence in courts of law. They stimulate movement toward policy reforms. Community-based maps allow popular participation in arenas previously dominated by the maps of governments and corporations created for development and exploitation of natural resources. They also provide a way to renew local commitment to governing local exploitation of those same resources. In short, maps are powerful political tools in ecological and governance discussions.

The paper also provides some guiding principles for the use of mapping processes with communities. With the advent of inexpensive GPS technology to tap this potentially powerful tool for grassroots-based advocacy, mapping for policy change sounds deceptively easy. But for the full power of maps to be realised, before carrying the GPS into the field, mappers need to facilitate a process at the community level in order to build a consensus-based goal and strategy for using the maps. The key guiding principle is that the mapping facilitator turns authority and decision-making over to the community so they can direct the mapmaking pencil’s trace and the map’s use.