Mapping and Geospatial Analysis

Maps are powerful.  They provide us with a simplified picture of what our world is or could be.  By taking advantage of our visual natures, they can engage our imaginations and can spark conversations among strangers.  Advanced geospatial and mapping technologies make it increasingly possible to map at finer grains and to explore landscape patterns in new ways.

However, mapping about community land use challenges does not often fulfill its potential to inform or enlighten decision-making.  It is often done by experts working in labs removed from communities, and the resulting maps are seldom embedded in community deliberations.  As a result, many well-meaning maps about pertinent local issues are difficult for average residents to understand, while some of the most potent geospatial analyses and maps are never even shared with public decision makers or the public—they are developed by academic or agency researchers who are given little incentive to share their research and findings in relevant and thought-provoking ways.

We believe that embedding mapping within a broader community engagement effort can increase the relevance, accessibility and power of maps and geospatial analyses.  And we believe this is important because more informed public dialog, grounded in ecological realities, is necessary to promoting more sustainable land use policies.

In the Community Voice Method, we use mapping as one way to explore issues of local salience, and prompt discussion about long-term, landscape-scale land use issues.  We primarily use county-scale land use and parcel data from local governments to understand land use dynamics, supplementing this regional remotely sensed data, data from federal agencies, or photography.

CVM uses the following steps to produce maps to promote public dialog:

1)     Interviews: we use ethnographic interviews with a range of local residents to identify important topics that are then explored through mapping, geospatial and statistical analysis;

2)     Focus groups: we test the relevance, clarity and accessibility of these draft maps through focus groups with other local residents.

3)     Revision: we revise maps based on feedback

4)     Public meetings: the refined maps are shared in public forums

5)     Sharing data: following the public meetings, we make our data and maps available to interested organizations and citizens

Examples of maps:

Macon County property ownership by state


We believe mapping can also be an effective tool for community engagement and problem solving—participation in mapping can get a wider range of people involved in community deliberations, while mapping previously unmapped phenomena can also legitimate local perspectives by making trends of interest or concern more visible.