Participatory mapping refers to the act of facilitating ground for local community members to come together and put their indigenous spatial knowledge on a map in a way they can understand and use it as a spring board way to solve their social and economic problems. As such it mainly deals with Participatory Geographic Information System (PGIS) at the community level.
In the last decade there has been a strong drive towards integrating GIS in to community-centered initiatives, particularly to deal with spatial information gathering and decision-making.
Researchers in PGIS share the common idea that the system would place ordinary people in a position to generate and analyze geo-referenced spatial data and integrate multiple realities and diverse forms of information. This would in turn enable broader public participation in environmental and public policy decision making.
Generally the aims of participatory mapping are to get a list of landscape features and topographic terms and to help make visible the deeper meanings of what is relevant to the community members who use and care for the eco-system where they live. Tacit and explicit governance rules guide a community in how to benefit from ecosystem abundance and how to constrain overexploitation. Where overexploitation is happening, the mapping can help show where the social rules are breaking or are being undermined. It can also reveal if external drivers are impacting the social ecology. Participatory mapping is therefore as much about culture and society as it is about nature.
With such a view MELCA is currently employing participatory mappings, specially Participatory Three Dimensional Modeling (P3DM), Sketch mapping or two dimensional mapping and eco-calendar in its project areas. Some of the values to be attained through participatory mapping are discovery learning, visualizing knowledge, intra and inter-generational knowledge exchange, supporting community cohesion and self- determination and collaborative planning.
So far MELCA has organized the building of four Participatory 3 Dimensional Models (P3DM), in Bale, Dinsho Woreda, that of the Wechecha Mountain in Suba-Sebeta project area, in Sheka, and that of the Foata Mountain Complex again in the Suba-Sebeta project area. In addition Sketch mappings and traditional eco-calendars are undertaken at all the three project areas at a Kebele or smaller community levels.