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T.7 Community Mapping

Community Mapping is a participatory learning and action tool used with groups to visualise and provoke discussion about their community and identify actions on health or social issues such as inadequate hygiene.

Community Mapping is a tool that enables a community group to visualise their situation more objectively. The tool can provoke discussion between community members about community issues. It can be a one-off activity or a longer-term progress monitoring process. A group of community members is invited by a facilitator to draw a map of their community, or section of the community, on a large sheet of paper or the ground and to mark the main roads and landmarks. The group should be in charge of drawing the map. If it is being drawn on the ground, sticks, stones, leaves or waste material can be used to construct it. The facilitator’s role is to guide the process, help to provoke discussion and encourage the group to identify areas of high hygiene risk e.g. of open defecation, households without latrines, mosquito breeding sites or accumulated solid waste. Maps can be drawn with different groups and in different locations and should remain the property of the group that drew them. Photographs or copies should be made with their permission for programme records. Before and after maps can be used as monitoring and evaluation tools. A community map can take some time (up to three hours) but the progression from discussion to action can take a lot longer. It is important to be aware of the demand the exercise can make on community members’ time. Mapping usually works better with a small group of between 15 -20 people and therefore needs to be repeated several times to ensure adequate triangulation.


This tool can be used in any setting but works best with a group that shares something in common and trusts each other. The process can take time and may not be appropriate during an acute response. It requires a trained facilitator, but the technique can be learned quickly, improved through use and therefore be quickly scaled up. An additional facilitator is useful for recording notes and observations.


  • Be aware of who is participating and who may find it difficult to contribute and why

  • Consider gender differences and work with women and men separately and together

  • ‘Hand over the stick’ and allow community members to control the process and drawing of the map

  • ‘Interview’ the map by asking questions to confirm, clarify or identify WASH issues


  • Do not stick rigidly to the rules but be flexible about the process and allow people to be creative

  • Do not teach but encourage people to discuss between themselves

Practical Example

Community Mapping was used in a Southern Gobi programme to map the availability of water resources, understand the problems faced by communities to access them and generate community solutions. The map provided a spatial overview of the quality and availability of water in the region (e.g. the number and functionality of wells, water collection methods and routes and livestock and vegetation levels around the wells). The exercise enabled community members to express their concerns visually and discuss potential solutions.

Key Decision Critria

Response Phase
Acute Response
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Protracted Crisis
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HP Component
Preconditions and Enabling Environment
Community Engagement and Participation
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Assessment, Analysis and Planning
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Social and Behaviour Change
Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL)
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Target Group
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Older People
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Persons with Disabilities
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Local Leaders
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Society as a whole
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Application Level
Individual / Household
Community / Municipality
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General overview and step by step guidance on the principles of PLA (incl. Community Mapping)

Pretty, J., Guijt, I. et al. (1995): Participatory Learning and Action. A Trainer’s Guide, IIED

Guidance on Community Mapping in WASH for community organising and decision making

SSWM (undated): Participatory Mapping for Decision Making

Roaf, V. (2015): Community Mapping: A Tool for Community Organising. Guidelines for WaterAid partners, WaterAid

Details on how to use a variety of participatory tools and for training facilitators (focused on HIV/AIDS but easily adaptable to WASH)

International HIV Aids Alliance (2006): Tools Together Now: 100 Participatory Tools to Mobilize Communities on HIV/AIDS

Case study from Southern Gobi

Hawkins, R., Marmer, P. et al. (2006): Participatory Rural Appraisal in the Southern Gobi. York University