Research methods (2): Mental mapping

2. What are the elements included in a mental map?

  1. Narratives of place – show how both the physical, remembered, and sometimes imagined elements of place play a role in these women’s understandings of their identities and the neighbourhood itself.
  2. Personalization- includes analytics that can reveal the participants’ most personal experiences and deepest emotions. First and last drawn elements: The first drawn elements are often where participants hold their most significant and best memories of their experiences. Last drawn elements may not be important, but they may, for example, include a depiction of themselves in their maps (echoing the feminist aspect of this method to bring mapping to the scale of the body). In sum, the personalization category shows the most unique and psychologically revealing analytic components and techniques for mental mapping.
  3. Built environment elements: Districts, Edges, Nodes, Landmarks, Paths. These analytics are taken from Lynch’s (1960) study and are still the most well-known and often used in mental mapping studies especially for planning and policy work.
  4. Physical environment elements: eg .green areas, water paths walked along. The ability (or inability) to forge one’s own path is as important as those paths laid out for us. These analytics show how mental mapping affords significant insights into how individuals produce their places (Geiseking 2013, pp. 716-717).

Case Study:

Mental mapping is used by an Indonesian non-governmental organisation called Kota Kita in undertaking participatory planning exercises with local communities.

Here is an example of the use of a form of mental mapping in a participatory design tool called a ‘transect walk’ where maps marking key spots in the community are created as Kota Kita staff take walks with community members:

For an explanation of the Transect Walk see Kota Kita’s ‘Social Design Field Guide’ (2014), a handbook of experiences in participatory design in Indonesia:

Mapping exercises were also used by Kota Kita in a study on cycling by women in the Indonesian city of Solo, to understand how women factory workers and school girls used the city in terms of the routes they travelled and the places where they experienced danger and obstacles:


Geiseking. J.J. 2013. Where We Go From Here: The Mental Sketch Mapping Method and Its Analytic Components. Qualitative Inquiry. 19(9), pp. 712–724.