A typical map can give a fairly accurate representation of a region, location, or even the world. Most maps just give the facts, however, and do not take into account peoples’ perceptions of their location. In this way a map can be a useful way both for people to learn about their surroundings and for researchers to learn about how peoples’ perceptions of their surroundings differ from reality. The idea of mapping peoples’ perception of their location is called mental mapping. A sketch map is a rough representation of a mental map that is drawn by the individual.
Qualitative GIS relies on datasets that can come from personal interviews. Boschmann and Cubbon (2013) investigated two case studies to demonstrate the usefulness of sketch maps in gathering qualitative GIS data. The first case involved interviews with working poor individuals in Columbus, Ohio about their job and housing decisions. The second consisted of interviews of LGBT individuals in St. Louis, Missouri, asking them in which areas of St. Louis they felt unsafe. The researchers found that by using sketch maps as a collaborative part of the interview process, they were able to get far clearer and more precise responses from respondents.
The first case study showed that job and housing locations are much more complex than is apparent from a typical map. For example, when looking at the job-housing location relationship, most would assume that proximity to job is most critical for choosing a housing location. However, interviews with individuals showed that the bus routes available to them were often the limiting factor in choosing work and housing. The second study used composite maps collected from each interview to show LGBT peoples’ perception of safety in St. Louis. Figure 4 shows the usefulness of overlaying an individual’s responses with polygons representing the average responses.
Boschmann and Cubbon (2013) found that the use of sketch maps is an invaluable tool in creating qualitative GIS data. Maps can help connect the interviewer with the interviewee, and can elicit far more detailed information from the subject. This can be immensely useful in bridging the gap between what research shows about how people live, think, and act, and how they actually do. The process is tedious, since a new map must be used for each interview and they must be entered and overlaid manually, but tablets and computer maps can be used as tools to aid interviewers. The importance of sketch maps in qualitative GIS will be seen in the near future as their use increases.
Boschmann, E. E., & Cubbon, E. (2014). Sketch maps and qualitative GIS: using cartographies of individual spatial narratives in geographic research. The Professional Geographer, 66(2), 236-248.