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  • Sanjukta Moorthy

How to use a Social Map

There are lots of applications for a social map. It's often used in designing a project. Still, I recommend using it when you visit your people when you go to new communities, and when you evaluate your work at specific intervals - once a quarter to every six months.

One of the things I love about this method is its flexibility. So I don't have a template to share with you, but I will show you this beautiful map of Middle Earth, illustrated and annotated by JRR Tolkien's son, Christopher.

An annotated map of Middle Earth
Source: Museoteca

You'll see that he's annotated the map with equivalent places in our world. Hobbiton is at the same latitude as Oxford, Minas Tirith at the same latitude as Ravenna, though closer to Belgrade. This gives you a sense of the magnitude of the Fellowship's quest, so you can also estimate how long it may have taken them to make the arduous journey.

A social map can be used in the same way. It doesn't just need to represent who lives where and the resources they live close to. You can 'zoom out' and include a wider area like the nearby towns and cities, the nearest mountain range, rivers, and sources of potential threats (such as areas prone to flooding).

This is a great monitoring tool in itself. It can give project implementers an at-a-glance view of the nearby resources and threats, and the role those would play in the lives of your people.

As you may know, I like to ensure my methodologies serve multiple purposes, so I try to get the most out of a social mapping exercise as possible. You can use it to plan a project, get a wider map of threats and risks, and monitor your project and the community's progress.

It can also form one of your evaluation tools if, at regular intervals, you compare your progress to how the map looked before you started working with your communities.

It can keep you accountable, and you can review how you've met the needs identified at the start.

As a visual guide, it is also a useful annex to share with your donors since it is easy to review at a glance - and interesting! Combine this with your indicator tables to paint a broader picture of your work and its real-world impacts.

Let's take a planning example of a rural area built on an incline in a region prone to flooding. I recently read a case study about this, so it's fresh in my head.

A social map of this area can give a community a better understanding of how they should respond to identified threats and risks. If it's facilitated in a participatory way, the social map can represent the various nearby threats. For example, in this area, some families will be more vulnerable to landslides than others. If they are as involved in the mapping as others, they can voice their concerns and the map accurately represents the entire community's threats.

How else would you use a social map? How have you used it? I'd love to hear from you - share your perspectives in the comments below!

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