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Hidden aspects of participation: reflections on the costs and benefits of a participatory mapping process for communities and researchers alike in Afar, Ethiopia




Luizza, Matthew Wayne, author

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With research agendas often driving participatory mapping activities, building trust with participants is essential to the participatory mapping process, especially if it is initiated and/or facilitated from outside of the community. Without trust, the mapping will not be authentic and may never happen at all. However, despite the best intentions, participatory mapping processes initiated by outsiders can still result in an extractive undertaking of knowledge co-option, even when local communities receive some measure of benefits. This reflection piece offers a postscript to published research on a participatory mapping project in Ethiopia's Afar region (Luizza 2015; Luizza et al. 2016) but provides added context and critical reflection on the participatory mapping process not fully addressed in these previous works. This effort highlights a well-intentioned research project that through a narrow focus on "knowledge integration" at the expense of "knowledge co-production", overlooked important opportunities for building trust with community participants, leading to a level of misalignment of research goals and community needs. Although outsiders caring about community concerns and amplifying their voices was appreciated, what participating communities really needed were tangible resources and guidance for removing problematic invasive species that I as the researcher and participatory mapping facilitator was there to learn about from them. Honesty, transparency, and reliability are key attributes that a participatory mapping facilitator should always strive to embody throughout the mapping process, which should not be rushed (i.e., pre-mapping community engagement, onsite participatory mapping process, and post-mapping actions). This includes communities and facilitators being on the same page, as co-equal partners, about what participatory mapping is and the purpose and goals of this important approach.


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participatory mapping
local ecological knowledge


Associated Publications

Laituri, M., Luizza, M., Hoover, J., Allegretti, A. Questioning the practice of participation: Critical reflections on participatory mapping as a research tool. Applied Geography (in review, submitted July 2022)
Luizza, Matthew Wayne, Integrative geospatial modeling: combining local and indigenous knowledge with geospatial applications for adaptive governance of invasive species and ecosystem services. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation), Colorado State University, 2015.
Wakie, Tewodros T., Distribution and economic analysis of Prosopis juliflora in Ethiopia. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation), Colorado State University, 2015.