Cognitive Sketch Mapping

Cognitive sketch mapping is a data-gathering method that consists of requesting participants to draw a depiction to illustrate “what they know/believe/feel about a place or places” (Curtis 2016). They are subsequently asked to explain what they have drawn. Thus, participants play a double role as author-translator: first, they create an image, and then they attribute meanings to that image.

Cognitive sketch mapping brings out how a participant’s experiences and social position interweave with a given space. Furthermore, the drawings allow for a deeper reflection on how people illustrate or symbolise their knowledge and memories of that space.

The method has no strict guidelines, although Lynch’s (1960) directives are usually followed. The absence of clear rules should however not be mistaken for a green light to improvise. On the contrary, there are many things to consider before applying this method, such as which tools to provide and which instructions to give. It is also crucial to consider any specific requirements or limitations of the group you are going to study.

Cognitive ketch mapping can be applied individually or collectively. Say you would like to research an ethnic minority’s access to health care in a given city. When collectively applied, sketch mapping can help identify the main health services used by this population and how these services are perceived. Individually applied, it could shed light on practices and interactions during the application of certain policies.

Cognitive mapping is a participant-centred method because the participants decide what they want to draw and how detailed they want to be in the information they share. The underlying idea is that the participant maintains ownership over her/his own story. Hence, researchers will have to find a balance between their own curiosity, and the participant’s willingness to share their information and experiences.