Participatory mapping for adaptation to climate change: the case of Boe Boe, Solomon Islands

Critics of top-down, expert-driven approaches to adaptation suggest the need for tools and methods capable of addressing the gap between scientific and local understanding of climate change. After a lengthy period in which participatory mapping in the context of climate change was overlooked, attention has now turned to Participatory Three-Dimensional Modeling (P3DM) for adaptation planning. P3DM consists in a community-based process resulting in a 3D-scaled and geo-referenced relief model. Because of its relative accuracy and the possibility of being translated to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), P3DM adds credibility to locally produced content and provides a platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue.

Communicate the advantages of a participatory model that better integrates local and scientific expertise. 

Through the analysis of a case study in Boe Boe, Solomon Islands, this paper explores how P3DM may be utilized for integrating indigenous and scientific knowledge systems while minimizing risks that perverse power dynamics will jeopardize the effectiveness of the participatory process. This paper combines results from literature analysis with interviews. 

The participatory creation of maps started in the 1980s and has become widespread. Map-making includes a wide array of methods ranging from ephemeral maps drawn on the ground to sketch maps, from three-dimensional relief models to online collaborative maps. The potential of participatory mapping in the context of climate change adaptation has been overlooked both in the literature and in practice. The limitations of top-down, expert-driven approaches to adaptation to climate change suggest, instead, a need to identify tools or methods which are capable of integrating the bottom-up contributions of affected communities and merging  scientific and traditional knowledge systems. Participatory three-dimensional modeling (P3DM) provides a credible medium through which communities might assess needs and analyze spatial-related problems, and effectively communicate them to planners, policy-makers and scientists (McCall 2008:3). 


This paper makes the case for combining community-based adaptation approaches with more top-down approaches. It notes that widespread inclusion can increase people's sense of confidence and help people see climate action as personally valuable. The author argues that for participation to be meaningful, it should "swing between transformative (or interactive) and self-mobilizing" (p.28), meaning that participants should, at a minimum, be co-learners in the process. Drawing on the specific examples of participatory mapping with the Boe Boe people, the author reflects on the positive value of this approach. Mapping helped integrate local knowledge into climate planning and break down hierarchies that would have limited feedback in more traditional settings. 


Participatory methods known under the umbrella term of Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) include seasonal calendar, transect walking and diagramming, participatory mapping, household surveys, participatory videos and theater. Participatory mapping has been the most widespread PLA method. It is now applied beyond the rural context where it was pioneered, and has spread to natural resources management, land tenure issues, and disaster risk reduction.

The P3DM pilot can be considered part of an ecosystem-based approach to adaptation to climate change which emphasizes the key role of ecosystems’ conservation in strengthening resilience. In Boe Boe, it presented sea-level rise scenarios and suggested that the area protected from sea-level rise was quite small. The process stimulated discussion on the depletion of natural resources and increased awareness, especially among women, that strengthening the resilience of the local ecosystems was not only necessary for them but for the generations to come.



Publication Date: September 2013

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Antonella Piccolella


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Academic research paper
  • Communication


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