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3.1 The rise of mapping and GIS

Over the years, the field of cartography has evolved a lot and has become more accessible. This growth is due to:

  • An improvement in data processing tools and methods.
  • The access of a greater number of people to computer and digital tools.
  • The cost of mapping software is no longer a blocking factor with the multiplication of free and open source tools.
  • The multiplication of geographic data sources freely available online.

An open-source tool is software that can be used, modified, and redistributed without restriction by the person to whom it was distributed. It is not necessarily free, but it is always distributed under a free license.

This technical development is accompanied by new, more inclusive methods and approaches, including participatory mapping, community mapping1 and sensitive mapping2. image info

Mapathons | Sensitive Mapping Workshop

This “democratization” has seen the number of map producers and map seekers grow considerably. Actors from various sectors of activity have an increasing need for cartographic productions. This is the case for example for NGOs, media organizations, consultancies, civil society, companies, research organizations, etc..

It is important to be aware of concepts and basic rules of cartography, in order to avoid producing maps containing representation errors and inducing biases in data interpretation.

Biases in mapping? The way in which data is statistically processed and visually represented can guide the reading of a map 3.

In this example, both maps display the same data, but the visual representation differs. On the first map, the small difference in size between the largest and smallest circle overwhelms the differences between countries. On the second map, the differences between the countries can be better understood: Germany and France seem to have the same value on the first map, but this is not the case.

image info

Covid-19 Case Count Reading Bias

This is why, in order to start mapping in a concrete way, it is essential to have a good overall understanding of the concepts used in GIS and graphic semiology (see Part 7: Good practices in mapping). This grasp is necessary to produce “logical”, graphically “correct” maps that meet a clearly identified need.

  1. Community Mapping (sometimes called asset mapping) is all about involving residents in identifying the assets of their neighbourhood, looking at opportunities and creating a picture of what it is like to live there. 

  2. For an in-depth definition, refer to the Toolkit for Facilitating Art Mediation Workshops around Sensitive Mapping (in French). 

  3. The coronavirus and its cartographic treatment is a very good example (in French).