Community Mapping Activity

Grade Level: 
8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Keywords: 
Community
Concept Mapping
Identifying Needs
Issues
Maps
If you are interested in taking action to make a change, it is helpful to first get an understanding of what is already happening in that area. The purpose of community mapping is to plot community resources on a map to show what is happening and where. This map builds the evidence for taking steps to make a change. 

Community Mapping Activity

Get a sense of what people and organizations are already doing and plot them on a map. Then you can take informed action toward improving the community.

Definitions:

  • community: people with common interests or who live in a common area
  • community asset: a resource that has the potential to improve the quality of life within a community
  • association: a group of individuals united around a common goal that benefits the overall community
  • institution: an established organization - such as a park, library, police station, or hospital - designed to benefit the overall community
  • equitable representation: leadership and resources match the demographics of the community - For example, the percentage of women in leadership is the same as the population. This may be determined by gender, race, faith, LGBTQ+ orientation, or another characteristic.

Instructions

Determine Your Lens

With possibly hundreds of community organizations and assets in your area, narrow your focus and select a “lens” through which you design the community map. For example: animal rescue, accessible parks, or recycle stations. Some youth already know their area of passion and can skip this section. 

Since the purpose of the activity is to take meaningful action, the lens should match giving passions, personal interests, and current needs. A lens may include LGTBQ+ supports, sports, art, water quality and safety, teens, the elderly, people with disabilities, environmental concerns, homelessness, food insecurity, social justice, bullying, or equity.

To identify areas of passion, use one of the following Learning to Give group activities: 

Write a Focus Question

Once your group has completed at least one of the activities listed above, discuss the following questions and guide each learner to write a focus question to guide their community mapping. 

  1. What areas of need or community issues rose to the top in the activity?
  2. What do you wonder about how this issue is addressed?
  3. What is your community known for?
  4. What would you most like to see changed in your community? 

Each mapping group writes a statement or question to guide their investigation and mapping of the community. 

  • A focus question guides the exploration and action. It asks where, how many, and for whom.
  • The focus question is answerable by learning from nonprofits and people in your community.
  • The question is open-ended, meaning it cannot be answered with yes or no. 
  • The question is driven by curiosity and a desire to explore how opportunities can be made better for all.
  • When exploring and mapping, this question or statement drives the direction and scope. 

Sample Focus Questions:

  • What are the safe places in the community for young people to meet?
  • What community resources address hunger and homelessness?
  • How well do the community gardens match the diverse representation of the population?
  • In what ways do museums, named buildings, benches, and art equitably represent the community's history and cultures?
  • What affordable recreational (and health) opportunities are available to serve diverse people of all ages?

Collect Information and Plot on a Map

Make your map with people who share your interests. If the group has identified a broad issue like the environment, identify the sub-interests. Follow these steps to map the community assets and needs:

  • Define the geographic area of the community to map. This may be as small as a neighborhood or as large as a county. A rural community likely merits a larger area. The focus of your survey may determine the region size.
  • Identify and research at least 5 - 7 organizations, people, or structures related to your lens in the defined geographic area. You can find this with an online search.
  • Contact individuals and nonprofits directly (or look them up online) to find out more about their work and how young people can get involved. Follow one of these guides to contacting organizations.
  • Fill in resource details on a Community Mapping Google Spreadsheet. Here is a sample spreadsheet. To get a comprehensive survey of a topic, list more assets but collect less information about each. The information you collect on the spreadsheet should help you answer your focus question. 
  • Create a Google Map from the spreadsheet to highlight the organizations and information they researched. This 5-minute video shows you how. 

Analyze and Take Action

  1. Looking at your map, analyze how the identified resources fall in the region and why. How do the assets align with the needs, and where are the gaps?  
  2. How well are the identified needs currently being addressed? According to the nonprofits interviewed, what are the needs they identified and how can young people help?
  3. Plan a service project that takes action toward addressing the identified need. For example, share the map and analysis with people who can support a project. Determine what you need to get started.

Story of a Map-Led Project

Ahmed already knew he wanted to take action to support refugee families in the community. Ahmed's mother was a child refugee whose family came to the U.S. and received help from nonprofits, faith-based groups, and individuals, so he wanted to help refugees feel included and supported. His focus question was "Where are the safe places for refugee children to play and meet others?" 

He looked up and filled in his spreadsheet information about the different nonprofits and faith-based organizations that help refugees. Then he interviewed a couple of organizations and learned that young children from refugee families enjoy meeting others and learning language through games. He plotted on his map the organizations for refugees and where they had housing. On his map, he noticed a lot of families in a neighborhood with a park nearby. He worked with one of the nonprofits to organize a weekly activity night with games and crafts. With another nonprofit, they arranged to bring donated supplies and food.