MapLab#2: Cognitive Mapping Exercise

MapLab#2: Cognitive Mapping Exercise

  1. Focus on your proposed mapping project for the semester. Make a list of the organizations or individuals who have already created maps reflecting their own particular interests – or who would be among the likely suspects (powerful, cartographically-literate, sufficiently well resourced, etc.) to create such maps – pertaining to the topics and geographic areas central to your mapping project.
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  2. Now, think about other stakeholders who likely care about or are impacted by the topics/themes and spaces you propose to explore for your final project, but who aren’t likely to be among the dominant, authoritative map-makers, policy-shapers, or place-makers. What subjectivities, what diverse personal backgrounds and agendas, are likely to be overlooked on the “orthodox,” officially-sanctioned maps of your topic and geographic area? Who are the everyday inhabitants or common “users,” the disenfranchised or marginal populations, who aren’t likely to be represented on – or creators of – those dominant maps? Think about groups who, if they had sufficient resources – and if they recognized the value of their own experiences and opinions and subjective knowledges – might relish an opportunity to shape spatial representations and effect change in spatial practices.
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  3. Choose two such off-the-map populations – ideally, groups representing diverse backgrounds, agendas, and spatial habits – and create brief “spatial stakeholder scenarios” (a variation on the “user scenario”) for each. When employed in the professional design fields, user scenarios can be manifested in the form of a narrative, a visual storyboard, a comic strip, a video, and so on. Of course you’re limited in the time and resources you have here – but you can choose to represent your scenarios in whatever form you prefer.
    …..Consider your hypothetical “spatial stakeholder’s” interests in the topics, themes, and areas that are central to your semester atlas. Sketch out some basic, hypothetical demographic and psychographic details about your subject. What are his/her goals, motivations, expectations, and limitations, when engaging with the spatial themes and areas at hand? Perhaps you could describe a particular task s/he has to accomplish: accessing healthy food or reliable public transit from a remote refugee camp; finding his/her way to elementary school without the aid of a parent; finding spaces for “libidinal” pleasures within the modernist boxes and grids of Midtown; etc.
    …..*  Usability.gov’s Scenarios
    …..*  Chelsea Kostek’s Scenario Diagrams
    …..*  Jackson Choi’s Scenario Sketches
    scenario_residents-785x648
  4. .What would it be helpful for you, as you create your atlas, to know about how these under-represented spatial stakeholders think about, make sense of, function within, and adapt to these spaces? Think about what cognitive mapping methods you could employ to better understand your stakeholders’ specific spatial subjectivities and practices. Might you ask individuals to sketch out their daily spatial routines – or to map out the informal “zones” and corridors that define and delimit their everyday spatial universes? Might you ask people to lead you on a tour of their daily transit routes? Or perhaps you might ask a representative from one generation or social group to lead another participant – from a dramatically different background – on a tour? Might you give local residents cameras and ask them to photo-map key sites in their neighborhoods, then share their photos and discuss them with you and other local residents? How else might you encourage these spatial-stakeholders to share their valuable, yet often un-articulated, spatial experiences and knowledges with you? What other methods did Kevin Lynch employ in his own research? What additional experimental (and ethical) methods might you employ that are particularly well suited to your research?
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  5. If time allows, prepare the materials you’ll need to pilot-test one or two of these methods. If you want your participants to sketch out maps of the neighborhood, print out a couple base-maps of the geographic region you’d like them to map. If you’d like your participants to photo-document their daily walk to retrieve water from the well – or their semi-annual trek to dispose of their household electronic waste – perhaps you could cue up a Google Street View tour to “simulate” transecting this terrain. Or, if you have insufficient time – or if you don’t have access to the resources you’ll need to pilot-test your methods, develop a simple “script” to explain to your pilot-tester how he or she can “playact” the cognitive mapping scenario.
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  6. Now, share your spatial stakeholder scenarios with a partner. Ask him or her to take on the persona of your spatial-stakeholder, and ask him/her to cognitively map his/her environment. If role-playing proves too challenging or confusing or ethically questionable, simply explain to your partner which stakeholders’s insights you’d like to gather via a cognitive map, and the methods you’d employ to do so. Use your partner’s feedback to hone your approach. Think about short-term and long-term goals for “spatial-stakeholder” cognitive mapping subjects (i.e., who could you reach over the course of the semester, and who might be on your long-term list of contacts?). Think about an appropriate mix of cognitive mapping methods for these various stakeholders – a mix that reflects the distinctive interests and experiences of each group, and that will enable you to glean the insight you desire.
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  7. Reverse roles.

We’ll be discussing your progress on this work in two weeks, on October 13. You’re simply sharing work-in-progress; final proposals/outcomes aren’t due until you submit your final atlases at the end of the semester.