Qualitative Methods in Monitoring and Evaluation: Mapping Tools and Transect Walks

Interviews dominate qualitative data collection for monitoring and evaluation. Qualitative researchers and evaluators use interviews to collect targeted data from respondents relatively quickly. In my qualitative research and evaluation work, I have found that participatory data collection techniques including mapping tools and transect walks, when used in conjunction with qualitative interviews, add depth and perspective to my research. Such participatory tools help to foster dialogue, and give insight into a community or a project.

Evaluator Mapping 

Evaluator mapping helps us to picture a respondent’s surroundings, and oftentimes gives insight into a community or a project. When I conduct interviews in the field, I always draw a map of the particular respondent’s surroundings. For example, when I conducted household interviews on the use of microcredit organizations in South Africa, I drew a map of every homestead where I conducted an interview. These maps included how the landholding was organized, including the number, size, and condition of dwellings or other buildings. I also noted the homestead’s access to resources including water and electricity, and its location in comparison to schools, clinics, roads, and other amenities. Mapping helped me to analyze how a space was defined and managed, and gave insight into socioeconomic issues in the household and community.

Community Resource Mapping

Community mapping is equally as useful for us as qualitative researchers and evaluators. We use community mapping as a group exercise to engage community members in drawing their own map of their local community. A community map highlights local level perceptions of resources and resource management, which are unique to the particular sample population creating the map. Evaluators engage a community in mapping its own surroundings, in order to facilitate discussion relevant to a project.

While a community map points out the location of natural resources and amenities, it also gives insight into the availability and management of those resources and amenities. It helps us to identify resources and analyze the relationship between those resources and the local population. Very important, it highlights how those resources are distributed.

When I use community mapping, I engage different population groups in creating their own maps. I might engage a group of women farmers to map communal resources in relation to farming plots or to map community amenities such as schools, clinics, and the police, and their perceived access to them. I would then engage male farmers to create the same maps—and compare the maps toward understanding gender dynamics. I usually engage community members in creating a map using paper, so that I can keep it to help facilitate future discussions.

Transect Walks

Another type of mapping exercise is a transect walk, which is a systematic walk along a defined pathway within the community. When we engage in a transect walk, we work with local community members to devise an appropriate pathway, mapping it as we walk along. As we walk along the pathway, we talk with the local people and we explore conditions and ask questions. Similar to community mapping, transect walks highlight land use and the location and distribution of resources such as water and communal grazing lands. Unlike community mapping, the researcher usually engages the local community when participating in a transect walk, asking questions to help identify problems and areas of concern and opportunity. When I engage in transect walks, I always choose key informants that will help me identify an appropriate transect route that is not biased towards a particular resource or population sector. I take my time and try to build rapport with people along the route, gathering as much data as possible relevant to my research question or evaluation. I record everything that I see, including structures, amenities, geographical features, resources, and distances.


Evaluator mapping, community mapping, and transect walks are all useful tools for qualitative researchers and evaluators. Used for different research and evaluation purposes, such tools give insight into a research or project’s location, and are a useful complement to qualitative interviews. Such participatory tools can be useful to understand local level realities, while fleshing out community perceptions of resources, opportunities, and constraints.


Fauna and Flora International, Transect Walk, Cambridge, UK: Conservation, Livelihoods, and Governance Programme Tools for Participatory Approaches, 2013. https://www.earthrights.org/sites/default/files/documents/transect-walk.pdf

World Bank, Tool Name: Community Resource Mapping. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2005. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTTOPPSISOU/Resources/1424002-1185304794278/4026035-1185375653056/4028835-1185375678936/4_Community_resource_mapping.pdf

World Bank, Tool Name: Transect Walk. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2005. https://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTTOPPSISOU/Resources/1424002-1185304794278/4026035-1185375653056/4028835-1185375678936/1_Transect_walk.pdf

About The Author

Dr. Beverly Peters has more than twenty years of experience teaching, conducting qualitative research, and managing community development, microcredit, infrastructure, and democratization projects in several countries in Africa. As a consultant, Dr. Peters worked on EU and USAID funded infrastructure, education, and microcredit projects in South Africa and Mozambique. She also conceptualized and developed the proposal for Darfur Peace and Development Organization’s women’s crisis center, a center that provides physical and economic assistance to women survivors of violence in the IDP camps in Darfur. Dr. Peters has a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. Learn more about Dr. Peters.

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