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Sustainicum Collection

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Mental Maps - Identifying regional perceptions through mental maps(Resource ID: 61)

Mental mapping (or cognitive mapping) presents an everyday process, which takes place everywhere and which leads to the creation of a subjective image of the environment. This significantly contributes to our understanding of the spatial surrounding. The drawing of mental maps is used as a method in regional development processes for reflecting and identifying regional perceptions. Its application in groups with people of different backgrounds is of special interest as it shows individual perspectives of a region, as well potentials and challenges.

Mental mapping – An introduction

Sustainable regional and urban development requires participation of various actors and a systemic understanding about regional characteristics. Especially the integration of youth and young adults is often neglected in regional planning, but important for intergenerational sustainable development. The Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), the follow up of the UN Decade on ESD, calls to support youth in their role as drivers for change by imparting participatory skills (UNESCO 2014).

Mental maps present a valuable approach to include young people in development processes through reflecting and analysing differences in regional perceptions. According to Shamai & Ilatov (2004) the knowledge of and belonging to a region, the identification with regional visions and integration in regional development processes are critical to the individual consciousness or sense of place. Regional identity is understood as all spatial settings and identifications together, which consist of the perception of a region, regional belonging as well as regional opportunities for action (Blotevogel, Heinritz & Popp 1989).

The concept of mental or cognitive maps originally comes from cognitive psychology and found its way as an interdisciplinary approach of spatial orientation in geography in the 1960s by Kevin Lynch, an American architect and urban planner with his reference work “The Image of a City” (Lynch 1960). Cognitive mapping is defined as “a process composed of a series of psychological transformations by which an individual acquires, stores, recalls, and decodes information about the relative locations and attributes of the phenomena in his everyday spatial environment” (Downs & Stea 1973, p. 7, cited in Kitchin 1994). Mental maps are simplified, abstract, selective and generalised representations of complex spatial realities. Following elements are integral aspects of mental maps:

  • Pathways are one of the most important spatial elements and serve orientation purposes. People move on pathways (streets, pavements, footpaths, railway tracks, etc.) – regularly, occasionally or accidentally. Spaces are perceived as a collection of elements along such paths. For our spatial perception the quality and texture of the pathways are of importance, the frequency of users or security issues.
  • Mental spaces are two-dimensional mapped areas of a region, such as city quarters, which can be entered or left.
  • Boundaries are linear elements, which are not (only) used as pathways, but which set boundaries and differentiate spatial areas from each other (e.g. city quarters, densely built-up areas from parks, etc.).
  • Focal points are central points of a city or region, which are of relevance for an observer. They are often characterised through crossroads and a density of different elements.
  • Landmarks are specific visual reference points, such as notable buildings (church, tower, city hall) or landscape elements (large tree, pond) (cp. Was schafft Raum 2014).

Mental maps consist both of knowledge about places as well as knowledge about spatial relationships within a particular region (cp. Kaplan 1976).

 

Applying mental maps in teaching

Drawing mental maps present a suitable method for identifying differences and similarities in individual perceptions of a particular region. It can be applied in classes dealing with regional and urban development processes, such as geography and architecture, but also in environmental or management classes, e.g. when you like to identify perceptions of a national park, an environmentally polluted area or establishing an enterprise in a specific location.

After introducing the concept and purpose of mental maps, students (and regional stakeholders, if applicable) are asked to draw their personal mental map of a particular region. This task can be narrowed down by asking the students to focus on specific aspects – e.g. What do you associate with sustainability in your region? Where do you see problems in security issues (related to traffic)? Which areas are relevant for your leisure activities? Afterwards a common reflection round is being recommended, where the participants exchange their experiences of the method. For analysing the mental maps, students can be asked to present their maps and the various elements can be collected on a flipchart or whiteboard. At the end this collection of areas, landmarks and focal points will provide insights about differences and similarities of the regional perceptions of the participants.

See “Integration of societal stakeholders” below for involving regional actors into the process. 

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Necessary documents / materials

Necessary materials: one plain paper and a pen for every participant.

A rubric as proposed assessment tool is available as a Word document.

Integrimi i palëve të interesuara
The added value of integrating regional stakeholders in this exercise is to visualise differences in individual (or group’s) perceptions of a specific region. Both stakeholders and students will be confronted with such different perspectives and will also need to reflect their personal view of the region and its characteristics. These insights can present the discussion basis for further development processes.

Option 1: The suggested procedure will be to invite regional stakeholders to a workshop together with the students and ask all participants to draw a mental map of their region. Afterwards the mental maps can be directly compared and analysed – e.g. in many cases the maps of the students (also depends on their knowledge about the region) will differ from the maps by the regional stakeholders. In a common reflection differences and similarities in regional perceptions can be analysed.

Option 2: If it won’t be possible to involve the regional stakeholders in drawing mental maps, the maps can only be drawn by the students, who can afterwards present the stakeholders their results of the mental maps.
Temat e qëndrueshmërisë
Mental mapping is used in urban and regional development, e.g. in following fields of application: reflecting regional perceptions in general, identifying regional identity and landmarks, identifying regional challenges or potentials for planning processes. Mental mapping is also applied in psychology, education, architecture, history or management studies.
Situatat e duhura për këtë metodë
The method of mental mapping can be integrated into a broader topic of regional development or regional identity with the aim to map perceptions of a specific region. The mental map as a way to illustrate a region could be complemented by interviews among different stakeholder groups (e.g. students, entrepreneurs, politicians, general public) and workshops to receive a deeper understanding about regional demands and perspectives.
Pikat e forta të metodës
- Creative method for identifying regional perceptions of different actors
- Fosters students’ reflection and intensive engagement with a region
- Regional stakeholders can easily be involved
- Good basis for discussing participation processes and different perspectives for regional developments

- Students will be able to apply the method of mental maps.
- Students will design their personal mental maps through reflecting their perspectives of a particular region.
- Students will identify differences in regional perceptions and the relevance of understanding such differences for regional development processes.
- Students will develop systemic thinking competences through analysing the different mental maps in the group.
Pikat e dobëta të metodës
- Difficult to apply with student groups, who are not familiar with the respective region
- A scientific analysis of the mental maps is complex.
Assessment / evaluation
It is not necessarily intended to assess this method, but feedback is recommended to commonly reflect the regional perceptions of both students and external actors.
If the mental mapping exercise shall also be taken into account in students’ grading, a rubric is suggested. In a rubric different criteria are being assessed, such as:
- Application of the method
- Relevance of content
- Creativity and improvement
- System understanding
- Oral presentation (if applicable)

The rubric can be found in the section: necessary materials. Of course it is welcome to add other criteria that seem to be important for you.

Additionally the experiences and results of the mental maps could be integrated into students’ final reports and/or presentations.
Burime dhe lidhje

References

Blotevogel, H.H., Heinritz, G. & Popp, H. (1989) „Regionalbewußtsein“. Zum Stand der Diskussion um einen Stein des Anstoßes. Geographische Zeitschrift, 77, 65-88. 

Downs, R. M. & Stea, D. (1973a) Theory. In R. M. Downs & D. Stea, Eds., Image and Environment. Chicago, IL: Aldine, 1-7.

Kaplan, S. (1976) Adaptation, structure & knowledge. In Moore, G.T. & Golledge, R.G. (eds.) The development of spatial cognition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Lawerence, 185-198.

Kitchin, R.M. (1994) Cognitive Maps: What are they and why study them? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 14 (1), 1-19.

Lynch, K. (1960) The Image of the City. Cambridge.

Shamai, S. & Ilatov, Z. (2004) Measuring sense of place. Methodological aspects. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 96 (5), 467-476.

UNESCO (2014) Roadmap for Implementing the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development. UNESCO, Paris.

 

Links

A video introducing mental maps (and an editor for analyzing mental maps): https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=yi2BLANPADk

Was schafft Raum – Plattform zur schulischen Vermittlung von Architektur und Stadtplanung: http://www.was-schafft-raum.at/, accessed December 2014 (German only)

Examples of mental maps by students from a geography course at West Virginia University: http://pages.geo.wvu.edu/~oberhauser/Teaching/Human/mentalmaps.htm

Financuar nga
This teaching resource, realised within the project ConSus, has been funded with the support of the TEMPUS of the European Union. The contents reflect the views of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Kontakt

Marlene Mader
marlene.mader(at)usys.ethz.ch
This teaching resource is allocated to following University:
LEUPHANA - University of Lüneburg
Institution:
Leuphana University of Lüneburg
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