Jan 11 2020

2019 Award Recipient Carolina Monteiro de Carvalho Advocates for Better Urban Planning in São Paulo, Brazil

Every other year, the International Society for Participatory Mapping (ISPM) holds a conference to together scholars, planners and practitioners working with participatory mapping and spatial participatory methods.

The Society’s objectives are to encourage and support the development, experimentation, evaluation, and application of participatory mapping methods globally in order to foster interaction and research in this scientific field, and to coordinate with other organizations in the study of participatory processes, mapping, and quantitative analyses. The Society places a strong emphasis on fostering opportunities between the Global North and South in order to promote a more equal distribution of knowledge and resources.

To do this, ISPM Members pay yearly dues to provide travel and technology grants to individuals and teams who otherwise would not be able to participate in our events or use participatory mapping software. Our Conference Travel Award disbursed $2100 across three mappers. One of the awardees, Carolina Monteiro de Carvalho, sat down with our ISPM Secretary Charla M. Burnett to talk about their thoughts on participatory mapping, research, and citizen engagement.


Carolina’s research focuses on the vulnerable and poor communities in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, Brazil. Carolina has a BSc in Geology from Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho (UNESP) and a Masters Degree in Remote Sensing from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Carolina went on to complete their Ph.D. in Environmental Planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).


Charla: How did you first find out about participatory mapping and what led you to start working with it?

Carolina: The first time I discovered participatory mapping was in a class, during a course on Strategic Environmental Assessment at ITC (Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation) in the Netherlands, with Professor Mike McCall. I was amazed at how GIS could be used for educating the people and sparking citizen interests.

At this time, I was finishing my doctorate in environmental planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (environmental planning) and I did use GIS in my research about land degradation assessment for biodiesel purposes. As soon as I heard about participatory mapping, I wanted to apply it in my research. My research dealt with so many stakeholders and different realities that should be considered in the decision-making process, but I did not have the time at that point. 

I always have been interested in environmental, social causes, and participatory mapping. So when I finish my Doctorate and decided to apply for a PostDoc position, I went to the School of Public Health in 2016. They were working hard with urban sustainability and health. I wanted to start writing my postdoctoral project, and my supervisor, Leandro Giatti, was already interested in participatory mapping too. So we jointly developed a participatory mapping and PGIS project for urban socio-environmental governance in Guarulhos and requested funding, which we got. After 2 years we requested one more year extension and it was granted. The funding agency considers PGIS as in innovation for urban studies, and I see good opportunities to continue research.

Charla: Where are you from and how has participatory mapping been used in your country

Carolina: I am from São Paulo, Brazil, and here, participatory mapping is still incipient. There are some research projects and some initiatives from social organizations, but still, it has not been incorporated in urban planning.

Charla: What are some obstacles to using Participatory Mapping in your region? How could it be better used?

Carolina: I see that there are few practitioners and researchers in participatory mapping, with most of them in universities. When I publish something on my blog, people are very interested and want to learn to apply it. So, I think there’s a lack of knowledge. That is one of the main factors of why participatory mapping is not very well used. So the mission of my blog is to spread this knowledge and show that participatory mapping is a possible tool to use in many projects, and does not have to be expensive.

Investment is also another barrier. Some participatory mapping practices can be almost costless but people don’t know about them. To make better use of participatory mapping, the first thing would be to have a reliable source of information and research (that’s one of my research goals here), that people can consult previous experiences and study cases, and even ask for support.

Charla: What participatory mapping methods/tools have you used?

Carolina: I have used Maptionnaire, the Finnish web-based georeferencing survey and manual participatory mapping methods in my research. The initial participatory mapping was very simple, with a base map, participants mapped socioenvironmental problems in their community using a transparent sheet of paper. Then, I digitalized the mapped information using QuantumGIS. Besides that, I have used other participatory dynamics to complete the mapping, such as sketch maps, integrated panels, and community journals, to stimulate dialogue and co-creation solutions.

Foto de Carolina Carvalho (1)

Photo: Carolina works with youth in Guarulhos.

Charla: Tell us about a specific participatory mapping project with which you have been involved.

Carolina: I have worked with participatory mapping since 2016. I have been involved in my research Project mostly, but since 2018, I am supporting two post-graduate projects, one related to post-disaster management and other related to health indicators in a poor community in São Paulo. I have also started to collaborate on a big project regarding climate change and governance in macrometropolis regions in the São Paulo state. There are around 180 municipalities involved, with different degrees of inequality and demands, and I am proposing to use participatory mapping to address some of them.

My projects gave me the experience I have so far, working in another vulnerable community in Guarulhos, with young students, and mapping lack of basic resources such as energy, water, and fresh food, alongside inadequate waste disposal spots, unpaved streets and disasters zones (landslides and flooding episodes in the Community), and in a bigger scale, I used Maptionnaire survey to map lack of resources in Guarulhos city. In total, I had 509 participants on this survey and we are conducting analysis just now, to present it in the ISPM conference. More about my research here: https://sigparticipativo.wordpress.com/

I can say that people show enthusiasm when they understand that they can participate in some kind of decision making process in urban contexts.

Charla: How do you see Participatory Mapping changing the world around you?

Carolina: I believe that participatory mapping can change environmental and urban planning in developing countries. It’s an essential tool to make planning more efficient and inclusive. We have a lot of inequality, and participatory mapping could help to address the lack of data and indicate priorities through citizens’ participation. People usually don’t participate in planning in Brazil, but this is starting to change now. People are demanding methods for participation, remaking old methods need to be improved and part of the daily practices. Its a different context from other countries where participation is more solid, like in Finland, for example. I spent 3 months working with Prof. Dr. Marketta Kytta and team, a huge experience for me, and I know that participatory mapping can transform cities making them better places to live. This is happening in European cities and should happen in Brazil too.