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Co-Creating Interactive Geo-Visual Stories: Counter Mapping Methodologies

A Methodology for Participatory Interactive Geographic Visualisation through Counter-Mapping Practice. Peer reviewed by Sharon Webb (March 2024)

Published onMar 13, 2024
Co-Creating Interactive Geo-Visual Stories: Counter Mapping Methodologies


Contemporary mapping tools encode rigid Western assumptions, separating entanglements and denying resilience within fluid boundaries made and remade from inside by communities reasserting legitimacy erased. This guide examines inclusive counter-mapping practices enabling underrepresented groups to visually articulate silenced perspectives, stories, and historical narratives and includes practical workshop guidance to empower equitable participation, and leverage situated knowledge to build interactive narratives. Tailored scaffolding facilitates multi-perspective story generation methodologies analysed through postcolonial, counter, and participatory mapping lenses. The outcomes incorporate local site-specific meaning into an interactive digital artefact.

Fig 1: Wepik Prompt: Black player exploring the city, while looking a paper map, 2023.


counter-mapping, participatory mapping, interactive visualisation, narrative cartography, critical GIS, postcolonial theory, community workshops


Maps are authoritarian images. Without our being aware of it maps can reinforce and legitimate the status quo. Sometimes agents of change, they can equally become conservative documents [i.e. reinforces and legitimizes the existing social, political, and economic structures of a society]. But in either case the map is never neutral. Where it seems to be neutral it is the sly "rhetoric of neutrality” [i.e. Maps are created by people with specific intentions and purposes, and they reflect the biases and values of their creators.] that is trying to persuade us. (Harley, 1989, p14)

Maps hold inherent power dynamics; however, this is not often recognised in data visualisation contexts. Maps created under imperialism and colonialism often distort indigenous geographies while erasing native histories and cultures from the land. Yet mapping can also be reframed as a social justice tool when placed directly into the hands of communities themselves. This reframing, coupled with the use of accessible mapping technologies, enables collaborative co-creation of local stories on interactive platforms to challenge dominant paradigms.

Fig 2: New Imperial Map of Africa

This guide offers practical strategies for designing and facilitating accessible, community workshops focused on participatory counter-mapping practices.

Drawing on a prototype workshop delivered at the Sussex Digital Humanities Lab (Ricketts, 2023), this guide provides guidance to empower diverse groups in shaping collective narratives through participatory counter-mapping practices. These practices centre on situating and visualising lived experiences, cultural attachments, and community priorities related to a place. Custom map creations, originating from local knowledge, can uncover hidden stories and contest exclusionary accounts of places and people upheld through authoritative maps and status quo power relations

Who is this guide for?

Participatory counter-mapping aims to make visible narratives and claims excluded from dominant mappings. As such, this guide offers a collaborative mapping methodology for non-coders with shared interests in highlighting community priorities through local narratives. It provides practical recommendations for workshop leaders seeking to encourage organic co-creation through collaborative story development and accessible mapmaking.

The framework, described below, structures participation to leverage local knowledge and lived experiences within communities. This approach has the potential to bring together diverse community members and individuals to combine anecdotes and artefacts from their respective neighbourhoods or interests into unified interactive insights shaping the content and character of these maps. In this context, "artefacts" refers broadly to cultural products, objects, recordings, artworks, documents, etc. that share community identities, memories, and experiences of a place. By integrating local anecdotes and cultural artefacts, the participatory story mapping process allows diverse residents to contribute their situated knowledge and materials to build multi-layered, interactive, visual narratives reflecting the richness of local identities and lived realities.

With appropriate technical scaffolds in place, facilitators can activate community narratives while empowering non-coding participants in generative mapping. Scaffolding activities lowers barriers for participants to imagine narratives into making new artefacts which sustainably document and display the richness of community perspectives for current and future audiences.

The goal of this technique is to facilitate meaningful conversations between participants, helping them firstly identify community priorities or personal stories. There may be opportunity to find common themes that link the differing stories, however linkages may not always be necessary. This allows people to connect on shared experiences and perspectives, even though their individual narratives may be uniquely different. As MacEachren and Brewer (2004) contend, geographic-visualisation systems are uniquely suited for multi-perspective participatory methodologies having the potential to highlight and amplify underrepresented voices, backgrounds, and narratives that emerge through this process of sharing and finding common threads amongst diverse stories.

Theory Framework Overview

The three key conceptual foundations for the workshop are defined as:

A Postcolonial mapping lens

Postcolonial mapping theory critically examines how cartography interlinks with colonialism and imperialism. It reveals the geospatial practices and politics tied to empire that often get obscured in conventional mappings. As Harley (1989, p3) contends, deconstructing the map urges us to read between the lines of the map and through its tropes to discover the silences and contradictions, that challenge the apparent honesty of the image i.e. that maps are not only tools for navigation and spatial representation but rather have normalised the silencing of underrepresented groups.1

Mainstream GIS platforms and software encode particular Western scientific ideological assumptions that get treated as universal (Harris et al 1995). This includes notions of space as continuous, unambiguous, and divisible - enabling boundaries between territories to be "efficiently" administered.

Contemporary Western notions of space struggle to be effectively applied to conceptualising and reconstructing heritage sites as well as understanding underrepresented communities. This stems from the complex disruptions of colonialism, which imposed rigid boundaries severing historic relations between peoples and land, unleashing lasting damage to heritage.  Dominant spatial paradigms fail to capture the boundaries as overlapping networks of relations continuously reinvented amidst the turbulence of colonialism. (Chirikure et al., 2010, p. 33)     

Diasporic communities embody these deeper connections, maintaining strong transnational ties complicating static notions of discrete, internally homogeneous nation-state units.  Their everyday lived spaces fluidly transcend and crisscross constructed political borders and containers (Parker ,p. 480). 

Partitions created within traditional spatial models continue to encode displaced entanglements, making it difficult for diasporas to reassert indigenous fluid spatial boundaries of erased identities reconnecting them to their land.  As such, effective spatial models need to be centred around a dynamic system, providing a counter position to the rigid approaches to hegemonic mapping traditions.


Counter-mapping refers to map creation by communities to articulate place-based narratives that challenge dominant narratives. As defined by Peluso (1995), counter-mapping emerged as a participatory mapping practice enabling marginalised groups to visually illustrate territorial claims excluded from state-sanctioned maps. By graphically representing lived experiences of place, counter-maps unveil subjugated histories, raise awareness of power imbalances embedded in cartography, and legitimise alternative attachments to contested lands.

In the context of this workshop, counter-mapping informs collaborative visualisation methodologies for surfacing multi-vocal place narratives.

Participatory Mapping

Participatory mapping denotes active involvement of community members in structured collaborative map production (Parker 2006). This repositions mapping as an inclusive process centred on local, knowledge and priorities. A facilitated, ethical approach understands participants as partners with valuable perspectival standpoints, rather than as data sources for extraction. The workshop engages participants in equitable map co-creation, from conceptualising the format and focus to generating and integrating content.

This enables participatory mapping’s potential for constructive community engagement and reflexive spatial learning reflecting deeply on:

  • Whose stories and history of an area get shown on normal maps? Whose get left out?

  • What pictures or messages do most maps focus on? What visual narratives do they ignore?

  • Who usually has power in deciding how places should look and what they represent?

With these ideas in mind, of maps as subjective tellings, as objects always embedded with perspective and power, the workshop model focuses on participatory counter-mapping leveraging people’s ability to unsettle dominate narratives which erase parts of their lived experience and heritage, by creating interactive features for narrative and knowledge exchange.

Workshop Overview

The following sections detail key components to effectively plan and facilitate each stage of the co-created outcomes.

The guided workshop structure includes:

  1. Tools

  2. Introduction Framing Perspective on Maps as Contested Representations

  3. Brainstorming in Teams

  4. Hands-on Mapping

  5. Sharing narratives

  6. Participant Feedback

1. Tools

Attendees must bring their laptops for internet access; guest logins may be required.   Facilitators will provide access to a shared folder containing the specified documents listed below. Examples of these documents are provided in the following section;

  • Starter prompts for brainstorming story ideas - e.g. figure 4 

  • Shared Brainstorming whiteboard - e.g. figure 5 

  • Proforma forms to collect team location based information - e.g. figure 7 

  • Collaborative coding environment with starter code for mapping outcomes - e.g. figure 9

  • Online evaluation form - e.g. Google, or Microsoft  forms, etc. 

2. Introduction Framing Perspective on Maps as Contested Representations

The opening segment sets the foundation through inclusive, community building and clear direction. At this stage elicit and critically examine participants current understandings and relationships to maps and mapping, and establish where their interests lay. 

Begin by encouraging participants to think critically about mapping and explore alternative possibilities for mapping, drawing on the theories outlined above or practical objects prepared for the session. 

Prompt participants to consider what types of maps would be beneficial for their specific group, starting with basics such as paper or digital formats, and how they envision the mapping process. 

This paper assumes a single workshop approach; hence, we have expedited the process by assuming that participants will create a digital map rather than a physical one during the session.  Therefore  and going straight to constructing local stories defined by the group, centred on their theme for digital production.

The introductory presentation grounds the workshop in core concepts linked to the subjectivity and politics inherent to maps. Tailor its level and length appropriately for participants’ backgrounds. Some key talking points include:

  • Imperialist History: Examples demonstrating how colonist maps erased indigenous presence and culture

  • Maps as Power: Evidence of cartographic tools used to perpetuate unequal power relations

  • Counter-Mapping: Models of communities reclaiming mapmaking authority to highlight inclusive narratives

  • Postcolonial lens: Reinforce how re-centring local voices through participatory processes can support restorative justice in representations.

3. Brainstorming in Teams

Fig3: Brainstorming, creating choices process

Share the prepared workshop folder and form brainstorming teams or pairs and guide generative activities around place, following are some starter prompt ideas for narrative ideas, to encourage creative risk-taking:

Fig 4: Brainstorming starter ideas

Recording brainstorming

Document all contributions without judgement during the process of creative thinking then assist teams in consolidating ideas.

Fig 5: Milanote whiteboard

4. Hands-on mapping

Groups populate templates with their identified locations (points of interest) images, descriptive data etc.

Fig 6: Brainstorming, making choices process

Participants select their final points of interest and gather the following information to begin to build the mapping process.

Fig 7: Point of interest 1, documenting text and image

Build on Fig 6, with machine-readable information with latitude and longitude as follows;

Fig 8: Adding GIS information latitude and longitude

5. Visualising narratives

Ideally, individual teams will open and add the researched information to the collective digital map starter code, however, multiple access is a paid service. An alternative is to plan an interval break in which this information is uploaded by one or two team members.

Fig 9: Starter Code

6. Sharing Narratives

Once all the researched information is uploaded to the starter code, the session can continue with teams sharing their decision making process, by walking everyone through key elements included in their map and demoing what local artefacts are and which audiences they are for, followed by discussing if there are any connective strands between the points of interests or between the stories.

7. Participants Summary Outcomes

The following account summarise the outcomes of the workshop by recounting each team's map narrative and providing my critical interpretation of their presentation.

Favourite Cafes

Team 1 chose to map their favourite cafes in Brighton. They selected a range of independent establishments as well as chains, highlighting the diversity of cafe culture in the city. From spots like Small Batch to seaside venues with scenic views like OhSo Social, their selections give insight into places locals love to relax over coffee and casual bites. Their captions share inside perspectives on each cafe, like the hurry to visit Small Batch before it closes or the slow service at Flour Pot Bakery. Overall, their mapped story encapsulates the interesting role cafes play in Brighton life.


Team 2 took a more personal approach by mapping places of significance in Brighton, encapsulating their own beginnings and history in the city. Spanning their residence in Kemptown to the University of Sussex, Sussex Digital Humanities Lab where their studies began, the story is one of growth and self-discovery. Theatre performances, beach trips, and Brighton’s iconic Pavilion also feature, showing the cultural touchpoints that have shaped their experience of the city. Although a personal story, their story touches on a broader narrative of moving to a new place, planting roots and creating a sense of belonging, a universal narrative.


Team 3 focused their mappings on showcasing food, drink and entertainment venues they would be taking a set of online friends who would be meeting for the first time in-person. From restaurants like Captain’s famous fish and chips to amusements like mini golf and karaoke, their selections highlight the diversity of Brighton offerings as the group’s story captures a sense of adventure giving readers a keen sense of their adventure as fly on the wall companions with the undercurrents of nostalgia that’s runs through their adventure.


In a uniquely coastal take, Team 4 mapped locations along Brighton’s shoreline relevant for sea swimming and beachgoing. Their story spans the breadth of the coastline and areas far out to sea, charting sites from the Rampion offshore wind farm to the Naturist Beach at Kemptown. Selected spots showcase some tide-dependent landmarks which are only visible at low tide as well as year-round swimming spots. Safety infrastructure like buoys also feature, painting a picture of the practices and systems that enable humans to dwell along the sea. Though niche in focus, the mappings speak of a close relationship with the water and local shore and of the pleasures of being in the water

8. Evaluation & Feedback

Electronically distribute participants’ evaluation forms, completing the 3-5 questions feedback form in session. This should be designed to reflect on:

  • The key purposes of the workshop

  • Areas for Continual Improvement

  • Detail on informing enhancements to the workshop


In conclusion, this eight-part outline offers a practical workshop model empowering community in counter-mapping hidden stories. It foregrounds local narrative authority while supplies an adaptable structure designed to capture the breadth of knowledge in the room. Thoughtful construction and caring facilitation enable impactful idea exchange and output creation focused on social change.

Bibliography 2023. “Brainstorming.” Accessed December 28 2023 .

Chirikure, Shadreck, Munyaradzi Manyanga, Webber Ndoro, and Gilbert Pwiti. 2010. "Unfulfilled Promises? Heritage Management and Community Participation at Some of Africa’s Cultural Heritage Sites.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 16 (1-2): 30-44.

Harley, J.B. "Deconstructing the Map." Cartographica 26, no. 2 (1989): 1-20.

MacEachren, Alan M., and Ian Brewer. 2004. “Developing a Conceptual Framework for Visually-Enabled Geocollaboration.” International Journal of Geographical Information Science 18(1): 1–34.

Messer, Yannick. 2011. “1882-1914: The ‘Scramble for Africa’”. Making History Relevant (blog). Accessed December 28, 2023. .

Parker, Brenda. 2006. "Constructing Community through Maps? Power and Praxis in Community Mapping.” The Professional Geographer 58 (4): 470–84.

Peluso, Nancy Lee. 1995. “Whose Woods Are These? Counter-Mapping Forest Territories in Kalimantan, Indonesia.” Antipode 27 (4): 383–406.

Ricketts, Judith, Co-reConstructing Local Histories, Sussex Digital Humanities lab, workshop. June 2023.

Ricketts, Judith, Starter code. Codepen. Last modified December 28, 2023. Accessed December 29, 2023. 2023. “AI Generated Images.” Accessed December 29, 2023.

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