“Maps are more than housing and cultivation areas”

RESEARCH: Four reports illustrate how the method “participatory action research” can benefit indigenous peoples by acknowledging traditional knowledge and documenting land use and ownership for future generations.

Mapping communities, drawing timelines, collecting information through transect walking, sketching land use maps and sharing of histories. These are some of the basic practices that have been used when indigenous communities in Myanmar participated in research on their lands and its historical use and management.

Facilitated by Christian Erni, a senior consultant with years of experience in participatory research and land mapping, the workshops resulted in the solid documentation for the indigenous communities.

How to use participatory action research

Other indigenous communities can use the reports as an example of how documentation of the affiliation to the land by and with the communities can be done.

Signe Leth, IWGIA’s Senior Advisor on land rights in Asia, says:

“The four reports are more than just maps. The reports provide comprehensive and practical examples to follow for other indigenous communities in their efforts to have their collective land rights secured.”

Traditional knowledge is key

Participatory action research involves the whole community. Elders as well as young people, literates and non-literates, men and women are all included. Everybody’s knowledge counts when a community maps its past and present use of land.

“In general the reports prove indigenous communities’ relationship with their land which goes beyond the sole purpose of cultivation," says Signe Leth

By using participatory action research the in-depth local knowledge about the area is being activated. The community and its history, livelihood and land use, customary tenure and management of land and resources as well as how the community is governed are included in the research.

In the reports, both challenges and opportunities for the communities are covered. And by combining land mapping and documentation of the customary land ownership, the involved communities in Myanmar aim at securing the lands for the future generations.

What is Participatory Action Research? 

Participatory action research is an approach to do research in communities that emphasizes participation and action. It seeks to understand the world by trying to change it, collaboratively. Participatory action research emphasizes collective inquiry and experimentation grounded in experience and social history. Within a Participatory action research process, communities of inquiry and action evolve and address questions and issues that are significant for those who participate as co-researchers. The practitioners make a concerted effort to integrate three basic aspects of their work: participation (life in society and democracy), action (engagement with experience and history), and research (soundness in thought and the growth of knowledge).

What is Participatory Mapping?

Participatory mapping - also called community-based mapping - is a term used to define a set of approaches and techniques that combine the tools of modern cartography with participatory methods to represent the spatial knowledge of local communities. Participatory mapping is based on the premise that local inhabitants possess expert knowledge of their local environments which can be expressed in a geographical framework which is easily understandable and universally recognised. Participatory maps often represent a socially or culturally distinct understanding of landscape. Maps created by local communities show those elements that communities themselves perceive as important such as customary land boundaries, traditional natural resource management practices, sacred areas etc.

Tags: Land rights, Climate



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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