Inventing Civic Mapping
Kathryn B. Campbell
University of Oregon
Some reporting assignments and research problems simply boggle the mind. How can a complicated social or political issue be investigated, understood in all of its complexity, and then communicated to an audience that may—or may not—be ready to consider and act on the information?
Part of the answer to this question is straightforward. To tackle complex research and storytelling about a community, a reporter can assess the qualitative and quantitative methods that have a documented history of successful implementation and then choose the method that appears best suited to the enterprise. Consider, however, the exciting and challenging notion that the best method may not have been devised yet. New research problems often call for the creation of new research methods, or for the combination of existing methods, to solve them.
The emerging practice of civic mapping is an example of such innovative thinking. At its most basic, civic mapping is a way for reporters and community researchers to find out who talks to whom about what. The “who” in this case could be an individual, community group, or government entity. The “whom” includes other individuals, groups, and organizations, as well as themselves. To “map” the patterns of communication, researchers systematically record information on the relationships among individuals and groups, paying special attention to the number and variety of the researchers' own sources. This map helps the researcher or reporter identify the gaps in communication channels, such as two groups working on housing issues who do not coordinate their efforts or en-