To map or not to map – that is the question

Maps play an important role in climate adaptation. Maps are often used in GIS analysis to assess and communicate climate impacts. Maps are used as an heuristic tool to engage stakeholders and to elicit local knowledge. And maps help to support the identification of integrated adaptation measures and to develop adaptation strategies. In this blog, we describe the different perceptions of using maps to increase the resilience of social groups.

During the final EDUCEN project conference (29–30 March) in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, the PLACARD team organised a workshop to expand on strategies that a city officer could use to increase the resilience of social groups. We made use of a popular social vulnerability mapping method to assess the social aspects of climate change or disaster impacts, such as social disruption, illness and risk of poverty. The mapping method included visualising social groups that, according to scientific literature, are considered to be more vulnerable to climate change or disasters. This was achieved by using indicators or proxies, for example, the number of people of age 65+, or the number of families with one parent. In this way, the locations of the elderly, migrants, single parents, students and poor people were identified in the city. This method is helpful for local policymakers to identify neighbourhoods that need special attention.

We observed different reactions to this mapping method. Some people identified as vulnerable may in fact not be – for example, some older people are perfectly healthy and capable of dealing with extreme events. Another argument was that these social groups may feel offended. This type of map, if not carefully introduced, may even hamper constructive discussion of measures to increase resilience at the local level, as one of the participants stated.

While the importance of dealing with social vulnerability to increase resilience was acknowledged both from the CCA and DRR perspectives, it was recommended that the use of maps in policy development should be carefully evaluated. The success will largely depend on the purpose of the map in the process and the users of the maps, as well as the way that these maps are introduced.

We concluded that the use of maps to deal with social vulnerability, either in CCA or in DRR perspective, may be very sensitive. Alternatively, the EDUCEN participants, who are mainly involved in DRR, advised that local government should establish and expand on a network of so-called ‘gatekeepers’, people that play an influential role in specific sub-networks. These gatekeepers are aware of the actual location of vulnerable people in the society, and can help local government to build up people’s resilience through appropriate information channels and tools. Once established, these networks will stay in place for many years, playing a role in DRR and in CCA.