Taking a Walk: Community Action using Transect Mapping and Visual Action Plan

As part of the 11th month of service at the American India Foundation, I had the opportunity to design and conduct a workshop for the present cohort of Banyan Impact fellows (2021-22). I delivered a seminar on conducting walking research and discussed some of the merits associated with this practice. This two-part seminar was titled Walking as a research methodology while working with communities. The first session introduced the research method and emphasized the kind of rigor it contributes to the research project. Whereas the second session was a collective discussion on walking research methodologies.

It was an eventful experience wherein the fellows had the opportunity to take a short walk in their neighborhood and make brief observations about the everyday aspects that otherwise one may not necessarily pay attention to. For instance, interacting with diverse individuals such as sanitation workers or house helps in urban spaces, observing how a day unfolds in a geographic setting or taking a soundwalk to understand the overall sonic environment. All from different educational, professional, and regional backgrounds, the fellows were quick to echo their observations and what they understood as walking research.

As part of this session, we collectively also discussed how fieldwork may not take place as per planned because of the limitations imposed because of the pandemic. Given this predicament, how can one conduct remote fieldwork and yet enhance their knowledge of the local field, demographic, and knowledge systems in question while being far away? With the emergence of digital tools, I argue learning and research outcomes can be enhanced remotely if the objective of the study is properly established. Various forms of experiential learning can quite effectively improve learning outcomes such as community maps, 360 videos of the field, etc. In this article, I explore methods such as community mapping via transect walk and visual action plan using which one can remotely leverage a richer understanding of the research setting.

Transect map of a Vietnamese village. Source: Jim Hammond.
Transect map of a Vietnamese village. Source: Jim Hammond.

Simply put, a transect map can be designed by going on a transect walk in a geographic region alongside informed community members with the relevant skillsets (CatComm, n.d.). This process requires identifying implicit and explicit problems, discussing a collective action plan, and proposing solutions. A transect map is a great alternative for official maps and data that may not necessarily include various ecological and infrastructural changes that occurred over the years in a given geographical region (ibid). It is a reliable tool to keep track of the changing climate conditions. Going on a transect walk, in any region, requires extensive planning to fulfil the collective purpose. However, to design a transect map, one may not necessarily go on an in-person walk. Especially given the pandemic situation, the field may be physical, virtual, or hybrid. Under contemporary circumstances, one can go beyond the sensory experience and still attain knowledge about a landscape that may be unknown to one in an inaccessible foreign land. With technological advancement and the emergence of facilities such as Google Maps, one can take a virtual walk to get a sense of the field. Thereafter one can strategically read on issues online, access public records available on the internet, reach out to like-minded individuals over the phone and get an understanding of the faraway field in question. For instance, one can virtually collect data from the research setting using a set of photographs. These photographs in question may provide a perspective for the researcher. To gather such photographs, one can ask relevant individuals present in the field to capture a bunch of aspects of everyday life such as human involvement in an activity, nature, something unusual, something funny, or a contextual photograph that may be relevant for the researcher based on the photographer’s understanding, or just a photograph that tells a story. Using the understanding of the individuals, alongside virtual tools, and records available, one can create a virtual fieldwork environment.

The purpose behind this is to emphasize that walking as a research method is not uniform. There are various ways to use this method to conduct research. Engagement is fundamental in understanding the field. It involves a process of thinking and knowing, about oneself and the other, about the researcher and the research participant, and going beyond the human-centric approach in the field of development. Using tools such as transect walk, based on online observations and community feedback, one can design a transect map that can efficiently be used to monitor and evaluate progress, keep track of objectives and methods, and maintain the primary goal of development. This requires one to listen and talk to others, conceptualize convenient solutions, and not necessarily be physically on the field. A transect walk, undertaken using a transect map, allows one to reliably keep a track of the changing environment – flood and erosion, water scarcity, or waste management. Furthermore, one can design a visual action plan to set a timeframe, break down the larger goals into actionable targets, and then endeavor to fulfil the collective vision which would be comprehensible and benefit all stakeholders.

Example of a Visual Action Plan
Example of a Visual Action Plan. Source: Slide Model

In conclusion, community action can be effectively achieved and sustained using community mapping undertaken via transect walk by well-informed or experienced members of the community based on their subjective skillsets. The researcher can leverage their understanding of the research setting remotely through community members and design a community map and visual action plan to monitor and evaluate actionable intel and progress. One may take a walk in-person, virtually, or do both in the community that they aim to make an impact upon and then process in attainting their set objectives.

References

Anderson, J. M. (2015). Understanding cultural geography: Places and traces. London and New York: Routledge.

Community Mapping through Transect Walks. (n.d.). Catalytic Communities (CatComm) Website. Retrieved April 19, 2022, from https://catcomm.org/transect-walk/

Ingold, T., & Lee, J. (Eds.). (2008). Ways of walking: Ethnography and practice on foot. London: Ashgate.

Keller, S. (n.d.) Transect Walk. Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management Toolbox. Retrieved April 19, 2022, from https://sswm.info/humanitarian-crises/urban-settings/planning-process-tools/exploring-tools/transect-walk

Kusenbach, M. (2003). Street phenomenology: The go-along as an ethnographic research tool. Sage Journals. Retrieved April 19, 2022, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/146613810343007

Panek, J. (2015). Participatory methods: Transect Walk. May 6. Geoparticipation. Retrieved April 19, 2022, from https://geoparticipation.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/participatory-methods-transect-walk/

Sneharshi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Bhasha Sanshodhan Prakashan Kendra in Tejgadh, Gujarat. For his fellowship project, he is conceptualizing new collections, presentations, and displays for the ‘Museum of Adivasi Voice’ and contributing to the issues on education, arts, and culture at Bhasha. Sneharshi recently graduated from the Manipal Centre of Humanities with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and Humanities. He completed the summer programme on Political Theory and International Politics from the Department of Government, London School of Economics (LSE). At Manipal and LSE, Sneharshi worked on assignments dealing with issues related to caste, class, identity, marginalisation, material memories, and political philosophy. He also presented a paper on visual anthropology at the World Class Day organised by the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. Prior to AIF, he was an Archives and Outreach Intern at The Partition Museum in Amritsar. As an intern, he recorded, transcribed, and documented oral narratives of people who migrated to India during the 1947 partition. Sneharshi also worked as a youth worker for a platform based mobile app – ‘Meaningful’ based at the University of Cambrigde, UK. He was selected as a part of the Global Leaders programme by Exeter University, UK, and Heritage Walk Calcutta where he presented his work on heritage buildings in Kolkata. Sneharshi enjoys graphic designing, photography, filmmaking, and theatre.

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