Making mapping ‘meaningful’ in Highland

Having identified a need to co-ordinate asset mapping activity happening across an extensive and largely remote and rural area, The Highland Third Sector Interface has been working with local groups to bring information together and to learn what the mapping process can offer.

Early experiences indicate the importance of working alongside community representatives and workers to ensure the process draws upon and enhances community relationships. A challenge from the Highland experience is the use of the term, ‘asset mapping’: how meaningful is it to the general public?

 I caught up with Mhairi Wyllie, Chief Officer at The Highland Third Sector Interface (HTSI) and Joanne McCoy, self management coordinator of Let’s Get on with it Together (LGOWIT) to hear more about it.

NHS Highland is one of the largest and most sparsely populated Health Boards in the UK. serving approximately 320,000 people, Kintyre in the south-west to Caithness in the north-east. Discovering and keeping track of local activities and services is a significant challenge across such a wide and diverse region, but a project that’s being coordinated by the Highland Third Sector Interface is looking to change that…


Mhairi and Joanne were aware that community mapping was happening across the region but there did not seem to be a collective view, an overall sense of what’s out there to support self management.They were aware that a lot of individual and isolated activities were going on around asset mapping but there did not seem to be any coordination.

Mhairi recalls that once these individual mapping activities were done “the information might be made public…but there was no attempt to bring it all together to make it accessible”.

From LGOWIT’s point of view, Joanne was aware of how crucial this information would be to support self management.

“When we were going around talking to people about self management and promoting the idea, the common theme …was that people were interested in people self managing but didn’t know where to point them …to support them to find activities that were relevant to them”

Joanne discovered, for example, that the cardiac department at the local hospital has a 12 week rehab programme, but when it’s finished it’s for staff difficult to know where to point people on to community-based support.

“People were really keen to find out what’s happening in their local area”

With this all in mind, Joanne came along to the PPHW asset mapping event in March to help to crystallise what they might do to help with coordination.

Lighthouse taster prog


“…everybody seemed at different stages… some of them had not done any mapping before… then there were the likes of ourselves that had this idea as to what we were looking for, but maybe weren’t that clear about how we were going to achieve it…. Some of the other areas had actually produced quite a lot of mapping and were able to give pointers, sharing tips and techniques”.

So being at the event helped them to formulate a plan.

“It was an opportunity to gather information to move it on the next step…”.

Once they’d secured money from NHS Highland, HTSI and LGOWIT invited partners to develop work plans to ‘bid’ for funding to map in a coordinated way, using ALISS as a central location for collecting the discoveries. All partners had training on using ALISS as part of the bid preparation process.

Each plan was different, reflecting the diverse culture and geography of the region. Some areas knew that mapping had already been done and that work was required to draw existing information together – others recognised that there was a lack of information, often because of geographical challenges, and planned to tap into existing groups and networks in order to reach local residents.

The project also provided a great opportunity to use the Third Sector Interface model to link into, and learn more about, areas across Highland.

“It was a really good opportunity for us to take stock and go out and meet with communities” says Mhairi.

Highland mapping 1

Part of that community relationship building has been achieved by working in partnership with the 11 Community networkers who are key local representatives, funded through Reshaping Care for Older People. Each networker highlights and signposts to services and events in local areas. Engagement with them has ensured that the asset mapping work is embedded in a process of relationship building with local communities.

So the project is running until the end of 2014, with 8 partners mapping in conjunction with local groups and representatives. The data is being coordinated by Living it Up Highland who are adding it to ALISS, while LGOWIT and HTSI are overseeing the activity with an eye to the future.

Highland mapping 2

We’ll hear more when the projects report back but, in the meantime, Joanne and Mhairi have been undertaking some of the mapping themselves. So, what have they learned?

“I think a lot of the lessons are still to be learned” thinks Mhairi “but the relationship with the community in terms of who’s doing the mapping is really important.”

“Understanding your community is crucially important.”

Joanne thinks that the way the events have been advertised has influenced turn out. The term ‘asset mapping’ isn’t too helpful

“from the point of view of the public it doesn’t really mean anything”.

They’ve found that combining mapping with materials from the Chest Heart and Stroke’s COSMIC training can really help to set it in context, to illustrate why it’s so important that we gather this information, who can benefit and how.


They’ve also been using personas to give context. A blank piece of paper or map doesn’t always inspire people and so using a short description of a fictitious person can prompt ideas about what types of services people might find helpful. Joanne sometimes uses the example of a recently widowed lady in her 70’s who attends church every Sunday. She lives a little out of town and since she gave up driving some time ago she has struggled to remain mobile. Her family bought her a new iPad so they could ‘face time’ her but she has no idea what that means and doesn’t know how to use it…just a few simple points can help people to start sketching a picture of someone’s situation, their potential needs and the services that might help.

“you need to find a key to unlock the knowledge they already have”.

But there’s a danger of quantity over quality. Recording meaningful information is important so that sense can be made from the materials afterwards. They’ve been asking people to add information to a spreadsheet which can then be passed on to easily added to ALISS.

“You need to allow enough resource to handle the incoming the information” warns Mhari “…it’s a bit like an iceberg. The part that you can see is the visual part where you’re out and doing…the part underneath the water is the vast majority of the work and that’s the part that people don’t see!”

Oh, and “It needs to be fun”.

“It’s not just the mapping though…” says Joanne. The information needs to be used and spread out locally.

“If nobody’s accessing it, it’s not really done what we’ve set out to do”.

Mapping is also shaping up to be a useful tool to use when talking about self management.”It’s a useful mechanism to be able to contribute to that dialogue you’re having with health”. But it’ll be important to know how the information that’s discovered is actually being used.

So, what’s next?

Well, Boccia seems to be sweeping through the Highlands and Joanne and Mhairi are using it to great effect!



“…as part of self management week we had our first ever Highland Boccia cup tournament”. It turned out to be a a great conversation starter. But it’s more than that – during one game a lady from a local care home, who had not been engaging so much, became more animated. “she was a bowler throughout her life so she really got caught up in it” and the local arthritis group offered to bring the game to the care home.

It also shows that links between the Self management and the Reshaping Care for Older People agendas! “it’s a huge tool for engaging with people”.

It would be a good activity to attach to mapping – it’s a really practical way to help people to think about what keeps them well!


“Its addictive … we’re aiming for the Olympic Games in Brazil!”

Key learning points:

  • Drop-in mapping events tend not to work so well – tap into existing networks and events , particularly in more rural areas where getting people together might be more difficult.
  • Consider exploring links that can be made with or through your local Third Sector Interface.
  • ALISS can be used to collect and manage mapping discoveries – consider how training and guidance on this should be part of a project.
  • Make time afterwards to deal with the information that you discover. It takes time to follow up and make sense of the stories that emerge.
  • Make links with community connectors who will know local areas well.
  • Context is key – be careful to describe how mapping activity relates to a community. The term ‘asset mapping’ may not be helpful. Be clear about how the information discovered will be used – or work with local residents to consider this.
  • If participants are finding it difficult to think of examples of support to map, consider using a persona to prompt ideas.
  • Mapping can be a useful way to introduce and discuss messages about wellbeing and self management.
  • It can also facilitate dialogue with health colleagues. Remember that there is therapeutic value in the process as well as the output.

How does this reflect your experiences? We’d like to hear from you. Do you use the term ‘asset mapping’ when engaging with communities? Who have you found to be key partners in supporting your work?

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