Activity Mapping - Principles and General Procedures


Step 1: Definition of the Research Question

At the beginning of the Activity Mapping Exercise, an organization plans to start a project in order to improve a situation. It focuses, on which activities are planned to target and what kind of information is required to target those services or activities in order to achieve an optimum impact.

Planned activities are reflecting the solution to problems perceived in the targeted area. Baseline surveys have identified a number of projects and have given clues to the reasons, why the problems still exist and what are the basic activities that would improve the current situation.

Additionally, many development organizations and projects are currently combating part of the problem, often knowing only partially what other related organizations are doing at the same time. That is where activity mapping starts to clarify existing activities and services.

The questions are:
What do I want to do? and
What do I need to know to quickly achieve my goal with great impact?


Step 2: Identification of existing information and a grid of subjects to explore

In many cases, a lot of information is already available, but not always easily accessible. Background information is always important to understand the problem of a developing issue. In order to thoroughly understand particular details of an issue within a limited time frame, basic thematic areas have to be defined, in which problems are currently tackled by a number of organizations. These thematic areas do not yet state which activities are currently ongoing in order to solve these problems. The “Problem Tree” methodology can be helpful to identify core causes for an existing problem or deficit. As a result, a list of core issues to be inventoried and discussed has to be developed.

Table 1: List of Cure Issues


Problems defined in a broad scope, can be for example: “Insufficient Water supply”, “Too many traffic accidents”, “Families’ incomes are insecure“, or “High rate of Domestic Violence”


Step 3: Define a grid of activities that are commonly applied to tackle the identified core issues

A list of target activities / services to improve the core issues in a previously defined area has to be developed, using simplified and broad terms in order to allow all contributing organizations and service providers to find their activity in a predefined grid. This is the crucial step that determines the quality of the result.

Table 2: Core Issues and Activities



Two extremes of defining a grid of activities should be considered:

  • Activities are too detailed and specific, no organization can identify its activities in the predefined grid.
  • Activities are outlined too broad and generalized: almost every organization says it is carrying out a particular activity. The resulting information is useless, as the quality of activities is too heterogeneous.

There is a trade-off between high details of defined activities and the number of responses to be expected. In case development institutions have agreed to apply quality standards before an exercise, the minimum quality standard of an activity can be defined.

Additionally, it is important, that the language of described activities is broadened to the point that all participants have a joint understanding of the activities and their contents. Development Organizations often tend to develop their own language, therefore a grid of activity has to be often checked with the wording of other organizations or institutions.


Step 4: Identify the planning level, on which activities are carried out

Geographical areas have to be identified, in which the provision of activities and services will be located. All organizations will be asked, how many activities/services they provide in which geographical unit. Depending on the size of survey,  there is a trade-off between too detailed geographic units like villages or communes (which development organizations often do not keep track of), and too broad geographic units (e.g. provinces or national states).

Additionally, it has to be identified, if inventoried activities can be only counted in numbers or also quantified (e.g.. in person months, or number of beneficiaries, number of workshops, etc.)


Step 5: Identify the target organisations to be invited for an activity mapping exercise / workshop

All relevant organizations working in the particular field of interest or related fields have to be invited for the activity mapping exercise / workshop or have to be involved by sending them a questionnaire. It often ends up in a mix both ways to approaches due to unavailability of one or another participant. Questionnaires can be better filled when there is room for discussing questions not reflected by a questionnaire, and a better atmosphere for cooperation and trust can be created in a workshop that integrated activity mapping as one component.

If the results can be immediately visualized (e.g. with a web mapping tool), discussions can lead to further questions:

  • which strengths does each organization have?
  • which problems are not (yet) resolved?
  • how much overlap exists between organizations in terms of content and geographic extent?
  • how can organizations have a better impact in the future by complementing each other, instead of competing with each other?
  • how can the quality of service provision be improved or even quality standards defined?


Step 6: Develop and pretest a questionnaire

A series of questionnaires has to be developed, showing each a  predefined target activity and listing the number of geographic units, where the activity is carried out. This questionnaire will be handed to every organization in order to identify their service coverage. If the services are quantified by numbers, an explanation should be give to which number should be filled. For qualitative surveys, a check box is sufficient to see, whether the organization is active on a selected activity in a particular area.  

Figure 1: Simplified Activity Mapping Questionnaire



The questionnaire requires a pretest with a heterogeneous selection  of representatives from various organizations in order to make sure the questionnaire is well understood and does not consume too much time. Additional information demands can be discussed and integrated.


Step 7: Activity Mapping Workshop: Data collection

Collection of data can be best done in a workshop, that brings the representatives from all organizations working on the core issues together. Besides introduction to the workshop participants, presentations,  exchange of experiences, and discussions, the workshop explains the activity mapping exercise methodology, its expected results and limitations. In order to collect an amount of data which reflects the current situation, it is highly important, that representatives from organizations carrying out a high number of activities and services are available.

Finally, questionnaires will be handed out to locate and identify activities from all organizations. Instructions are given, how to fill the form, and the organizers provide personal assistance.


Step 8: Data processing and -analysis

All questionnaires will be entered in a database in order to calculate the absolute coverage of organizations and identify their overlaps and coverage. As all information was collected in reference to geographic units, the database must contain a geographic identifier (e.g. a code for the district), in order to be able to map the coverage of activities and services accordingly.

Summarizing statistics and maps can now be developed, that can show the geographic coverage of the sum active organizations working for a particular target activity/service, or even summarize the coverage according to a core issue. Additionally, each organization can map their own coverage, and identify overlaps with related organizations. This contributes towards harmonization of donor activities.

Additionally, the coverages can be correlated with all kinds of socioeconomic or demographic statistical data in order to address questions:

  • How is the provision of services/activities according to the distribution of the population?
  • How is the provision of services/activities according to the extend of the observed problems?
  • How is the balance of different aspects within one core issue?
  • Which areas are neglected and why?

If data has been collected according to quantitative surveys, a quantitative analysis can give more detail on the current situation.


Step 9: Visualisation and redistribution of results

A huge number of maps can be processed and produced with the information acquired in the activity mapping exercise:

Table 3: Qualitative and quantitative Mapping Surveys


Statistics and maps by this activity mapping survey are a good starting point to plan and target future activities and services. A wide range of Information products can be developed from the mapping activity. It is important to feed back all collected information to all organizations that contributed the information as soon as possible, in order to maintain the atmosphere of dialogue and discussion, instead of merely exploiting the contributors of information as a competing actor. In order to speed up this process, the use of Information Technology can support to shorten the time between data acquisition and analysis of the results. Tools like web mapping databases can help to keep the database open and transparent to all users.


Step 10: Discussion of Results / Policy Making

Finally, results will be discussed with all organizations interested in maintaining a dialogue for donor harmonization as well as with counterparts involved in planning future activities. At this point in time, it is useful to jointly develop a coherent policy / donor strategy and a strategic action plan to:

  • avoid overlaps,
  • reach full coverage of activities / services,
  • complement each other more efficiently, and to
  • define quality standards

in the future.