The Tool

The Sketch Map Tool is an easy-to-use tool for participatory mapping through offline collection, digitisation and georeferencing of local data. The low-tech solution is designed to simplify the collection and analysis of local spatial knowledge and perceptions with pens and paper maps, the so-called Sketch Maps. The Sketch Map Tool is an open-source web application. It facilitates the creation, usage and afterwards the digitisation and analysis of paper-based maps with OpenStreetMap and satellite data.

Sketch Map Tool Mapping

The Sketch Map Tool supports users in all the important steps of offline participatory mapping, from creating paper maps to digitizing them.

The first step is the creation of the paper-based maps. Users can choose between two basemap containing OpenStreetMap (OSM) data and base maps containing satellite images. In addition, the tool can evaluate how well-suited an area of the OSM base map is for participatory mapping based on a quality analysis of the OSM base map data through the HeiGIT ohsome quality analyst.

For the data collection through offline participatory mapping you only need your participants, the printed Sketch Maps and some pens.

After mapping, the Sketch Map Tool supports the digitization of the Sketch Maps. Uploading of pictures and scans of the marked Sketch Maps initiates an automatic georeferencing and color-detection process, and the results can be downloaded in various geodata formats. The tool employs a fusion of computer vision algorithms and novel AI models to extract Sketch Maps from photos and detect markings on them. The results can then be used for further analysis in Geographic Information System software.

The Project

The Sketch Map Tool project has been developed in close cooperation between the HeiGIT and the GIScience Research Group from Heidelberg University with the generous contributions of several sponsors and support by partner organizations.

Sketch Map Tool, Timeline.

The development of the Sketch Map Tool started first as an idea and soon as a simple prototype in the Waterproofing Data project, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. This first prototype received a major update in 2021 when the user-interface was improved and the color detection (using computer vision methods) was implemented. Since then, the tool has been tested by various humanitarian organizations worldwide, including in Germany, Chile, Columbia, Brazil, Mozambique, Madagascar and Sudan in recent years. Thanks to the support of the German Red Cross and the financial contribution of the German Federal Foreign Office within the framework of the Globalprojekt II "Stärkung und Weiterentwicklung der Internationalen Humanitären Hilfe und des Internationalen Humanitären Systems", the Sketch Map Tool has been improved and extended to make it available for use by the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and similar organizations. The Globalprojekt II contributes to reducing the negative consequences of disasters and crises for affected populations by extending strategic humanitarian key topics and innovative approaches. Since the Relaunch 2023, the Sketch Map Tool is a part of the HeiGIT tools.

The focus of the newest project phase, once again funded within the framework of the Globalprojekt II, was the implementation of satellite images as a base map and the overall improvement of color detection, especially on satellite images.  Additionally, general software stability was further ensured, and customized training materials designed to make the tool more accessible to end-users with different knowledge levels.

The Vision

We envision a world in which communities worldwide are empowered to collect, communicate, and utilize local spatial information and knowledge effectively through an open-source, low-tech, participatory mapping solution. This solution bridges paper-based data collection with digital analysis and storage, aiming for collaborative visualization and analysis of current and past conditions and perceptions. The goal is to raise awareness and co-create transformative change in areas impacted by sustainability challenges.

If you have questions or would like to provide a feedback, please reach out to the project team.

Picture of a group mapping situation.

Former and current Sponsors and Partner Organisations

Logo German Red Cross GIScience Research Group Heidelberg University Logo german humanitarian assistance Logo FONA Logo BMBF Logo Belmont Logo Norface

Learning Material

Detailed step-by-step instructions about how to use the tool and FAQs can be found on the Help page.

The code of the Sketch Map Tool is released on GitHub ( ).

On the IFRC Network GIS Training Platform, developed by HeiGIT gGmbH, there are five exercises and trainers` instructions available to learn how to use the Sketch Map Tool and handle the results.

If you are interested in learning more about the concept and development of the the Sketch Map Tool, consider watching the video of the lightning talk “OpenStreetMap Sketch Map Tool - The Future of OpenStreetMap Field Papers” at GeOnG 2020.

Video preview image for Lightning Talk about Sketch Maps at GeOnG 2020

Additionally, Episode 7 "Mapping in der Humanitären Hilfe” of the Podcast CHAtroom (in German) offers further insights. In this episode from the Center for Humanitarian Action (CHA), Dr. Natascha Bing (GRC) and Dr. Carolin Klonner (GIScience Heidelberg) discuss the importance of maps in disaster management and explore how the Sketch Map Tool can be utilized by humanitarian organizations.

Related Publications

The following scientific articles have been published about the Sketch Map Tool:

Article preview image Klonner, C., Hartmann, M., Dischl, R., Djami, L., Anderson, L., Raifer, M., Lima-Silva, F., Degrossi, L. C., Zipf, A., de Albuquerque, J. P. (2021): The Sketch Map Tool Facilitates the Assessment of OpenStreetMap Data for Participatory Mapping, 10(3): 130. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information. 10:130.
Article preview image Klonner, C. & Blessing, L. (2019). Gathering Local Knowledge for Disaster Risk Reduction: The Use of Sketch Maps in Group Discussions. In: Proceedings of the ISCRAM 2019 Conference. Valencia, Spain, pp. 1397–1398.
Article preview image Klonner, C., Hartmann, M., Djami, L., Zipf, A. (2019). Ohsome OpenStreetMap Data Evaluation: Fitness of Field Papers for Participatory Mapping. In: Proceedings of the Academic Track at the State of the Map 2019. Heidelberg, Germany, pp. 35-36
Article preview image Klonner, C., Usón, T. J., Aeschbach, N., Höfle, B. (2021). Participatory Mapping and Visualization of Local Knowledge: An Example from Eberbach, Germany. In: International Journal of Disaster Risk.


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