Qualitative GIS in a Pandemic: Challenges and Opportunities of Story Mapping with Youth Virtually During COVID-19 Stay-At-Home Orders

Authors: Corey Martz*, University of Denver
Topics: Qualitative Methods, Geographic Information Science and Systems, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic, nature, qualitative GIS, virtual story mapping, youth
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 19
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Stay-at-home orders commenced, social distancing established, and qualitative research pivoted. Suddenly, the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person interactions between researchers and participants unsafe. Hopes to continue ongoing fieldwork hinged on finding virtual alternatives for collecting qualitative data suitable for analysis, while grappling with (re)positioning as a researcher in the (virtual) field. Until the pandemic reached Colorado, I had engaged youth in qualitative GIS research. My goal was to work with youth in sharing their experiences of nature through story mapping – integrating rich contextual details of qualitative data with spatial data structures of GIS. During workshops I conducted in school and community settings, youth learned to use online tools and authored story maps, combining narratives, images, and interactive maps. They expanded their stories during interviews with story maps as a focal point. When the pandemic ended in-person workshops and interviews, the already-online tools of story mapping made pivoting to an exclusively virtual realm possible, albeit with new challenges (e.g., adapting in-person workshops into asynchronous virtual modules, adjusting to working with youth participants virtually, and resolving how a virtual format affects creating and analyzing story maps). Virtual story mapping demonstrates the changing researcher-participant dynamics in a virtual field – the researcher (re)positioning in a more passive (asynchronous) role working with participants, while engaging participants in more self-guided roles in sharing their experiences, and accounting for how changing dynamics affect interpretations of participant experiences. Nonetheless, story mapping reveals opportunities of a qualitative approach with built-in virtual alternatives for continuing fieldwork when circumstances change.

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