GIS mapping


GIS mapping will typically display one data variable or indicator, often using colour coding to indicate the density, frequency, or percentage in a given region, allowing quick comparison between regions.

Colour coding can also be used to show changes over time (e.g. red for regions where an indicator got worse between two specific years, blue for areas where an improvement was seen and so on). Other information can be overlaid on the map, for example, specific sites (e.g. hospitals or distribution centers) and text.

Maps can be static or interactive. Technical skills and software programs like Bespoke, Weave, and StatPlanet may be necessary to build interactive maps. However, simpler technology is available such as Microsoft's MapPoint, which uses wizards to guide you through the customization stages. There are other cheaper low-tech options for static maps, including overlaying information on maps in PowerPoint or customizing Google Maps.

GIS mapping is most useful when the data you wish to display has a strong regional or geographic dimension, or when regional patterns have changed over time. It can be a visually compelling way to explain decisions regarding the design and targeting of the program or project, for example, in an inception or analytical report or to display evaluation results. A lot of data can be displayed via a map, be sure that geographic context is meaningful to the use of the map; otherwise, you may lead the viewer to unintended conclusions.


EPA Tracked Sites with Non-Grid Connected Wind Energy Generation Potential

Map of USA using shades of blue to identify areas with differing potential for wind energy production

Source: EPA

This map shows sites with potential for wind energy production mapped atop average wind speed for the country. This map works well because it provides evidence for the potential development of wind-energy around the country.

GIS for evaluating potential environmental impacts

The Mid-Term Review of Uganda’s Private Sector Development Strategy included an assessment of environmental issues. GIS mapping was particularly useful for illustrating the potential downstream impacts of pollution from tanneries and industrial parks on Lake Victoria and Lake Kwania.

Downstream rivers connected to watersheds intersecting with Ugandan Tanneries and Industrial Parks. The map displays the river networks within the boundaries of the watersheds that intersect the tannery and industrial park coordinates. River networks are shown in dark blue. Using a digital elevation model, downstream flow paths from the coordinates (light blue) illustrate the most likely paths of how pollutants or other hazardous waste will travel to surrounding rivers, lakes, and other waterways.

Credit: Laura Mills, author. Created February 18, 2021. Updated March 2021.

A GIS expert constructed the map providing valuable advice on the most appropriate data sources to draw on and expertise in choosing and using mapping software. Data sources included: geoBoundaries, Earth Resources Observation and Science Centre, HydroSHEDS, HydroBASINS and HydroRIVERS. Tools used to construct the map included ArcGIS Pro, a “Clip (Analysis)” tool in ArcGIS Pro and a “Trace Downstream” tool.

Source: Footprint evaluation case study: Evaluation of environmental sustainability aspects of a national strategy 

GIS for disaster recovery

Map of Calang, Aceh Jaya identifying schools that were damaged or destroyed by the 2004 tsunami

Source: ESRI (2007)

50 percent of the schools in Aceh were damaged or destroyed after the 2004 tsunami. GIS was used to discover where best to build, or not build, new schools based on population analysis and proximity to health facilities. An assessment of damaged facilities was also taken to identify which could be restored more quickly.

Advice for choosing this method

The following text is drawn from Guijt and Woodhill (2002), 295 (archived link)

“A GIS can help you collate, analyse and present information. Using GIS technology can generate maps representing a diversity of themes, able to combine quantitative and qualitative information. It can be a powerful communication mechanism for advocacy. It can also be useful for making simulations of possible designs.

However, GIS technology has been criticised for its quantitative, systematic, expert-centred and hi-tech approach, which distances stakeholders from the whole research and decision-making process. Nevertheless, if it is well organised, GIS use can be made more participatory by including stakeholders in the process of obtaining data, by presenting the images for their feedback and discussion, and to help stakeholders make their own management decisions. Various participatory methods (e.g., discussion or mapping methods) can be used to obtain these data.

Even if a GIS is used in a participatory process, there can be a loss of detail when attempting to enter descriptive information into a GIS programme. A GIS cannot always adequately represent qualitative information such as social, economic and environmental explanations of a problem obtained at the village level.” Guijt and Woodhill (2002) 295

Advice for using this method

Ensure you have the training and expertise to implement this method.

Be clear that the evaluation has the need and the budget for this method. GIS is particularly useful and important in particular contexts: for example, evaluating environmental impacts, rebuilding post-emergency, and planning for land use. Consider how important it is to involve the community in the use of the tool and, if so, that the evaluation team factor this into their design.






ESRI, (2007). GIS for disaster recovery. Retrieved from website:

Footprint Evaluation Initiative (2022) Footprint Evaluation Case
study: Evaluation of Environmental Sustainability Aspects of a National Strategy. Available at 

Guijt, I. and J. Woodhill (2002). Managing for Impact in Rural Development : A guide for project M & E. Rome, Italy: International Fund for Agricultural Development (archived link)

Bedi, T., Coudouel, A., & Simler, K., (Eds). The World Bank, (2007). More than a pretty picture : using poverty maps to design better policies and interventions. Retrieved from website:

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