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Cognitive mapping is a participatory research methodology that documents, in visual form, a construct of the local environment in which people live and work. We adapted this method to provide detailed data about study locales to inform recruitment and retention strategies for HIV prevention community based clinical trials.

Several years before the publication of the paper, Charles Dugmore and Jonathan Stadler were discussing a similar interest in methods that could be used to capture detailed, ethnographic data, in a rapid and relatively inexpensive way. Jonathan was working on clinical trials for HIV prevention and felt a need to collect qualitative data on the social context of the trials, which could be used to inform the recruitment of volunteers. Charles, at the time was working on a social history of a small town in South Africa and had stumbled upon Kevin Lynch’s book (Lynch, K. (1960). The Image of the City. Cambridge MA MIT Press).

The attraction of the cognitive mapping approach is that it involved very few research participants, but had the potential to provide in-depth and textured accounts of everyday life in urban environments. Beginning with a series of mapping exercises in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, we developed a manual and trained other researchers at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI). We conducted the mapping exercise in Orange Farm – a more rural setting – and found that it worked well there as well. Mapping exercises were repeated in Hillbrow, focussing on youth and men, combining the method with participatory photography. The Wits RHI has incorporated the cognitive mapping methodology into its community engagement activities, and refers to the findings in making strategic decisions about how to increase local awareness of HIV prevention trials and medical research. 

You can link to the full open-access article here on the BMJ Website here: 


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