Youth mapping is a process in which youth and/or adults collect data in a defined geographic area—a neighborhood, a community, a county, or even an entire state. These data typically can include a description of the resource, address, hours of operation, if applicable, and other pertinent information, such as a description of the problem or risk. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are used as tools to represent the data in a geographical context and enable the user to analyze data by a number of different variables. Digital cameras are often used in the mapping process.
Mapping can have many different purposes, such as identifying resources and assets as well as risks or deficits in a community. For example, the national 4-H Youth Favorite Places program teaches young people how to use GIS/GPS. Youth map natural resources and cultural and recreational resources in their communities. These resources are entered into a national "Youth Favorite Places" database. A Maryland 4-H Youth Technology Team wanted to know in what areas of their community bicycle accidents were occurring most frequently. Mapping allowed these youth to examine where accidents were occurring and the ages of the accident victims and to compare the number of accidents to the previous year. Another 4-H Club on an army installation is conducting a sidewalk safety assessment. These young people are using GIS/GPS to map broken or cracked sidewalks in their community.
Youth mapping projects can be youth-led or can be conducted through partnerships between youth and adults. Training in the use of GIS and GPS is involved in most established processes. In addition, many youth mapping processes incorporate workforce development, service learning, or community service approaches. Youth gain valuable skills, such as interacting with community members, team work, research and technical writing skills, computer skills, map reading, and presentation skills. Many youth are paid to map by communities as part of a summer job program. At the same time, adults have the opportunity to interact with young people in a positive way and view them as contributing members of their community.
Other well-established mapping processes include Community YouthMapping, developed by The Academy For Educational Development, and AuThenTiCITY, developed by The City of Phoenix, Arizona, Youth and Education Office.