Context Map

Add more meaning to your exercises using a geographical dimension, along with some prepared annotations to focus the discussion on points of interest.

[su_lightbox type=”image” src=””]Context Map Example Template [/su_lightbox]

Creativity tool

How many people can use it?
Groups of 2-8 persons

Find an appropriate map, print, annotate and explore

Exploration, discussion, contextualisation, geographical dimension

Related tools
Entity cards, Context Map pointers

[su_tooltip style=”bootstrap” position=”south” content=”This is free to mix up and reuse!”]Creative Commons License[/su_tooltip]

What is it?

A context map is a large, typically A0 or A1 size, paper map of a city, workspace, or factory. When used with entity cards it helps people talk about situations and solutions using a geographical dimension.

Typically large-scale maps, tourism maps, floor plans of a buildings, blueprints of a warehouse or even a graphical sketch of a place relevant to a brainstorm session.

Additional changes are made to the original map to add ‘context’ making it more relevant to a session. For example a city map might have additional markers placed for WiFi hotspots, specific locations or even the place where the session is taking place.

Ensure the map is big enough for several people to work around and the scale/ratio is enough to see relevant details and that domain cards do no cover too many features.

Why use it?

n conjunction with entity cards, the map helps participants contextualise their experiences and ideas with specific locations. Considering an interest in ‘traffic’, using the context map makes it easy for city inhabitants to pinpoint the busy roads in the city where the worst traffic happens, where everyone can typically agree where a problem occurs, providing a common shared experience.

When should it be used?

The maps are best used when exploring an environment where people are quite familiar with the surroundings. For example a workspace which a team of employees work is easily relatable, just like the city surroundings for citizens taking part in an ideation workshop.

They are also particularly useful when looking at how to deploy physical resources such as sensors, or placing services in common environments.


Finding a suitable map is key and often requires inside knowledge of the environment, as well as specific identifying the types of domain entities and important technologies that might relate to the session you host.

Quite often facilitators are not experts in the domain area (be it a new company environment or new city), relying on local expertise is key to finding the right size maps which people will relate to. Whether you’re hosting a civic or commercial style session, look towards administrative, facilities and operational people who work in the domain day-to-day.

The best approach is to create a simple legend and use coloured sticker dots which indicate specific things. This might be WiFi hotspots, power sources, green spaces, parking spaces doorways, or other points of interest.

In terms of printing the map find a print service or use a website to create a raster poster that you can print large map files on an A4 office printing.

City Maps

Many communes/councils have a geo-department which can provide you with digital maps or access to online tools for creating your own maps. These will often be in some sort of PDF or scalable file format.

For example Aarhus Kommune in Denmark providers an online geo-mapping tool where you can specify map type, ratio, quality and download them to a suitable file format for printing.


The City of Ghent, Belgium also provide many types of tourism maps which are great for highlighting specific city areas.


Factory & commercial spaces

In commercial spaces, architect design, blueprints and floor plans are often available, but will likely contain too much or too little detail.


A typical fire escape plan map normally contains the right amount of detail. IF these can be scaled up to a large size, and some suitable annotations added by a domain expert they work well

There is also a challenge when there are multiple floors when each floor could potentially have it’s own map. In these case it’s good to have various floors at your disposal but only use a number of popular places that most people can relate to.