A few weeks ago, I met with Chantal. She works for a youth forum in Palestine. I met her through our tailored capacity building programme for community-based organisations.  She leads an international team promoting environmentally friendly behaviour in the West Bank of Palestine. During the training, Chantal shared with me some issues she has been struggling with overhauling her working style from face-to-face to online.   

Her main question was how to get the best out of the team when we hardly meet each other?   

This is a common issue facing many organisations, especially when the transition from face-to-face to online was made so abruptly due to the pandemic. The home office became mainstream during the pandemic and promises to stay in place long after restrictions are lifted for many organisations. With it, solutions must be found to keep the syntony with colleagues and teams. One of these solutions is the Transect Walk methodology that I shared with her. 

What is the Transect Walk methodology?  

Robert Chambers first described Transect Walk’s role as supporting participatory development. It consists basically of a participatory exercise, where community members, planners and other municipality representatives walk through different neighbourhood areas, interviewing passers-by and drawing a map with observations of characteristics, risks, and existing solutions after the walk.   

Early on, this methodology was typically applied in villages for agriculture planning but more recently has been used in organisational management and leadership settings. The participatory techniques used in this methodology serve to identify problems, opportunities and existing solutions in close cooperation with a community.  

How to use Transect Walk in urban spaces  

Transect literally means a cross-section of the soil. When you collect data from a transect of soil, you see different layers, each representing various fertility conditions. Using this metaphor, we can walk in small groups across sections of specific areas— a building, a natural environment, a community. The group records, either literally or by associative thinking, the critical observations around an issue. Each group takes a unique approach to transecting the region. For example, one group may begin North to South, while another moves from West to East. This system creates different cross-sections of a space. Each group records data through photos or other visual material observations connected to the issue.   

After the walks have concluded, each participant presents their pictures and considerations to the full group. Then, decisions can be made, valuing the different perceptions and evidence shared during the walks.  

The method uses everything the environment has to offer, but moreover, it appeals to professionals originating from different sectors because of how natural the experience feels. They can easily understand the method and frequently harvest valuable conversations from the walks. Operating in the same environment as the subjects and capturing these observations in photographs while associating these with community feedback builds a more complete picture of that community’s reality.  

Steps to proceed with Transect Walk methodology 

1) Create the groups, max 4–6 people per group  

2) Define the issue. Present to the groups the key questions to be answered in this activity. Make sure they have objective observations in mind and all group members are aware of important questions before they begin their walks. For example:   

  •  What does strong teamwork look like?  
  •  What is the opposite?  

With these topics in mind, team members will photograph three images representing the answers to each question asked. 

3) Give clear geographic directions to each group to ensure different cross-sections are made, creating a complete picture.  

4) Allow 20-30 minutes to gather pictures.  

5) Each group shows their pictures and explains their choices to the whole team.   

6) The visualisations presented represent the facts, while the explanations of the photographs lead to decisions that can be made. In the example above, the group exchange in Step 5 helps to give an answer to the main question presented earlier— how to get the best out of a team when they hardly meet each other?   

The duration of the entire process is generally 1.5 hours for 20-25 persons.  

The results: "It can be used at any time!" 

Chantal tried the Transect Walk method with her team. She happily explained that it was straightforward to use, providing surprising insights in a short time. According to her experience, the method was also completely culture independent. It immediately sparked the groups with a call for action. Sharing what they gathered and saw helped create a significant perspective on a specific issue.  

For Chantal, "diversity of the observations is the core. It takes away the scales in front of their eyes and allows us to rediscover a known place".  

The methodology can be used anytime— from self-managing teams in The Hague to groups working in war zones in South Sudan.   

This blog was written by our senior trainer and consultant, Jolanda Buter.  

Photos by Nathan Rogers and  Ving N  on Unsplash.