On technique…

Walking the transect

techniquesTHE TRANSECT is a participatory technique used to gather information about an area of land for use in the design phase of projects.

It is a technique useful in site analysis, the phase of design that documents the characteristics of a site and the influence of external forces such as sun/shade patterns, winds and rainwater runoff.

Making transects involves participants in gathering the information themselves. As part of a design process, transects provide baseline information about the existing conditions on-site. Once gathered it is compiled on a base map and used to inform the design.

Transects are also used in monitoring and evaluation of projects. The technique is used to assess changes to a site when compared to information collected at the start of the project as baseline data.

Baseline information transect > follow-up transect to assess changes following project implementation

We borrow transects from the international development assistance tool kit. Field workers in developing countries make use of transects as part of the participatory mapping of village infrastructure and landuse.


  • are a means of sampling a site to identify what conditions, structures and previous works exist there
  • are made in a straight line across a site.

The need for detail determines the number of people involved. For example, where there is a variety of soils and terrain or a diversity of vegetation on a site, a larger number of people can be involved in making the transect. It also determines the spacing between teams making the transect.

A simple tool of many uses

The transect is used to gather information about an area of land such as:

  • soil conditions and how they vary across a site
  • existing vegetation — species, distribution, abundance
  • the presence of human artefacts
  • the type and distribution of buildings or other structures
  • the presence of soil degradation
  • terrain — slope, aspect
  • drainage — location of areas of moist or dry soil, runoff channels and direction, pooling.

Making transects


A transect requires an activity organiser and a group of participants.

Materials include:

  • clipboard and pad, notebook or some other means of recording information
  • string or rope if the transect course is to be marked out
  • a sketch map or field sketch of the area to be transected for each team, with an estimate or an accurate measurement of its size.

The process

Transects are made by teams or individuals following parallel routes across a site and recording information as they go. The product will be a matrix of characteristics distributed over the site compiled on a map.

The terrain and need for detail determines the proximity of transect teams.

Identify your objective in making a transect — what types of information do you want to document? Species of plants growing in the area? Variation of soil type and characteristic? Types of crops in production? Topographic change through an area to explore drainage, places where runoff will pool and so on?

Agree on the boundaries of the area you want to survey by transect.

Make, copy and distribute a plan drawing, a map of the area on which the transect will be made. Each team will have a map on which to record their findings. Where great accuracy is required and a scale drawing of the site is available, this should be copied and distributed. A more ad-hoc arrangement is workable for small sites.

Explain the process to the group, the types of information needed, the intervals at which you want them to stop to record information and whether you want them to stop to record opportunistic finds.

Divide the group into teams of a minimum of two. Provide each group with a map of the site.

Appoint a scribe for each group, who’s job is to record findings.

Identify a transect direction for each group and ensure they know their start and end points. Usually, teams move across a site in a parallel direction.

Walk the transects, recording the information.

After walking the transects, compile the information on a master map of the area, or document it in some other permanent way.

From here, the collected information is fed into the site design or other process.

A few points

It is useful for the oganisers to mark out a transect route with string for the transect teams to follow. This can yield more-accurate information. It is useful where people could be put off course because of an irregular surface, vegetation or rough terrain.

Marking out the transect with string may also be useful when working with children who are making the transects to keep them on course. With children’s teams it may be useful to appoint an older child or adult to accompany the teams to assist with the process.

Do it safely

Organisers should make a preliminary walk-through of the survey area to check for hazards.

Transect routes can be planned to avoid hazards, however the location and characteristics of the hazards should be documented on any plan.

Hazards include standing water, slippery and rough surfaces, thick scrub, cliffs and steep slopes.


Coordinators should make a count to confirm that all members of the transect teams have returned.

This is especially important where the teams are out of sight of each other and of the coordinators. Doing this is important on larger sites.

The transect is participatory

The transect:

  • used the team approach
  • is an inclusive technique; it involves people participating in a project rather than a designer doing the work for them
  • is useful for community projects such as during the site analysis stage of, for example, a community garden
  • encourages ongoing involvement in a project because it includes people at an initial stage.



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