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Walking the transect

THE TRANSECT is a activity used to gather information about an area of land for use in the design phase of projects. It can be used as part of 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 runoff.

Making transects is a participatory practice involving participants in gathering the information themselves.


  • are a means of sampling a site and what is found there
  • are usually made in a straight line across a site
  • the number of transects made is determined by the need for detail about the site; for example, if a small, rare plant might be found on the site and preserving it is important, a more detailed survey with a greater number of transects might be made.

As making transects is a sampling process, the assumption is made that the information identified is typical of the entire site.


The transect is used to gather a range of information about an area of land:

  • soil conditions and existing vegetation and how it varies across land to be used for a community garden or some other use
  • landuse in and around a village, school or other area.

Field workers in developing countries make use of transects as part of the participatory mapping of village infrastructure and landuse.

As part of a design process for a project, such as the participatory design of a community garden, transects can be used in the:

  • site analysis phase — to identify information of use in planning and design; the results may form part of what is known as ‘baseline information’, which is information about the initial conditions on a site and that is used in the design process
  • monitoring and evaluation phase of a project — to assess the impacts and outcomes of a project, information collected at this stage is compared to that collected at the start of the project as baseline information to identify changes.

Making transects


A transect requires a facilitator or activity leader and a group of participants.

Materials include:

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

The process

  1. Identify your objective in making a transect — what types of information do you want to document? Species of plant 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?
  2. Agree on the boundaries of the area you want to survey by transect.
  3. Make, copy and distribute a plan drawing of the area on which the transect will be made. Each team will have a drawing 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.
  4. 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 supplementary, opportunistic finds.
  5. Divide the group into teams of a minimum of two, preferably more.  Provide each group with a map of the site.
  6. Appoint a scribe for each group who’s job it will be to record findings.
  7. Identify a transect direction for each group and ensure they know their start and end points.
  8. Walk the transects, recording the information.
  9. After walking the transects, compile the information in one place, such as 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 to consider

Working with children and on tricky sites

Sometimes, it is useful for the oganisers to mark out a transect route with string for the transect teams to follow.

This may be useful where people could be put off course because of an irregular surface or rough terrain and where larger vegetation occurs on site.

It may also be useful when working with children who are making the transects, to keep them on course, such as when designing a school playground. With children’s teams, it may be useful to appoint an older child or adult to accompany the teams and to assist with the process.

Hazards and safety

Organisers should make a preliminary walk-thrugh 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.


Coordinators should make a count to confrm 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. While this is unlikely in surveying a site for a community garden or similar design objective, it is important on more complex sites such as surveys of wider areas.

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