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Ann Arbor Civic Leaders Explore Mapping Ourselves

What compelled super-busy civic leaders in Ann Arbor to clear their calendars, on short notice, to attend an all-day workshop they’d never heard of? 

Curiosity, trust, and a motivation to try new things that might benefit their community. 

Likewise, what compelled us (Atlas) to do a pro-bono workshop across the country for people we barely knew? 

Curiosity, trust, and a motivation to be able to expand our work with more communities across Michigan.

We held a “beta” Mapping Ourselves workshop in Ann Arbor on an icy day in early December.  Seventeen people showed up, including the leaders of the local Chamber of Commerce and United Way, as well as several other community-focused nonprofits,and CEOs and senior executives from both local companies and global corporations. Almost everyone was on one or more nonprofit or civic boards.

A little over a month earlier, I had first met Rich Chang, CEO of New Foundry, Alina Verdiyan, a Vice President with Key Bank, Pete Tchoryk, CEO of Michigan Aerospace, and Kevin Gilleo, an executive with Toyota. I learned that all of them were deeply engaged in the local community, serving on a wide range of boards and committees. I told them about Mapping Ourselves and the We All Care Initiative (WACI). We all got excited about the potential impact for their beloved Ann Arbor community, and decided to very quickly organize a Mapping Ourselves workshop.

For Atlas the workshop would be a great opportunity. Though we trust our initial iterations of the Mapping Ourselves tools and workshop, we recognize these visualization tools are new and the educational experience is still being refined. 

So this was an opportunity to collaborate with the people for whom we designed the Mapping Ourselves program so that we could improve upon it. 

Equally important, a key goal of the We All Care Initiative is to catalyze significant expansion of the Mapping Ourselves program across Michigan. Our aim is to engage different communities, organizations, and businesses to inspire broader conversations about how we care for ourselves and each other, leading to locally-inspired and led actions.

What Did We Do In the Workshop?

A key challenge of designing the Mapping Ourselves workshop has been balancing time devoted to teaching the tools and time devoted to conversations. Another challenge is that several of the tools require information to be tracked over time. 

To make sure we had enough time for ample discussion, we mainly worked with the Atlas CareMap and Social Network tools. We also spent some time on the Body Connection tool, tracking how our bodies felt for half the day. At the end of the day we discussed how Mapping Ourselves workshops could be useful for the Ann Arbor community, at large. 


Some observations from the day:

  • To start the day, we asked people to make a data entry for the Body Connection tool, recording their mood, hunger, energy, etc. Afterwards, every hour or so, we asked them to make another entry.
  • After our first Body Connection data collection where we checked in on her mood, hunger, energy, etc. level, we asked the group to reflect on the question “What do I appreciate about my [Ann Arbor] community?”. Then as the people introduced themselves, we asked them to tell us their answer.
  • We challenged the ideas of “care” by discussing Atlas’ evolution and by engaging the group in an activity that explored the questions, “What does ‘care’ involve?” What do you actually do when you care for yourself and others, and when others care for you?
  • For both the Social Network and CareMap people were interested in how to define frequency or intensity of support. 
  • Some groups became very interested in a reflection question about the “strength of weak ties.”
  • People also noted here how the Social Networks tool visualize trust.
  • For the remaining three Mapping Ourselves tools (Conversations, Daily Activities, and Environment), we presented an overview and gave them an exercise to examine an example diagram, and explore what they could learn..


What Did We Learn?

Rich told me later that he had invited a couple of people knowing that they would be very frank in their feedback, and would have left the moment they decided they had better things to do — fortunately they didn’t, and in fact were very positive.

Many talked about their community, Ann Arbor, as being a special place. They spoke of their unique richness of resources and being relatively well connected to the rest of the country and the world, benefiting from the presence of the University of Michigan.  They spoke of a spirit of coming together to tackle local issues and support each other, while acknowledging that there is much more that could be done. They spoke of Ann Arbor’s diversity and a spirit of openness and inclusiveness, while acknowledging that there are areas that are in fact far from diverse.


What does ‘Care’ involve:

The discussion and the CareMap helped people to see their situations in a different light. People saw how they received care from their community, and that awareness, drew out emotion and appreciation for the web of care they lived within. One participant was struck by the care he had received after open-heart surgery. Another worried about how to properly care for all those she was responsible for. 


Social Network:

One participant spoke about the dramatic change that occurred at his table over the day. They had started the day behind normal business facades: confident, capable, friendly, but distant. By the end they had stepped out and were more open and honest with each other and themselves. People noted that it was deeply satisfying to be comfortable and just human with each other. 


Other Mapping Ourselves tools:

Reactions to the other four tools (Body Connection, Conversations, Daily Activities, and Environment) were not as dramatic. It was clear that we spent both too little and too much time on these tools. Our preparation for introducing the tools could have been better. Because of the lack of time spent there, participants didn’t have the emotional energy or mental motivation to dive in and explore those tools.  

People were overwhelmed at times from trying to learn too much too quickly.  New ways of collecting data, visualizing that data, talking about the stories at the heart of those visualizations, and then tying it all to family, community, work, and wellbeing. 

Overall the reaction to the Mapping Ourselves tools, and the larger concept of personal science, was very positive. People spoke of the value of self-discovery and that Mapping Ourselves was a significant addition to related practices (meditation, therapy, etc.) 

Another participant questioned the value of such self-reflection; they felt that such tools should only be used when there was some specific, clear problem to be solved, and then only with the assistance of a trained expert. While there is certainly merit to this perspective, we advocate for self-reflection as a practice that allows for gradual and sustained improvements on one’s sense of health and wellness. 



We have taught Atlas CareMap Workshops in various environments, from sterile corporate conference rooms to charming-but-loud warehouse spaces. Where we teach is critical to how people experience the day. The Ann Arbor library was fantastic. Spacious, airy, with lots of natural light, conducive to focusing on the material and people. The space also allowed us to seat everyone in a circle, so that everyone could see and hear everyone else when we were having a full-group conversation, while also allowing small-group conversations (around the small tables).


What’s Next?

Many participants are keen to explore how to bring this into their community and organizations. Two participants believe Mapping Ourselves could be valuable for the police/fire/EMT forces, and separately for schools. Another believes that the Atlas CareMap, in particular, could help newcomers settle into the community. One person feels that their employer, a multinational corporation, would find Mapping Ourselves visual approach valuable, especially in helping employees see how supporting others can be beneficial to everyone. Several are interested in seeing how small businesses could collaborate to benefit from Mapping Ourselves workshops.

Given that sparking such conversations, which will eventually lead to deeper engagement, was one of the main reasons for holding this workshop, it was a great success.

Except where noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.