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Atlas embraces human-centered curiosity to explore the everyday practice of care in our lives. Our research has included developing new methods for collecting, analyzing, and presenting detailed contextual data about the lived experience of providing care. In our in-community explorations, we have collaborated with community-based organizations to assess the impact of teaching people methods for self-investigation, an approach we call “personal science.”


Our origins are rooted in a 2014 expert roundtable discussion on family caregiving. The roundtable’s report Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving highlighted key opportunities and challenges. A major outcome of the roundtable was the group’s acknowledgement of the relative dearth of data about family caregiving. It seemed unlikely that major innovations could occur without a better understanding of families’ situations and challenges. But, how could richer data be gathered?

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we embarked on a year-long Pilot Study meant to explore how a new approach to research could enable a truly comprehensive look at family caregivers’ lives. Completed in late 2015, the study received a positive cross-sector response, presenting valuable new data and insights while offering actionable information to caregivers and their communities.

A major finding of the Pilot Study was that the participating families found great value in the visualizations we had created from the data we collected about them. The visualizations allowed them to better understand their own lives, and sparked ideas about changes they might make. This finding led us to focus our efforts on developing and teaching tools and methods that anyone could use to study their own lives and families.


The first tool we developed was the Atlas CareMap, and the first community-based exploration was Mapping Santa Barbara. Over 100 people participated in 12 Atlas-led CareMap Workshops. People found the CareMap very powerful, and were inspired to teach it to family, friends, and community members.

A portion of the Mapping Santa Barbara project, called Mapping Yourself, explored additional, experimental methods for self-tracking. The learnings from this influenced the later development of the Mapping Ourselves tools and program.

The We All Care Initiative, in collaboration with a diverse group of 11 organizations across Michigan, was the next major community-based exploration. Over 200 people participated in Mapping Ourselves workshops, and universally found the workshop powerful. They found value in both the specific Mapping Ourselves tools they were exposed to, and the more fundamental idea of personal science. The experience of collective self-reflection deepened individual learning and increased social capital.

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