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Introducing Mapping Ourselves

We introduced the Atlas CareMap in late 2015. Because family caregivers found the tool so useful, we began leading workshops to teach more people how to draw their own. The CareMap and the workshops were intentionally designed for empathetic listening and engagement amongst participants. Atlas CareMaps guide participants as they tell their story, and the picture helps listeners to better understand others’ stories. The visualization became a platform for peer to peer learning.

“The map makes you feel. You bring it into your body in a way that’s different than just talking about it.”
– CareMap Workshop participant, Santa Barbara

Being able to visualize how we receive and give care helps us to consider our relational health — a concept that has just as strong an influence on our health and wellness as does the amount of sugar we eat or exercise we do. Everything from our sex lives, marriages, friendships, coworking relationships — or as Lori Melichar points out, all those people with whom you live, learn, work, play, pray — can be thought about in terms of directly influencing our health.

In workshops across the country, people’s CareMaps often included colleagues, favorite hiking trails, spa treatments, and other activities or things involved in the health and wellness of that individual. As people talked about who they cared for and who they received care from, we started to notice how conversations seamlessly moved from care for oneself and family to care for one’s community.

Mapping Ourselves: Personal Science to Strengthen Communities

This year Atlas developed additional low-tech tools to help us visualize other aspects of our lives that might impact our sense of health and wellness. These tools and the workshops are all part of a new program called Mapping Ourselves: Personal Science to Strengthen Communities. Mapping Ourselves includes six tools for observing, visualizing and analyzing different aspects of life — the Atlas CareMap plus five new tools.

Atlas CareMap to observe the caring relationships around you.

Social Network to see the communities you live within.

Conversations to see the impact live conversations have on your life.

Daily Activities to understand how you spend your time.

Environment to see the impact of the spaces you inhabit.

Body Connection to become aware of how your body feels.

Quantified Self & Personal Science

The Mapping Ourselves program emerged out of extensive research in multiple areas. Atlas is deeply involved in Quantified Self (QS), a community of people around the world who develop and use tools and methods to examine our personal lives, often with the intent of trying to improve something in their lives.

The QS community applies rigorous scientific inquiry into better understanding how we experience and live life. From the thousands of QS members, and their thousands of self-experiments and innovations, we have learned many things about what to track in our lives, how to track those things, and what can be gained from such tracking. This QS experience fundamentally influenced the development of the Mapping Ourselves tools.

Mapping Ourselves workshops help people discover that they can apply the observational and analytical skills they already have to understand and improve their personal lives. We call this “personal science.” They learn to use the Mapping Ourselves tools for this, and also learn that they can extend the tools to suit their personal needs.

Giorgia Lupi & Pentagram Design

To develop the Mapping Ourselves tools, we turned to Giorgia Lupi and her team at Pentagram Design. Giorgia has extensive personal experience in observing, visualizing and analyzing her personal life, most notably documented in her book, with collaborator Stefanie Posavec, Dear Data. Their second book Observe, Collect, Draw! teaches others how to do such things themselves.

Giorgia’s interest in Atlas comes from how we both are embedding humanness at the heart of data visualization. In a previous interview with Giorgia, she points out how the Atlas CareMap is unique in its ability to represent relationships in a way that is much more than merely lines. Mapping relationships captures emotional value, behaviors, feelings: it captures humanity.

Strengthening Communities by Becoming Aware

More and more there is a sense that our communities (at all levels from the neighborhood to the nation to the world) are becoming increasingly fragmented. That individuals feel less of a sense of connection, a sense of belonging. Though these trends are not new, the negative implications seem more serious.

Fortunately there is growing appreciation of the power of community in terms of the impact it has on our individual health and the health of our collective world. Luz Vega-Marquis, CEO of Marguerite Casey Foundation, writes “Today I don’t get as many stares as I once did when I talk about how families are the unit of change and the source of leadership our country needs.” New York Times columnist David Brooks writes, “It could be that the neighborhood, not the individual, is the essential unit of social change.” In Community: The Structure of Belonging, author Peter Block explains that a sense of belonging is fundamental to community.

Mapping Ourselves, especially the Atlas CareMap, Social Network, and Conversations tools, helps people see their community and appreciate and value what they contribute to and receive from the people in their worlds—and importantly, how activities, environments, conversations, and networks are interconnected. The Daily Activities tool helps people see how they spend time and how that maps to priorities and values. The Environment tools helps people see how the spaces they inhabit impact wellbeing.

We All Care Initiative: Where We Are Today

In January 2020, a first-of-its-kind initiative to support caregiving in Michigan will launch. The initiative, “We All Care,” is supported by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund (Health Fund) and the Elderly Needs Fund, a supporting organization of Fremont Area Community Foundation (FACF).

Atlas will be conducting Mapping Ourselves workshops with a cohort of six Michigan organizations participating in this Initiative: the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Southeastern Michigan Senior Regional Collaborative, Temple Beth Emeth, Zingerman’s, Newyago County, and Hospice of Michigan.

The enthusiasm about the upcoming Mapping Ourselves program is captured in the statements below:

Health Fund Program Officer Tim Nyonsenga said, “the real power of this project comes in its potential to reframe the conversation around caregiving, statewide. Bringing together such a diverse group of organizations to demonstrate how many of us are caregivers and how we are all connected—that can be our first step on the path toward systemwide change in Michigan.”

Zingerman’s has long been a leader on workforce-related issues. As cofounder Ari Weinzweig said, “The work of Atlas is very well aligned with what we do here at Zingerman’s to help create a positive, highly interconnected, and supportive organizational community that helps everyone here to do better. The tools give everyone who learns it ways to test, track, and measure how well they’re doing in creating those positive communities.”

Fremont Mayor Jim Rynberg underscored the need for culture change in communities: “In my representation of both the City of Fremont and United Way in Newaygo County, I have found that our society needs to redevelop a true culture of caring for each other,” said Mayor Rynberg. “Our current system offers a variety of ‘caregiving’ services without taking into account the critical person-to-person interactions that give life meaning, particularly as we age. Responsibility, lifelong nurturing, maturity, and empathy are the cornerstones of family. If we forget how we care, we forget how to live a full life.”

Rabbi Josh Whinston, of Ann Arbor’s Temple Beth Emeth, expressed the project’s spirit of exploration: “I think we have a myopic understanding of care. Once we begin to see our web of care, I think it could change the way we function as a community. Maybe it can lead to greater happiness? Greater satisfaction? I am just fascinated by the idea.”

For the next few months, Atlas and the participating organizations will be deeply collaborating towards a common goal of better understanding how care giving and care receiving connects us. Using scientific inquiry and visualization techniques to better understand ourselves, we desire to shift hearts and minds towards an appreciation of community and a sense of belonging so that, collectively, we can build better futures.

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