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Personalizing Science

Personal Science

We have been using the idea of “Personal Science” to talk about the method we’re using to help people to see the care they give and receive in and across their lives. The Atlas CareMap as well as the additional Mapping Ourselves tools are all examples of tools that help us to observe a collection of data about our lives.

So what is “Personal Science”?

We use the scientific method to learn about our earth and space. We use it to build technology or engineer jet propulsion engines. We collect data in labs or out in the world and use models to help us understand that data. We draw on this insight and feed it back into additional observations, into how we see, collect, and organize new data. And then we modify our models to help us understand in new, deeper ways. It is fundamentally iterative.

Informed and continually inspired by the Quantified Self community, Atlas believes we can use the scientific method to understand anything in our lives. 

The methods of data collection and the models or tools we’re using to observe the data about how care giving and receiving in our lives and relationships show up are intentionally simple, meant to be accessible by anyone with a paper and pencil. The CareMap is one such tool.

Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, authors of Dear Data, used data visualization techniques to tell stories about their lives on post cards. We’ve worked closely with Giorgia and her team at Pentagram to design the additional Mapping Ourselves tools we’re now teaching in workshops across Michigan.


Teaching Personal Science in Michigan

Along with the CareMap, the other data visualization tool that we spend a lot of in-class time in our Mapping Ourselves workshops is the Social Network tool.  This tool is meant to visualize relationships within groups of people you interact with, be it a sports team, a faith-based group, or an office. Reflecting on these sort of relationships and our roles within can give people a better understanding of the nature of our social connections, illustrating who is most impactful and why.

People have engaged with the tool in a mixed sort of way.  Many have commented about the visualization model: “My brain just doesn’t think this way.” Especially, when we begin workshops with the CareMap, where the drawing is more organic (stick figures, houses, and soft circles) and less graph-oriented, people find the Social Network tool difficult to access.

Atlas has continued to consider how to best teach the tool, breaking it down in a similar way that we have done for teaching the CareMap. With each teaching iteration, it gets easier. In the Mapping Ourselves workshop in Fremont with the Youth Advisory Council, the facilitator described her Social Network visualization.

She showed her theater group and talked about each of the people on the graph, the nature of the relationship she perceives to have with them, and the things she respected about each person. She also talked about how there were two individuals with whom her relationship was not too deep, but that she hoped through their work on the upcoming performance, they would have a better sense of each other.


We then had the students try to draw their school, or in some cases their home schooling social network. The students took to this new way of illustrating their relationships relatively well. Though difficult, they accepted the challenge.

One student recognized that this was, as is all data visualization, merely a model to represent a collection of his own data points and that he could modify it at his own will.



In another instance after we conducted a Mapping Ourselves workshop for a varied audience of civic leaders in Ann Arbor, we were excited to receive messages from a few of the attendees telling us about how they also modified their tools to best meet the needs of their organization or work teams and staff.

One small business CEO created a version of the tool Daily Activities for one of his employees to do. He added more sections and used fewer symbols. The modified tool ended up making a huge difference for this employee, and has changed the way he spends his time, making everyone much happier and more productive.
A K-12 consultant modified the Atlas CareMap to focus on relationships between school staff and students. He used different symbols and different lines to highlight various characteristics of the relationships he illustrated.  Now, he is helping those K-12 staff see how they interact differently with different types of students, how they (the staff) have very different interactions with the same student. His version of the CareMap has been a huge success with K-12 staff.

Our intention has always been to introduce the Social Network, CareMap and all of our Mapping Ourselves tools as a starter tool kit for people to better understand their lives. Each tool asks for specific information (data) and guides you to visualize the data in a certain way with certain colors so that you can observe how you live and who you care for. And by design, these tools are meant to be adjusted so that they provide the most value to those using them.




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