The We All Care Initiative set out to test the proposition that if people learned to see care in their lives more clearly, they would be much better at caring for themselves, their families and their communities. The project discovered that the impact was strong.
It was led by Atlas of Care and a diverse group of 11 organizations across Michigan, including Michigan Health Endowment Fund, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Fremont Area Community Foundation, Hospice of Michigan, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Newyago County Community Collaborative, Southeast Michigan Senior Regional Collaborative, Temple Beth Emeth, and Zingerman’s Community of Businesses.
The heart of the project was the Mapping Ourselves workshop, conducted in-person or online. Learning a process we call “personal science,” participants used six accessible, carefully designed, pen-and-paper tools to observe, visualize, and analyze various aspects of everyday living: family and social networks, conversations, daily activities, environment, and bodily impacts.
Through the workshop, participants discovered the value of their collective knowledge, wisdom and skills. They experienced the joy of supporting each other.
Over 200 participants, ranging from high school students, restaurant workers and social activists, to health professionals, professors and business leaders, universally found the workshop powerful. The experience of collective self-reflection deepened individual learning and increased social capital.
The Mapping Ourselves approach has broad application and appeal.
- Participants identified a wide range of communities (neighborhoods, schools, businesses, healthcare, safety professionals, etc.) they believe would dramatically benefit from such learning.
- The learning spread organically. People were inspired to teach the tools and personal science methods to relatives, friends, coworkers, and clients. As one participant remarked, these were “tools for life.”
We are dealing with several major societal challenges, such as the depth of systemic racism, the decline of women in the workforce due to their disproportionate burden of care, and the long term and often debilitating impacts of even mild cases of Covid.
We see a need to reimagine community and wellbeing. To demand more recognition, celebration, and support for human-to-human, everyday care. And to move from crisis-driven actions to fundamental community building.
The success of the We All Care Initiative validates a way forward.
Download the full report here, and read the Introduction below.
In February 2020, on a snowy Thursday morning, a small group of care professionals bundled into a conference room in Fremont, Michigan, for a new kind of workshop. All were providing caring services to adults 60 and over across their mid-state rural county. As care professionals, they spent their workdays connecting elders with care they both need and deserve. But while the workshop they were about to experience was, in fact, about care and wellbeing—their field of expertise—it wasn’t focused on their clients. Rather, it was focused on them.
The workshop was called “Mapping Ourselves,” and its goal was to teach the group how to use personal science—the gathering and study of everyday data in one’s daily life—to gain new perspective on their own ecosystems of care. Who do they take care of, and who takes care of them? What does giving and receiving look like in their lives? What kinds of support do they have, and what’s missing? How does day-to-day life impact their wellbeing?
For the next several hours, the group explored a series of tools for visualizing these dynamics. They literally mapped, with pen on paper, all the ways they give or receive help, support, or advice, then talked as a group about their discoveries. They charted their social networks, contemplating the impact and influence of colleagues and peers in their lives, and scrutinized their daily activities and their physical environment, noting what drained or energized them. By the end of a very full day, each had produced a set of materials that essentially reflected their world of care back to them.
At the outset, a few participants had been skeptical of the workshop and its usefulness. Would they really gain new insight into their lives? But as they explored the tools and leaned into the rich group conversation, the more open and inspired they felt. And, across the board, what they learned about themselves surprised them. “There are areas of care that I give and receive that I didn’t realize,” one participant marveled. Reflecting on their drawings, another came to an unexpected realization: “I need to be more open to accept care, to ask for care.” One participant wanted to share the tools with their immediate work team, while another aspired to spread them even more widely, “to help others make discoveries about their lives.”
As it happens, others were making these discoveries. The February event was just one of a bevy of Mapping Ourselves workshops rolling out across the state of Michigan as part of the We All Care Initiative (WACI)—a yearlong social experiment exploring the power of personal science to help individuals and communities both better understand their ecosystems of care and feel greater agency over the flow of care in their lives.
Facilitated by Atlas of Care, the creator of the Mapping Ourselves tools, and supported by a collaborative of Michigan-based funders and partners, the workshops engaged diverse groups across the state—from employees at public health departments and small businesses, to teenagers at youth organizations, to members of faith-based communities. While participants’ experiences differed in many ways, the feeling they left their workshops with was nearly universal—namely, that they had just discovered a powerful process for better understanding themselves, their communities, and how essential care is to both.
REDEFINING THE CONCEPT OF “CARE”
Care is a fundamental aspect of living. We all give and receive care. And yet, broadly as a nation, we have come to view wellness and care as the territory of experts. Each year, US businesses spend billions of dollars on wellness programs for employees. But much of it goes to waste. In part, that’s because these programs are based on the model that care and wellness are professional services to be delivered rather than an organic ecosystem of actions, relationships, choices, supports, and connections fueling each of our lives. Group yoga class, onsite counseling, or a free pass to the local gym are all generous and valuable offerings. But viewing wellness as a series of opt-in experiences belies the fullness and complexity of our everyday landscapes of care, and how many factors are in play when it comes to our wellbeing. We focus on one part, when what we really need is to first see the whole.
The We All Care Initiative aimed to flip this model on its head. Our goal was to empower people across Michigan to see all that they do to care for themselves and others and how day-to-day life impacts their wellbeing, while also recognizing their own expertise and seeing themselves as the leaders of their own care. Moreover, we hoped that by introducing them to accessible tools for visualizing their personal care ecosystems, they would also see how deeply interconnected and dependent those ecosystems were on the people around them. They would see their friends, neighbors, coworkers, grocers, and delivery drivers as part of these systems, as enablers of their ability to feel safe, cared for, and connected.
Additionally, we believed this new perspective would offer groups across Michigan an opportunity to pause and reflect on their own participation in their communities, and perhaps view that differently as well. How do we want to show up for one another? How should we care for others? How can we deeply consider what it means to belong, to be included, and to respect one another’s unique contributions to our workplaces and communities?
A RIPE OPPORTUNITY
As a country, we are in a unique moment. The Covid-19 pandemic, the racial justice protests and rising awareness of systemic racism, and the political strain of the last several years have shaken us. We have seen all around us how our systems and institutions can become unsteady at best, and utterly collapse at worst. Meanwhile, navigating as individuals and communities through such major uncertainty continues to have consequences—from widespread anxiety and depression, to economic insecurity, to loss and heartache in so many forms.
But what we also see emerging is hope. Though exhausted by stay-at-home measures and anxious about all the unknowns, we have seen undeniable resilience and creativity rising up, and even an eagerness to explore how we might live differently than we had been before. Indeed, now more than ever, our communities and neighborhoods need to build the skills to engage in productive dialogue about what it means to care for one another, and begin the work of building stronger, more resilient communities.
The We All Care Initiative was built on the idea that the act of observing and visualizing our lives through the lens of care can create critical new perspective and improve our ability to extend care to ourselves and to others. It can also spark transformative conversations—in workshop settings, and far beyond them—about our collective capacity to change how we design communities in ways that promote physical, emotional, and social wellbeing.
As our workshops progressed, we saw this shift happening. We saw how the Mapping Ourselves tools and the vibrant group conversations were helping people to see themselves as very much situated within their communities. They were connecting the dots, seeing how their own activities and self-care impacted their capacity to engage and positively impact their surroundings. And just as importantly, what they were learning excited them.
Margaret Wheatley once said, “The real engine of change is never ‘critical mass’; dramatic and systemic change always begins with ‘critical connections.’” The Mapping Ourselves tools are a way to shine light on these connections, creating the foundation for a broader reexamining of what we mean when we say “care” and who counts as a “caretaker”—and pointing the way toward new opportunities to change our definitions and systems of care from the ground up.
ABOUT THIS REPORT
This report shares the story of the We All Care Initiative, from its early inception through its ultimate findings. It starts with a look at the initiative’s origins, and how the enthusiasm of a set of pioneering funders led to the audacious plan to conduct Mapping Ourselves workshops across Michigan. Next, it dives into the workshops themselves, explaining both the Mapping Ourselves tools at their center and the complexity of figuring out how to deliver the workshop to multiple organizations in different formats, both before and after the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the “Key Findings” section, we share important learnings that emerged from the workshops. We then offer a map for how to move this work forward, illustrating the role that various stakeholders—from funders to individual community members—can play in scaling it widely. Finally, we end with a call to action, sharing thoughts on how this work, and work like it, can pave a path toward social change.
More than anything, we hope this report and the work on which it is based inspires others to want to join in. We hope it serves as the beginning of a broader conversation about the role we all play in caring for ourselves and one another—not later but now, not once but always.