Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 999–1021 | Cite as

Self-Tracking: Reflections from the BodyTrack Project

  • Anne Wright
Original Paper


Based on the author’s experiences the practice of self-tracking can empower individuals to explore and address issues in their lives. This work is inspired by examples of people who have reclaimed their wellness through an iterative process of noticing patterns of ups and downs, trying out new ideas and strategies, and observing the results. In some cases, individuals have realized that certain foods, environmental exposures, or practices have unexpected effects for them, and that adopting custom strategies can greatly improve quality of life, overcoming chronic problems. Importantly, adopting the role of investigator of their own situation appears to be transformative: people who embarked on this path changed their relationship to their health situation even before making discoveries that helped lead to symptom improvement. The author co-founded the BodyTrack project in 2010 with the goal of empowering a broader set of people to embrace this investigator role in their own lives and better address their health and wellness concerns, particularly those with complex environmental or behavioral components. The core of the BodyTrack system is an open source web service called Fluxtream ( that allows users to aggregate, visualize, and reflect on data from myriad sources on a common timeline. The project is also working to develop and spread peer coaching practices to help transfer the culture and skills of self-tracking while mentoring individuals in how to self-assess their own situation and guide the process for themselves.


Self-tracking BodyTrack Health empowerment 



The Heinz Endowments of Pittsburgh provided the majority of the funding for this work. I am eternally grateful for their steadfast support. I would like to thank Illah Nourbakhsh and the CMU CREATE Lab for providing the environment that allowed all this happen. Thanks to all of the people who worked with me on creating the technology for BodyTrack over the years, including Candide Kemmler, Justin Loutsenhizer, Adam Mihalcin, Eric Park, Chris Bartley, Josh Schapiro, Rich Henderson, Ray Yun, John Fass, Nolan Hergert, Abhinav Gautam, Julien Dupuis, and Yury Chernushenko. Thanks to all the people who have collaborated with me on putting together the cultural pieces, including Dr. Paul Abramson, Thomas Christiansen, Mette Dyhrberg, Augustus and Renna Brown, Ernesto Ramirez, Adriana Lukas, Mariachiara Tallacchini, and Dawn Nafus. Thanks to all the wonderful quant coaching participants and others who have allowed me to share in and learn from their personal health journeys. Finally, and most emphatically, I would like to thank my husband, Randy Sargent, who played all of these roles and more, and stuck with me through it all.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors. The activities described were conducted as participatory design collaborations, not studies. Unlike a study, the individuals involved were pursuing their own goals according to their own chosen methods, protocols, and evaluation criteria. The purpose of the exercise was to collaboratively learn how to better support people in developing their own agency and skills for such pursuits.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from the individuals mentioned in the article to mention their names and describe their participation.


  1. Nourbakhsh, I., Sargent, R., Wright, A., et al. (2006). Mapping disaster zones. Nature, 439(7078), 787–788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CREATE LabCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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