Yesterday marked an exciting moment for myself and Bocoup. I spent the day at the White House Safety Data Jam in Washington, D.C., as part of the launch of the new Safety Data Initiative. As one of a group of 40 participants, I was invited to join other top technologists in the country as well as first responders, for whom safety is a primary concern. Together we worked to identify what challenges are present in public safety and what can be built around the newly released data.

The day began with Assistant to the President and US Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park, enthusiastically kicking off the launch at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. We heard from the Honorable Ray LaHood, the US Secretary of Transportation who echoed the importance of public safety in the Department of Transportation’s efforts, followed by equally notable speakers who all outlined challenges in areas such as worker safety, product recall, crime prevention and so on.

After the initial announcements and briefing, we were assembled into groups that brought the first responders and technologists together to discuss current issues and how they might be resolved. Together, we came up with over 30 application ideas that would benefit the public as well as other agencies. We even got to discuss the actual initiative and discover that the platform is evolving towards an open source implementation, a triumph for the Open Web and the public.

It was a true honor to be invited to participate as a data visualization expert. During my time at Bocoup, I have been able to explore and refine the process of building data visualization-based applications with our clients. From our early work on Startup Data Trends to our most recent open source work with the Guardian Interactive Team on the Miso Project, I learned valuable lessons about how to best utilize data visualization to answer questions and meet real goals. It was tremendously valuable to bring that knowledge to the White House Safety Data Jam, where I was able to offer guidance to my team members. We worked towards asking questions of the data, exploring proper visual methods and discovering new interfaces we can use to answer key questions. Together, we traveled beyond the initial urge to pick a common visual method, towards asking hard questions of the data and incorporating data visualization as part of the overall answer. I am humbled to have been able to use what I learned to support such an effort.

I cannot stress enough what a powerful collection of data has been assembled as part of this effort. There are over 700 datasets on the website, a number I am told will continue to grow. Many datasets can be used to explore complex and incredibly important issues, such as mining safety, product recalls and so on. In the coming weeks, I will be digging through the data, looking for interesting patterns and will be sure to share it with you all. Please join me in supporting this tremendous effort!