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Meet the Govie Using Data to Make Our Roads Safer

When viewed individually, car accidents may seem random and unavoidable, while in the aggregate, they are anything but. Finding the patterns in these mountains of data can be a challenge, however, especially when that data is spread out across agencies and lags well behind real time.

One person working to mine that data for insights into transportation-related accidents is Ariel Gold, who in just two years has made enormous strides in making data more easily available and timely. Gold is the Data Program Manager for the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office at theTransportation Department (DOT), where she focuses on improving the systems and practices used for accident data-sharing between federal, state, and local agencies and private organizations. This innovative work facilitating the creation of new methods of vehicle data-sharing made her a finalist for the Management Excellence Award.

The SAMMIES are an esteemed awards program sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service that recognizes remarkable work done by career federal employees. Last week, Christopher Dorobek, host of the DorobekINSIDER, spoke with Gold about how she got involved with transportation technology and the great potential she sees for it.

Gold left Amazon Web Services for a job with DOT, hoping to bring to government the innovation she had seen in the private sector.

“I took this job to be at the center of transformation,” said Gold, “and so I jumped in and said ‘how is the department going to leverage the promise of technology?’”

One way in which she has helped DOT leverage that promise is through partnerships that cut across organizational boundaries, bringing in state and local partners to form data networks that give a comprehensive picture of road safety. Being able to monitor this kind of data in real-time is vitally important because it can help de-mystify the circumstances that are likely to lead to accidents and provide clues as to what information is most helpful in keeping drivers safe.

For example, says Gold, “Humans and automated driving systems have trouble safely navigating around work zones. Once you zero in and say, ‘OK, I want all of the cars and all the drivers to know where work zones are,’ then we can work back from that to solve the right problem and get access to the right data, and bring the right tools to bear on it.”

While that’s something that certainly makes sense in theory, in practice it can be extraordinarily difficult to coordinate data-sharing with such a large number of sources; this makes Gold’s job tough yet very impactful.

“This is data that’s managed across hundreds and thousands of state and local government jurisdictions,” Gold said. That means that aggregation is the first part of the battle, but what comes next is arguably the most important.

“So we’re collecting all of this data from these really advanced pilot projects around the country, and we don’t just want our evaluators to analyze that data,” Gold said. “We want folks in different parts of the department with different missions to look at it as well, to see how it can inform their policies and their mission.”

That sort of innovative thinking is fundamental to Gold’s efforts, and drives the work that she has been doing to transform the way DOT thinks about data and its applications. A big part of her job is convincing people that implementing new ways of managing and analyzing data can create opportunities and solutions that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

“I think it’s just a global issue of the first-mover challenge,” says Gold. “In government, we’ve got a lot a folks who are mission-driven and innovative but are kind of hesitant to be the first one to do something.” If this is the case, how does Gold demonstrate to people that technological progress is both worthwhile and achievable?

“As soon as you can give someone an example that they can relate to of somebody who has solved a similar problem or done a similar thing, it can get them to get on board,” she said. One way in which Gold has done this is by providing the example of how the National Institutes of Health has been innovative when it comes to sharing and accessing data on cancer.

“If it’s secure enough for cancer research data, it’s secure enough for transportation research data,” she said.

Beyond state and local governments, Gold has also been instrumental in reaching out to private companies working in the transportation field, convincing them that tracking and sharing data is beneficial from both a safety and a business success standpoint. From the navigation app Waze to traditional auto manufacturers, there are a wide range of stakeholders with both an interest in road safety and the potential to provide data to improve it.

By bringing together these diverse players and helping them develop a forward-thinking approach to collaboration, Gold has been instrumental in creating new processes for the implementation of data as a means to make the country’s roads safer for all drivers.

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