On February 23, 2012, the Census Bureau held a Data User Workshop to discuss “Outreach and Dissemination Efforts for the 2012 Census of Governments”. This meeting was held in Washington DC and organized by the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COFAS). This workshop was one of many that the Governments Division is conducting in preparation for the 2012 Census of Governments.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Census Bureau’s data on governments and to look and discuss proposed plans for future products, current products, data visualization and outreach. Proposed products included both print and electronic media. In addition, the session reviewed and discussed disseminations tools to allow for better access, visibility and usability of statistics on governments. This discussion included American FactFinder (AFF), DataFerrett including HotReports, and the Central Indicator Data Repository for accessing Q-Tax data.
There was a lively discussion and there were a number of current and former SDC friends present. The Governments Division is looking to expand access to the data through the following print and electronic media products: publications, flyer series, maps, graphical summary, snapshot series, special study report series, how to guides, educational materials, press releases, slide rules. In addition they are looking to add the Census of Governments to the American FactFinder and to host a webinar series on the data.
It was suggested that individual unit file records be easier to access for local governments that may wish to compare their finances, structure etc to other local governments of similar size. Also, while the individual unit file is non-confidential and in theory publicly available, it is only available on request through a password-protected FTP site for a limited amount of time.
In addition, there was a discussion about the different types of users and that no one system meets the needs of everyone. Other items that were reinforced were that data quality and access to the data are most important to the users present. The funding environment may predicate a future where the Bureau must make difficult choices and the attendees expressed an interest to be consulted or for the Bureau to assess how data are used prior to making some of these problematical decisions. There also seemed to be sentiment on the user side that if budgets became an issue the Census Bureau should produce a few core products (such as the individual unit file and broad summary reports) and let the data intermediaries and other power users produce the maps, graphical summaries, etc. from these more basic products.
Also, with the rise of technology, other groups and / or individuals take the Bureau’s data and add value through analysis and reports, news articles, delivery systems, mapping, graphing, etc. The challenge for the Bureau is to ensure that the end-user identifies the data as originating with the Bureau.
The Bureau is working to optimize the availability and use of the governments data and in doing so they are looking at electronic access through American FactFinder, DataFerrett and the Central Indicator Data Repository. The group discussed some of the pros/cons of these delivery systems and that some of features of these systems may be geared toward the advanced user. While having a variety data access tools available is useful, there was sentiment that the data should all be available on AFF since that is what the average user of these data will be most familiar with – don’t make them learn more tools than is necessary.
Overall, it appeared that the Bureau viewed the workshop as successful.