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Making Data Collection More Relevant to Modern Life: Make Way For The Internet!

Mon Apr 11 2011
Robert Groves
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One of the key attributes of statistical information from the Census Bureau is that it should serve the widest audience possible, that it is relevant to their needs. The challenge in today’s United States is that there are many diverse needs of the public, local officials, business leaders, and federal government officials. We try to produce many different statistics to serve those needs.

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Relevancy is an issue also in the methods we use to seek answers to our statistical survey questions. For years, the tools we most often used were a visit by one of our field interviewers to a home that was selected at random into our surveys or the mailing of a paper questionnaire.

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Increasingly, our survey sample members ask us whether they might complete the questionnaire by Internet. Their lifestyle makes it complicated for them to host a visit of one of our interviewers. They prefer to complete the survey by themselves, at any hour they choose to do so. They are accustomed to ongoing connections with friends, family, and business associates via the Internet. It’s completely natural for them to want to use the same medium to interact with the Census Bureau.

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Hence, the Census Bureau is increasing its use of the Internet as a tool to collect data. At present we are moving to give respondents the option to use the Internet in 50 surveys that we conduct. We hope to make that about 60 surveys in the near future. Many of these are surveys of businesses that ask just a few questions of the respondent. It’s quite efficient for respondents to respond online. Indeed, some are responding on mobile devices like iPads, Android devices, and others. We are now conducting a test of the Internet for the American Community Survey.

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The research from around the world suggests that the length of the questionnaire is a factor in whether people prefer to use the Internet. The Internet is more attractive for short surveys than for long surveys. Some topics lend themselves to self-response versus others. There is also a consistent finding that some persons don’t prefer the Internet; hence, moving all surveys totally to Internet collection doesn’t work, at least now.

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For these reasons, we offer multiple modes of data collection in some surveys, trying to fit the needs and desires of the diverse groups we need to measure. Our job, as we see it, is to make the participation in our surveys and censuses as convenient as possible. When that occurs we can provide the country with high quality statistical information about how it’s doing.

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