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Modernizing How We Get You the Data: Data.census.gov

Fri Jul 24 2020
Written by: Ron Jarmin, Deputy Director
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As we advance into the 21st century, we are experiencing increased demand for our data while also facing added challenges and costs to our traditional data collection methods. As I've written before, the U.S. Census Bureau is exploring rich new data sources and tools that will revolutionize how we produce timely and granular data on our nation's people, places, and economy. A critical aspect of this modernization is improving how we disseminate our data to both power users and the public. In this regard, we recently transitioned to our user-centered dissemination platform data.census.gov.  Data.census.gov is part of a long line of innovations in delivering data to the public over the decades. This new platform brings new functionality to both veteran and novice data users who will be able to search for their data needs in one location. 

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In recent years, the Census Bureau has transformed census.gov with improved search and navigation to provide better access to data, and this work continues. By listening to our users, using lessons learned, and employing modern processes for continual improvement, we are building an open-source data platform from the ground up that supports the different ways people access and consume Census Bureau data. We heard that some users are looking for a one-stop shop to access data as part of their regular workflow, while others would like more guidance in locating the right piece of information. Some needed to incorporate our data into an application they were building, while others needed a quick way to generate a map. When we looked at these different use cases, we realized that our data must adapt to our users’ needs, and render in whatever form works best for them: as a table, map, single point estimate or served directly via a well-documented application program interface or API. This model will enable better integration of data across census.gov for further enhancements and functionality.

As we move forward, our goal is to improve data quality, increase the availability of data, release new data products, develop new data delivery mechanisms, streamline systems and processes, and maintain our reputation as the go-to trusted source for official U.S. government statistics.

With the decommissioning of our prior dissemination platform American FactFinder (AFF) on April 1, we completed the initial transition to data.census.gov. We know many of our users came to rely on AFF and, moving forward, we will continue to support those efforts by improving data.census.gov and its data services. Right now, our priority is to ensure that the platform is reliable, performant, and supports the Economic Census, American Community Survey releases, and the 2020 Census. We are committed to maintaining legacy AFF data coverage, and will continually add and release new data, while also developing additional features like an integrated address geocoder.

The primary driver in the development of data.census.gov is user feedback. Users define the features we build as well as help identify the kinks and issues the team works diligently to address. We're employing a data-driven focus to gather, process, and prioritize user feedback. The chart below summarizes the top five categories of user-identified issues.

 

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Right now, our primary focus is on bug fixes and performance issues to ensure that tables load quickly and reliably, and that users can filter through table results with confidence. We are also working to increase the number of 'one-click' or pseudo-collections of geographies that AFF spent years manually building into its system. We understand that it isn't realistic to individually click all zip codes of Zip Code Tabulation Areas (ZCTAs) in a state, and that users need a one-click option to make the site more usable. We are also improving our download system so it can handle all the data that our customers are requesting. Our efforts today improving the large-scale download will be ready, tested, and in production well in advance of the 2020 Census release. Given the platform's flexibility, we're also thinking broadly about features that will benefit new data users. Our geography profiles show key demographic, social, economic, and business estimates available for the nation, states, counties, and cities. Based on the positive response to these profiles, we are working to improve them, add additional geographies, and create new profile pages for topics and industries.

We’re also extending the platform with the release of our microdata access tool. Data users can create custom tabulations using our public use microdata when traditional estimates are not available. Plans to integrate the public use microdata variables with our search capabilities would uncover even more data possibilities for our users all in one consolidated search results page.

We're beginning to incorporate other powerful data dissemination tools at the Census Bureau into data.census.gov, too. These include our popular QWI Explorer, OnTheMap for Emergency Management, and the kinds of dashboards and visualizations featuring our Experimental Data Products. While we still have a long way to go, I'm happy to say we've been making progress to address the feedback we’ve received in order to meet our test readiness goals for data releases like the 2020 Census release next spring. 

Another quarter is set aside for new data releases, migrating older data to data.census.gov, and onboarding new surveys and programs. The last quarter of our development effort is reserved for defects or issues found on data.census.gov. As this is a large project, we have numerous conflicting priorities and several key features still in the backlog, but please know that we are using your feedback to improve the platform.

We are continuously collecting, categorizing, and prioritizing the feedback we receive on data.census.gov, so let us know if you have ideas or run into an issue.

Our goal with this new enterprise platform is to ensure that all data and digital content are searchable, discoverable, and consumable through census.gov. Our efforts to modernize data dissemination means that data users now have a choice in how they interact with data. Additionally, we consult with our representatives across the Census Bureau to make sure the requests meet our goals, promote our open-source initiatives, are supported by our open API, and ensure that priority features benefit all data and content, not just one survey or data set.  

Data.census.gov has been releasing developmental updates about every two months. To be more responsive to customer feedback, we are working toward monthly releases. For the latest updates on data.census.gov, please click here. For questions or more information on how to use the site, see our resource page.

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