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Using the American Community Survey: Benefits and Challenges
d. Steps to look toward the future:
Keep up to date with Census Bureau information on the ACS web site, such as users’ guides and design and methodology reports, and take advantage of training opportunities afforded by the Census Bureau, state data centers, and other organizations.
Feed back questions, concerns, and data needs to the state data centers and to the Census Bureau. On one hand, be cognizant that the Census Bureau has a heavy workload in collecting, processing, and disseminating the continuous ACS, but, on the other hand, remind the Census Bureau that the ACS must be an evolving data system that responds to user needs.
Liaise with other users with similar interests to develop and evaluate strategies for effective use of ACS data products, and put forward coordinated requests for new and improved data products, training materials, and other support from the Census Bureau.
If there is a need for new or modified questions, work with the Census Bureau and stakeholders to determine what is the minimum set of changes that would serve the purpose. The Census Bureau has a protocol for the testing that must be undertaken before a new question can be added to the ACS (see Section 7-C.2).
Similarly, work with the Census Bureau and stakeholders to adjust geographic boundaries for census tracts and block groups in ways that reflect population change but minimize discontinuities in local geographic boundaries over time. If, for example, most changes to these small areas involve splitting them to reflect population growth (or, alternatively, combining them to reflect population decline), then it will be easier to use successive 5-year period estimates.
Participate in forums in which users share their experiences with analysis and presentation techniques that make effective use of the ACS data for a range of applications.
In conclusion, the ACS will offer not only significant challenges to data users, but also significant benefits. Having more timely and up-to-date information that is likely of higher quality will benefit all applications that previously used the long-form-sample estimates. In the future, there will be opportunities for new uses of the ACS that would never be possible with the long-form sample. Users should take steps during the ramp-up period to prepare for the ACS, anticipate problems, and work together and with the Census Bureau on solutions.