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Using the American Community Survey: Benefits and Challenges
previously used the census long-form sample, but also provides the basis for improving and expanding the information that is available to understand and plan for the nation’s growing, diverse communities.
7-A EDUCATING DATA USERS ABOUT THE ACS
The overriding priority for small-area data users is to adjust their perspective from having long-form-sample point-in-time estimates available once every 10 years to having 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year ACS period estimates available annually for geographic and statistical areas depending on their population size. With some exceptions, notably in the housing and transportation communities, the panel found relatively little preparation for this change on the part of data users. No doubt a key reason has been limited resources. In addition, it is often hard to imagine how to use very different kinds of data that are not yet available for most areas. Chapters 2 and 3 are intended to help users understand the key features of the ACS and to provide guidance for using the data for a range of applications, but much more work remains to be done.
While the Census Bureau has tried to facilitate the transition from the long-form sample to the ACS, the fact is that the full implementation of the ACS will be a sea change for data users. Appropriate reorientation on the part of users will not occur as a result of issuing new documentation or a new web site, essential as those elements of a data dissemination plan are. Appropriate reorientation will occur only as a result of a comprehensive education effort that is based on a plan to provide a set of best practices for data use that are well illustrated, using examples that are meaningful and that clearly explain period estimates and their differences from the pointin-time estimates that are commonly provided by other data sources. The plan must also provide for systematic feedback from users that can help the Census Bureau refine and tailor the education program to user needs. Such feedback should also benefit the Census Bureau by identifying potential problems with the data to follow up and improvements to data products that would facilitate data use.
The education and outreach plan, of which key elements are outlined below, is designed primarily for users who expect to make repeated, multiple uses of the ACS data and who will therefore need to learn about the survey in some detail. However, there are also first-time users, infrequent users, and users who lack resources for participating in educational programs (for example, users in many small governmental jurisdictions). These users need to find key estimates easily and not have to master the complexities of the data. The Census Bureau, in cooperation with the network of organizations that it enlists as partners for education and outreach (see Section 7-A.3 below), should identify ways to help these users. Being