proactive in this regard will increase the value of the ACS and reduce the likelihood that users will fail to take advantage of ACS data because they find them too complex.
Approaches to help occasional users will likely also help experienced users. One approach is for the Census Bureau to work with organizations that have a mission to assist data users, such as State Data Centers, to help them develop simple data products and explanatory materials that are specifically designed for occasional or novice users. In addition, the Census Bureau itself could develop additional data products for the first-time, occasional, or resource-constrained user. These products could consist of simple tabulations that meet commonly accepted standards of precision. Similarly, simple tabulations of year-to-year change might be provided whenever there has been a significant increase or decrease in a key estimate, such as the poverty rate. The goal should be to make these products as transparent and accessible as possible, including giving them a special and prominent location on the Census Bureau’s ACS web site that contains a link to the rest of the site for users who want more information.
The program of ACS education should have two major components. The first component should aim to provide a foundation of the basics about the ACS and methods to use the data appropriately. Users should be helped to grasp the key elements that make the ACS different from the long-form sample, the most important of which are the change from point-in-time to period estimates of characteristics, the increase in the size of sampling errors, and the opportunities and challenges that will arise with annually updated data for different time periods. After introducing data users to ACS concepts, the goal should be to educate them about the new perspectives they need to have and the new techniques they need to employ in order to make effective use of the data.
The second component should aim to create paths for outreach to and feedback from users that enable the Census Bureau to engage in a continuous dialogue regarding questions and issues that need to be addressed. At this stage of the program, no one, including the Census Bureau, can anticipate all of the questions and issues that will arise from the data user community. The Census Bureau will have an opportunity to accumulate a critical mass of user reactions to the 1-year and 3-year period estimates that should permit the staff to become more responsive to data users before the first 5-year period estimates are released in fall 2010. This will occur only if an adequate mechanism is in place to deliver feedback to the Census Bureau.