Providing a Foundation for the Basics

The Census Bureau’s ACS web site (http://www.census.gov/acs/www) provides a great deal of information on all aspects of the ACS, including access to Using Data from the 2005 American Community Survey, a 31-page guidebook for users; the Guide to the ACS Data Products, an online tool for learning more about the various kinds of tables and other data products; the ACS Data User Training Guide, a set of PowerPoint presentations; and a voluminous ACS Design and Methodology document, which explains ACS operations from sampling to data release and includes facsimiles of the ACS questionnaires (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). While helpful and necessary, these materials are not sufficient by themselves for educating data users about the ACS.

To build a foundation of knowledge that is meaningful for those who apply the data in their work, the Census Bureau needs to develop userfriendly application-oriented documentation and metadata, including sample applications that can be presented in paper form and on the web in the form of online tutorials. This type of documentation differs markedly from the provision of technical information. Both types of documentation are needed.

Two core features of the Census Bureau’s application-oriented documentation should be, first, to provide key information to assist in the transfer to the ACS from the census long-form sample and, second, to describe methods and best practices to apply the ACS small-area data on the socioeconomic characteristics of the population for a variety of applications. Consultation with major user groups should yield instructive applications for large cities, smaller governments, rural places, transportation interest groups, and other groups that serve the data user community. One benefit of developing these kinds of examples is to enable data users, including key intermediaries, to assist the Census Bureau to establish standards and best practices for using ACS data. A recent publication, developed with input from Census Bureau staff and data users, takes this approach (Taueber, 2006). It is aimed at helping community planners access, interpret, and report on the ACS data for their areas.

The Census Bureau’s consultations should include a wide range of users, including state governments, local governments (including regional and local councils of governments), not-for-profit agencies, academic researchers, the private sector, and the media. Within those sectors, applications should be developed for users with different focal interests: transportation, education, health, social services, criminal justice, economic development, and the environment. Applications should represent an assortment of typical uses: policy development, program planning, budgeting, site selection, fund allocation, and outcomes monitoring.

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