For example, the Census Bureau can determine what is the best way to improve response to a mailed questionnaire through use of mailing materials and reminders, or what is the best way using a paper questionnaire or the Internet to query people as to their race and ethnicity, or what is the best way using a paper questionnaire or the Internet to query people as to the residents of a household. The objective will be to learn things whose truth could be applied in many survey settings and to create an environment of continual learning, and then document that learning, to create the best state-of-the-art information on which to base future decisions. When an answer to some issue is determined, that information can be applied to a variety of censuses and surveys, possibly with modest adaptations for the situation at hand. This is preferable to a situation in which every survey and census instrument is viewed as idiosyncratic and therefore in need of its own research projects. However, one complication of developing a continuous research program on censuses and surveys is the different environments that censuses and surveys of various kinds represent. We hope to have more to say on how to deal with this in our final report.
As pointed out by the Panel on Residence Rules in the Decennial Census, “Sustained research needs to attain a place of prominence in the Bureau’s priorities. The Bureau needs to view a steady stream of research as an investment in its own infrastructure that—in due course—will permit more accurate counting, improve the quality of census operations, and otherwise improve its products for the country” (National Research Council, 2006:271). A major objective of the remainder of the panel’s work will be to provide more specifics on how such a research group could develop and carry out a research program in various areas and overall, and how they would make use of the various venues and techniques for research, testing, experimentation, and evaluation.