ability and properties of traditional survey methods. For example, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) has partnered with government agencies to conduct more than a dozen online dialogues—web-based discussion forums in which stakeholders and the public can log on, discuss ideas for addressing one or several related issues, and express their perspectives and priorities for government action.2 One of those dialogues was conducted on health information technology and privacy. During the week-long online discussion, the dialogue received more than 4,000 visits from across the country, generating hundreds of ideas and comments. It provided what policy officials deemed was sufficient information in a short amount of time.

These types of information collections give rise to several questions. Should federal statistical agencies play a role in these types of information gathering, and, if so, how? If the federal statistical system does not become an active participant in such approaches, is it in danger of becoming irrelevant? From the opposite perspective, is there a danger in straying too far in the direction of approximate answers and away from the traditional rigor of statistically valid information collections? Given these questions and the evolving ways of gathering information, what kinds and extent of innovation are needed for the federal statistical system to be able to play an appropriate role in meeting the needs of the public and policy makers for high-quality, timely, and relevant statistics to address new and changing social issues and questions?


On May 8, 2009, the Committee on National Statistics of the National Research Council and the American Academy of Political and Social Science jointly sponsored a symposium called “The Federal Statistical System: Recognizing Its Contributions, Moving It Forward,” in Washington, DC. One of the topics considered at that symposium was the health of innovation in the federal statistical system.3 A consequence of the symposium was an agreement by the Committee on National Statistics to hold a workshop on the future of innovation in the federal statistical system. That workshop was held on June 29, 2010.

The original statement of task for the workshop focused on three challenges to the statistical system: (1) the obstacles to innovative, focused research and development initiatives that could make statistical programs more cost-effective; (2) a gap between emerging data visualization and


See http://www.napawash.org/continuing-programs/national-dialogues/ [February 2011].


For a report on the symposium, see Habermann (2010b).

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