The reference list of surveys in Table 4-1 provides a further roadmap for this assessment.
Ideally, both parts of the data collection strategy identified in Recommendation 1—national population surveys conducted by the statistical agencies and detailed special studies—should be pursued. A viable approach to optimizing the value of public resources would be to give priority to supporting sustained, locally intensive research models (e.g., the Chicago neighborhoods and NYC immigration studies).
RECOMMENDATION 4: For measuring relationships between such phenomena as social cohesion and neighborhood environment on one hand, and health, social, and economic outcomes on the other, statistical and funding agencies should take an experimental approach, sponsoring studies at the subnational-level and in-depth and longitudinal pilot data collections. This suggests that additional research and testing will be needed before committing to the content and structure of specific survey instruments. The statistical agencies’ advisory groups may be especially helpful in thinking creatively about what kinds of research and survey projects offer the most promise.
New, innovative work might involve conducting experiments (i.e., randomized treatment and control), but it might also include observational analysis, focus groups, cognitive interviews, and the like. Conducting experiments to identify causal effects is not the comparative advantage of the federal statistical agencies—they are best suited for collecting large-scale, high-quality, representative measures of political, economic, and societal indicators with the goal of tracing trends in society over time. Such data collections (whether from surveys or administrative records) then enable scholars to leverage exogenous shocks (or randomized treatments) to test causal claims. And now is the right time to move on the measurement and design issues implied in the above recommendation because federal statistics in this subject matter area have not yet become deeply rooted.
Additionally, numerous national polling organizations regularly conduct surveys intended to gauge various aspects of civic engagement and social cohesion. These data collections, such as the Gallup World Survey and various surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, have high value and are often more nimble in reacting to changing conditions and the emergence of new issues and questions. The Pew 2012 survey project, Civic Engagement in the Digital Age, is one example.