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New Report Provides the U.S. Census Bureau a Bold New Approach to Create Official Statistics

A research team at the University of Virginia has set its sights on developing new and better measures of America’s people, places, and the economy through a comprehensive innovation they call a Curated Data Enterprise. The research is being done in collaboration between the U.S. Census Bureau and UVA’s Biocomplexity Institute with additional support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

In the first major product of this new vision, the Biocomplexity Institute released a report this week titled, “A 21st Century Census Curated Data Enterprise,” which outlines various facets of this transformation that supports a bold new approach for data collection and dissemination as well as changes within the Census Bureau.

Since its inception, the Census Bureau has a long history of innovation both on the technological side and in data collection. In keeping with this tradition, the Census Bureau is committed to revolutionizing its practices and processes and has looked to the Biocomplexity Institute for its expertise in addressing complex technical issues that generate positive societal impact. The Census Bureau and Biocomplexity Institute research team believe they have an opportunity to offer in the Curated Data Enterprise.

“The Curated Data Enterprise is both an infrastructure and a continuous evolving ambition to empower and enable Census Bureau scientists and their data users to progress from a focus on individual data elements or surveys items to one focused on the purpose and use of the information. This can result in new and better measures of America’s people, places, and the economy,” according to the just released report.

Federal agencies use census-derived data to allocate more than $1.5 trillion to local, state, and tribal governments each year as they fund neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation and much more. The criticality to have comprehensive, current, and accurate data to support these purposes and uses drives the Census Bureau’s commitment to finding better ways to collect and disseminate data.

Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin expressed his appreciation for the work of the UVA team. “The Census Bureau is deeply committed to transforming the way we do our job to improve the products we deliver for the nation. We are gratified to have the Biocomplexity Institute working alongside us to help raise our sights and remind us of the needs of data users every step of the way."

“We are excited to partner with the U.S. Census Bureau to help it achieve its mission and move the Census Bureau into its next stage of innovation,” said Sallie Keller, division director and distinguished professor in Biocomplexity at the Biocomplexity Institute.

“The Curated Data Enterprise is a bold, new vison to exploit multiple data sources across many sample surveys, censuses, tribal, federal, state, and local administrative data, as well as private-sector data, to produce more robust, granular, timelier, and comprehensive measures of demographic changes, social trends, and economic activity.”

The three major findings of the report are:

Redefining Purpose and Use: The proposed Curated Data Enterprise (CDE) opens new opportunities for measurement associated with changing economic and social conditions that simply have not been achieved historically. For example, pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, and changes in work require real-time and geographically detailed data to address questions asked by policymakers, media, analysts, researchers, planners, advocates, and the public. As a result, the CDE intentionally focused on the purpose and uses of the Census Bureau’s data, and will identify and anticipate the challenges of discovering, integrating, and using data in unexpected new ways.

Adopting a Curated Data Enterprise Framework: For the CDE vision to be workable and have its full impact, the Census Bureau will need to develop processes of curation that evaluate, document, and preserve data and data products for use and future reuse; and enable components from data products to be curated in the context of specific purposes; and allow for the dissemination of curated products on interactive platforms that promote their optimal use by data users at all levels of expertise. Harmonization of the curation processes will be an essential feature of the CDE as well as a CDE framework whose steps can be adapted to shape the curation processes for the CDE. A CDE framework provides a rigorous, transparent, and repeatable structure to build the CDE in the context of purpose and use.

Testing the CDE Concept with Stakeholders: The CDE concept was socialized with researchers and data users through a set of 12 listening sessions that included 110 participants from across the United States. Listening session participants noted that despite the Census Bureau’s attempts to improve measurement issues they continue to persist, such as an accurate count of young children; broadband availability and accessibility; and measuring income accurately; just to name a few.

The report states, “The Census Bureau recognizes that modernizing its data collection and processes is essential to meeting current challenges, from expanding the use of third-party data and administrative records, to linking data frames for businesses, housing units and geospatial data, jobs, and people into a single enterprise resource.”

For more information, white papers and use cases, and to read the report, visit the 21st Century Census Curated Data Enterprise website.