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Panelists, Audience Provide Feedback on the Value of Census Data at ESRI Conference

As I mentioned in my most recent blog post, last week I moderated a panel session at ESRI’s International Users Conference in San Diego, California, titled, "Calling All Business, Government and Community Decision Makers -- Help the Census Bureau Innovate Its Data Products and Services."
US Mark Doms, GM Manager Bruce Wong , Blue Raster Principal Stephen Ansari and FEMA Scientist Gene Longenecker, III
This great session brought together public- and private-sector “power users” of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) data. An opening panel featured three data experts: Bruce Wong from General Motors, Gene Longenecker from FEMA, and Stephen Ansari from Blue Raster. They described how ACS data helps their organizations make more intelligent, strategic decisions, resulting in more efficient use of resources and enhancing their products and services.

During the first part of the session, I learned that GM uses ACS data to identify the optimal site locations for factories and stores, combining our demographic data with their marketing data to better understand the preferences of potential customers in targeted locations. FEMA uses ACS data to determine population demographics in locations where a disaster occurs. Knowing the number of children, elderly, and disabled residents living in an area affected by disaster helps FEMA better target its resources, thereby saving lives and aiding recovery.

Stephen Ansari of Blue Raster challenged the Census Bureau to be bold in its future innovations, to look beyond current limitations, and to think outside the box to find ways to make the data more interactive and intuitive to find and use.

The second part of the session featured voting and feedback from the panelists and audience to help the Census Bureau better understand which ACS datasets our diverse user groups most value. Attendees could also provide additional comments they wished to share with me.

Each person had five votes to distribute across 20 of the most popular topics covered in the ACS. These topics were cloistered under four categories: 1) demographic characteristics, 2) economic characteristics, 3) social characteristics, and 4) housing characteristics. From the results, we learned:

  • Economic characteristic data was valued most highly by the attendees. This category includes income, health insurance coverage, industry and occupation, labor force status, and commuting data;
  • Most user groups selected income data as the ACS data that is most important for conducting their business or work;
  • However, non-profits and non-governmental organizations identified health insurance coverage data as most important to them.

One of my key takeaways from the first half of the event is that the appetite for Census data has exploded. With over 650,000 website visitors per day, our universe of users has expanded far beyond the research and academic community and is now very broad. The other key takeaway is one that I hear everywhere I go: the desire for more granularity in our data and the need for more standardization across all of the Department’s data sets. We must keep these factors in mind as we position the Census Bureau to more fully assist our data users, which in turn facilitates our burgeoning data economy and data-driven governance.

I want to thank everyone who participated in the session last Wednesday and for ESRI’s partnership in developing this session. To our readers who weren’t there, please reach out to us directly with your feedback if you have further thoughts or can provide examples of how you are using Census data. We are taking these suggestions and ideas for future innovation very seriously as we continue to look for ways to improve data collection and dissemination across the Commerce Department.

Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs


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