STANDARD DEVIATIONS: Better Data for Our Nation

By Dr. Sallie Ann Keller

Standard Deviations blog posts represent the views of the author/organization, but not necessarily those of the Census Project.

On the heels of the 2020 decennial count, census stakeholders should be excited to learn about what’s ahead for the Census Bureau, especially some comprehensive work at the University of Virginia.  Our team has set its sights on enabling new and better measures of America’s people, places, and the economy through a comprehensive innovation they call a Curated Data Enterprise (CDE).

We 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 currently happening within the Census Bureau.  The research is being done in collaboration with the Bureau and has received additional support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  

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.

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, equitable and accurate data to support these purposes and uses drives the commitment to finding better ways to collect and disseminate data.

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. The report shares their input and reactions. I encourage you to read the full report but highlight some key elements here.

Redefining Purpose and Use: The (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.

Adopting a Curated Data Enterprise Framework: For the CDE vision to have its full impact, the Census Bureau will need to develop processes of curation in the context of specific purposes that evaluate, document, and preserve data and data products for use and future reuse. In addition, the CDE must support the dissemination of curated products on interactive platforms that promote their optimal use by stakeholders at all levels of data acumen.

Dr. Sallie Ann Keller is an endowed Distinguished Professor in Biocomplexity, Director of the Social and Decision Analytics Division within the Biocomplexity Institute and Initiative at University of Virginia and Professor of Public Health Sciences. Her areas of expertise are social and decision informatics, statistical underpinnings of data science, and data access and confidentiality. Dr. Keller’s is a leading voice in creating the science of all data and advancing this research across disciplines to benefit society.