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Change and the 2020 Census: Not Whether But How Summary SPONSORED BY THE CENSUS BUREAU and charged to evaluate the 2010 U.S. census with an eye toward suggesting research and development for the 2020 census, the Panel to Review the 2010 Census uses this first interim report to suggest general priorities for 2020 research. Although the Census Bureau has taken some useful organizational and administrative steps to prepare for 2020, the panel offers three core recommendations, by which we suggest that the Census Bureau take an assertive, aggressive approach to 2020 planning rather than casting possibilities purely as hypothetical. The first recommendation on research and development suggests four broad topic areas for research early in the decade: Recommendation 1: The Census Bureau should focus its research and development efforts on four priority topic areas, in order to achieve a lower cost and high-quality 2020 census: Field Reengineering—applying modern operations engineering to census field data collection operations to make the deployment of staff and the processing of operational data more efficient; Response Options—emphasizing multiple modes of response to the census for both respondent convenience and data quality, including provision for response via the Internet; Administrative Records—using records-based information to supplement and improve a wide variety of census operations; and Continuous Improvement of Geographic Resources—ensuring that the Census Bureau’s geographic databases,
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Change and the 2020 Census: Not Whether But How especially its Master Address File (MAF), are continually up-to-date and not dependent on once-a-decade overhauls. Second, we suggest that the Bureau take an aggressive, assertive posture toward research in these priority areas: Recommendation 2: The Census Bureau should commit to implement, in the 2020 census, strategic changes in each of the four priority areas identified in Recommendation 1. The manner of implementing them should be guided by research on how each type of change may influence the trade-off between census accuracy and cost. We think that this approach is the most effective way to build the research and evidentiary base for the 2020 census plan. Third, we see the setting of bold goals as essential to underscoring the need for serious reengineering and building commitment to change. Accordingly, we urge the Bureau to publicly set ambitious goals regarding the cost and quality of the 2020 census: Recommendation 3: The Census Bureau should motivate its planning and reengineering for the 2020 census by setting a clear and publicly announced goal to reduce significantly (and not just contain) the inflation-adjusted per housing unit cost relative to 2010 census totals, while limiting the extent of gross and net census errors to levels consistent with both user needs and cost targets. This should take into account both overall national coverage errors and regional variations in them. Within each of the four topic areas listed in Recommendation 1, the report briefly sketches high-priority research projects. In terms of field reengineering, the important task is to approach census-taking with something closer to a blank-sheet approach using modern operations engineering as the focus; articulation of the logical architecture for the census would help maintain a focus on functionality and requirements for technical systems, an area in which the Census Bureau stumbled in the development for 2010. On response options, it is most essential that the Census Bureau fully and openly monitor the implementations of Internet response options in other national censuses, particularly the aggressive “wave methodology” to be used in the 2011 census of Canada. In administrative records, the important task is to complete the Bureau’s planned match of 2010 census returns with its current administrative records data system, compiled from seven federal agency contributors, but—in doing so—to get beyond the question of whether an “administrative records census” (substituting records for enumeration) is feasible and instead to find ways for administrative data to supplement the whole range of census operations. Finally, with respect to improving the Census Bureau’s geographic resources, steps toward processes under which state,
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Change and the 2020 Census: Not Whether But How local, and tribal governments can provide geographic updates in an easy and reliable manner is important; the critical focus of the work should be in the development of quality metrics, to finally be able to provide hard answers to questions of how good the Bureau’s address lists and street-map coverages are for specific areas.
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