Census Survey Explorer helping users find the data they need

(U.S. Census Bureau)

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The Census Bureau’s tool for finding which of its 120-plus surveys have the data users require was born out of the agency’s effort to provide a tutorial on the subject.

A beta version of the Census Survey Explorer launched in April to help researchers, who previously had to open every survey’s webpage for descriptions to know they weren’t overlooking data they needed.

Bureau surveys cover more than 100 topics, and subtopics overlap across large program areas — economic surveys collecting data on business owner characteristics and demographic surveys like the American Community Survey or Current Population Survey gathering data on employment status and income. Adding layers like geographic area complicates matters further.

“For each survey we had to convey the geographic availability, how frequently data are released, how far back the survey went, what topics were available, and we also needed to visualize this information,” said Eric Coyle, intergovernmental affairs specialist at the Census Bureau, during the 2022 Government UX Summit on Wednesday.

The Census Survey Explorer helps researchers narrow down what surveys to reference using dropdown menus to filter by data topics and geographies.

An unidentified commercial off-the-shelf product ingests the relevant data and serves it through an application programming interface to a JavaScript application. All told the tool took two months to stand up with survey owners providing input throughout the process.

“Even with our very simple prototype, we had a great deal of feedback,” said Logan Powell, developer experience lead. “And we integrated that feedback as we went through the process.”

A week-long soft launch helped ensure there were no bugs with the tool and gave the project team, which resided in the Communications Directorate at the time, time to do internal marketing.

Potential users needed to know the tool existed and where to find it, so a banner announcing its launch was displayed across many of the bureau’s webpages and a tutorial video released.

A Topics page helps users identify the search term they’re looking for, such as race if they’re seeking demographic data on Black people, and a Help page addresses frequently asked questions about the tool.

“Instead of having to crawl through lots of webpages, you now have narrowed down your choices to just a few surveys to go and click into and do some further investigation,” said Mary Leisenring, program analyst.

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Census Survey Explorer, data, U.S. Census Bureau
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